Springtime means that green grass is growing and the sun is shining. This also means there's time to enjoy the beautiful scenery while you're out on your bike—if you're not staring at numbers on a heart rate monitor or power meter. While these training tools can be useful, it isn't the only way to train for the big event.
Training by rate of perceived exertion (RPE) can be just as useful—and it lets you take your eyes off your cycling computer.
Perceived exertion means paying attention to the signals that your body is sending you: how fast and rapid you're breathing, how hard your heart is beating, and how quickly your muscles are fatiguing.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, there's a linear relationship between RPE, oxygen uptake and heart rate—meaning that RPE can provide meaningful feedback when training or racing.
Whether or not you like to train with heart rate monitors or power meters, listening to your body can improve performance and get you more in-tune with how much energy you have left in the tank.
How RPE Works
Two riders raced solo in the Race Across America (RAAM). One rider used a heart rate monitor and carefully stayed within the prescribed zones training and racing. The other rider just listened to his body. After riding 3,000 miles, these two riders finished fourth and fifth.
How did this happen?
The RPE method is simple. You don't have to interpret numbers and remember training zones. All you have to do is be aware of the changes in your body, and through experience, know when to slow down or go faster. Much like heart rate training zones, your body experiences different stages of stress during exertion. Being aware of these stages is the key to understanding how fast you need to go when training and racing.
This method can also be safer and more fun. You can look at the road and scenery instead staring down at numbers on a gadget.
RPE Can Help Everyone
RPE is useful even if you use a heart rate monitor. Your heart rate can be affected by variables other than how hard you are riding: excitement, heat, dehydration and how well you slept are a few examples.