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Journal of Sports Sciences


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A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort


a

Daniel A. Hackett , Nathan A. Johnson , Mark Halaki & Chin-Moi Chow

Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, New South
Wales, Australia
Published online: 09 Aug 2012.

To cite this article: Daniel A. Hackett , Nathan A. Johnson , Mark Halaki & Chin-Moi Chow (2012): A novel scale to assess
resistance-exercise effort, Journal of Sports Sciences, 30:13, 1405-1413
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2012.710757

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Journal of Sports Sciences, September 2012; 30(13): 14051413

A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort

DANIEL A. HACKETT, NATHAN A. JOHNSON, MARK HALAKI, & CHIN-MOI CHOW


Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, New South Wales, Australia

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(Accepted 5 July 2012)

Abstract
In this study, we examined the validity of a novel subjective scale for assessing resistance-exercise effort. Seventeen male
bodybuilders performed five sets of 10 repetitions at 70% of one-repetition maximum, for the bench press and squat. At the
completion of each set, participants quantified their effort via the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and novel estimatedrepetitions-to-failure scales, and continued repetitions to volitional exhaustion to determine actual-repetitions-to-failure.
There were high correlations between estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure across sets for the bench press and squat
(r  0.93; P 5 0.05). During sets 3, 4, and 5, estimated-repetitions-to-failure predicted the number of repetitions to failure
for the bench press and squat, as indicated by smaller effect sizes for differences (ES 0.370.0). The estimated-repetitionsto-failure scale was reliable as indicated by high intraclass correlation coefficients (0.92) and narrow 95% limits of
agreement (0.63 repetitions) for both the bench press and squat. Despite high correlations between RPE and actualrepetitions-to-failure (P 5 0.05), RPE at volitional fatigue was less than maximal for both exercises. Our results suggest that
the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale is valid for predicting onset of muscular failure, and can be used for the assessment
and prescription of resistance exercise.

Keywords: Resistance training, RPE scale, training intensity, weight-lifting

Introduction
It is well documented that resistance training is
associated with several health benefits and aids in the
optimization of health and longevity (Winett &
Carpinelli, 2001). For those involved in sport,
resistance training is usually undertaken as part of
an overall training programme to reduce injury risk
and improve performance in another task (Stone,
1990). In contrast, for individuals involved in
bodybuilding and weight-lifting, resistance exercise
forms the major component of a training programme
(Kraemer & Ratamess, 2004). The design of a
resistance training programme involves manipulation of acute programming variables, including the
type of exercise, order of exercise, number of sets,
recovery period, and load (Ratamess et al., 2009).
The intensity of resistance exercise is generally
expressed according to the load used (ACSM,
2009). For example, as a percentage of the maximal
load that could be lifted only once (i.e. percentage of
one-repetition maximum), or through using a load
that limits a lifter to a specific number of repetitions

before reaching muscular failure (i.e. repetition


maximum). Another accepted method to assess the
intensity of resistance exercise is the rating of
perceived exertion (RPE) scale (ACSM, 2009).
This scale assesses subjective effort, strain, discomfort, and fatigue during exercise. The most common
scales are: the 620 category RPE scale (Borg, 1970)
and 010 category ratio scale (Noble, Borg, Jacobs,
Ceci, & Kaiser, 1983). The latter is considered to be
more useful for assessing resistance-exercise intensity (Day, McGuigan, Brice, & Foster, 2004;
Naclerio et al., 2011; Sweet, Foster, McGuigan, &
Brice, 2004).
It has been suggested that resistance exercise
intensity is most accurately assessed as perceived
effort applied for a given load, defined as the number
of repetitions performed in relation to the number
possible (Fisher, Steele, Bruce-Low, & Smith, 2011).
This is based on data that have shown large
variations in the number of repetitions performed
to muscular failure at the same percentage of onerepetition maximum (Hoeger, Hopkins, Barette, &
Hale, 1990; Shimano et al., 2006). Previous studies

Correspondence: D. A. Hackett, Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Sydney, 75 East Street, Lidcombe, NSW 2141, Australia.
E-mail: daniel.hackett@sydney.edu.au
ISSN 0264-0414 print/ISSN 1466-447X online 2012 Taylor & Francis
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2012.710757

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1406

D. A. Hackett et al.

have demonstrated that active muscle RPE is related


to the load used during resistance exercise, with RPE
increasing with the load expressed as a percentage of
one-repetition maximum (Gearhart et al., 2002;
Lagally et al., 2001). However, several investigators
have reported RPE less than maximum during
resistance exercise to volitional fatigue, indicating a
mismatch between RPE and maximal effort. For
instance, in resistance-trained individuals who
performed lifts to muscular failure at 60% and
90% of one-repetition maximum, mean RPE (010
category ratio scale) values were 7.2 and 6.8
(Shimano et al., 2006) and 8.1 and 6.8 (Pritchett,
Green, Wickwire, Pritchett, & Kovacs, 2009)
respectively. Therefore, the RPE scale might be
useful with loads, but is less suitable for assessing
effort to muscular failure.
Perception of effort during resistance exercise is
influenced by several exertional sensations, including
muscle activation, afferent signals from golgi tendon
organs, muscle spindles and mechanoreceptors
(Cafarelli, 1982; Jones & Hunter, 1983; McCloskey,
Gandevia, Porter, & Colebatch, 1983). This is unlike
aerobic exercise, where there are strong correlations
between physiological responses (i.e. heart rate, rate
of oxygen consumption, muscle blood lactate) and
perception of effort (Borg, 1970, 1973; Noble et al.,
1983). However, similar to resistance exercise, a
limitation of RPE occurs with aerobic exercise, as
large inter-individual variability in RPE responses
have been documented at the same relative intensities of exercise (Garcin, Vautier, Vandewalle,
Wolff, & Monod, 1998). This led to the development
of a second perceptually based scale that subjectively
estimates time to exhaustion (estimated-time-limit
scale) to help assess aerobic exercise performance
(Garcin & Billat, 2001; Garcin, Coquart, Robin, &
Matran, 2011; Garcin, Vandewalle, & Monod,
1999). A similar scale for resistance exercise whereby
a lifter estimates repetitions to muscular failure after
a set could improve ways to express relative strain
over RPE. Feedback provided would be useful for
bodybuilders and weight-lifters to assess effort
during sets when not lifting to muscular failure,
and could therefore help with the planning of
training. In addition, this scale could help athletes
tailor their resistance-training programme to avoid
overtraining and injuries, as a result of excessive
training and/or inadequate recovery.
The purpose of this study was to determine the
validity of a novel subjective estimated-repetitions-tofailure scale for predicting muscular failure during
resistance exercise. To do this, we compared estimated-repetitions-to-failure with actual-repetitionsto-failure and related both to RPE across multiple
resistance-exercise bouts in experienced resistancetrainers.

Methods
Participants
Seventeen competitive male bodybuilders (8.2 + 3.2
years of resistance training experience; age 32.3 +
4.7 years; body mass 89.1 + 5.4 kg; stature 178.5 +
4.5 cm; one-repetition maximum 148 + 11 kg and
208 + 22 kg for bench press and squat, respectively)
participated in the study. On the basis of questionnaire data, all participants performed 56 sessions of
resistance training per week involving 23 muscle
groups trained per session (split-training routine),
1216 sets per muscle group per session (34 sets per
exercise) at loads equivalent to 8- to 12-repetition
maximum or 7080% of one-repetition maximum.
All participants reported regular use of both the
bench press and squat in their normal training
routine. In addition, all participants reported not
having taken any banned substances as declared by
the International Olympic Committee (2008) antidoping rules, and were free of musculoskeletal
injuries or conditions when the study took place.
The study received approval from the University of
Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee.
Experimental design
Each participant visited the laboratory on four
occasions, twice for one-repetition maximum testing
and two experimental sessions. Participants were
instructed to maintain their normal diet during the
days preceding visits, to consume their last meal at
least 2 h before exercise, and to avoid using preworkout supplements because of their possible
influence on perceptual responses (Blomstrand,
2001). Moreover, participants were instructed to
refrain from exercises that targeted muscle groups
used for the bench press and squat in the 48 h before
one-repetition-maximum testing. Habituation and
experimental sessions were separated by 48 h to
minimize confounding influences of previous
exercise.
The exercise protocol used to assess the RPE and
estimated-repetitions-to-failure scales consisted of
performing five sets of 10 repetitions at 70% of
one-repetition maximum with 5 min recovery between sets both for the bench press and squat. These
exercises were selected because they are routinely
performed in resistance-training programmes and
are commonly used to assess muscular strength of
the upper and lower body, respectively. All exercises
were undertaken at a controlled speed (no ballistic
movements) through the full range of motion. This
involved full extension during the lifting phase for all
lifts, while during the lowering phase the bar was
moved to chest level (bench press), or to a position
where the thighs were parallel to the floor (squat).

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A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort


One-repetition maximum testing
The one-repetition-maximum tests for the bench
press and squat were performed in accordance with
the American College of Sports Medicines guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (ACSM,
2009). Briefly, participants performed a warm-up
that comprised 810 repetitions using a light load,
68 repetitions using a moderate load, and 23
repetitions using a heavy load. After the warm-up,
participants began one-repetition-maximum testing
by increasing the load and attempting to lift the load
once. If this lift was successful, the participant
recovered for 5 min before attempting another lift
with a heavier load. This cycle was continued until
the participant was unable to complete a lift using
proper technique through the full range of motion.
One-repetition maximum was defined as the heaviest
load that was successfully lifted for each exercise
(technical error of measurement 1.6 and 3.9 kg
equivalent to 1.1% and 2.3% for the bench press and
squat exercises, respectively).
Creation of the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale
The estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale was designed as an integer scale from 0 to 10, with each
interval representing one repetition. The 010 range
was selected to span the anticipated number of
repetitions that individuals could complete after 6
12 repetitions at loads that ranged from 70 to 85% of
one-repetition maximum (Shimano et al., 2006). At
the highest end of the scale (corresponding to a score
of 10) was the descriptor or greater, which
indicated more repetitions possible before muscular
failure and was selected to keep the scale concise.

1407

report their perceived effort (RPE scale), and estimate


the number of repetitions that they could perform to
muscular failure (estimated-repetitions-to-failure
scale). Both the RPE and estimated-repetitions-tofailure scales were written on a board and placed
directly above the participants while they were supine
for the bench press and in front of them during the
squats. From the RPE scale, participants were asked:
How would you rate your effort for the set? A rating
of 0 was associated with no effort (rest), and a
rating of 10 was considered to be maximal exertion to
the point of volitional muscular fatigue (Table I).
From the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale, participants were asked: How many additional repetitions
could you have performed? For example, a 0
indicated that the participant estimated that no
additional repetitions could be completed (muscular
failure reached) (Table II).

Table I. Modified version of the 010 category-ratio rating of


perceived exertion (RPE) scale used for this study.
Rating

Descriptor

0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Rest
Very, very easy
Easy
Moderate
Somewhat hard
Hard

Very hard

Maximal

Note: The verbal anchors have been changed slightly (e.g. light
becomes easy; strong or severe becomes hard). The participants
were shown this scale at the conclusion of the exercise set and
asked: How would you rate your effort for the set?

Habituation session
After the one-repetition-maximum test session, a copy
of both the RPE and estimated-repetitions-to-failure
scales was provided to each participant. All participants received verbal and written instruction on the
use of the RPE and estimated-repetitions-to-failure
scales. To help participants link their full exercise
stimulus range with their full RPE and estimatedrepetitions-to-failure response range, a memory-anchoring procedure was used. This involved asking
each participant to think of times during training
when they reached exertion that was equal to the
verbal cues at the bottom and top of the scales.
Perceived exertion was assessed via the modified 010
category-ratio RPE scale used in previous resistancetraining studies (Day et al., 2004; Egan, Winchester,
Foster, & McGuigan, 2006; Sweet et al., 2004). The
habituation session involved participants following the
same protocol as used in the experimental session. At
the completion of each set, participants were asked to

Table II. Estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale.


Estimated-repetitions-to-failure
10 or greater
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
Note: The participants were shown this scale at the conclusion of
the exercise set and asked: How many additional repetitions
could you have performed? An estimated-repetitions-to-failure
score of 10 or greater indicated that the participant estimated
that 10 or more repetitions could be completed, while a 0
indicated that the participant estimated no additional repetitions
could be completed (muscular failure reached).

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1408

D. A. Hackett et al.

Experimental session
The experimental session began with each participant performing a warm-up that comprised 810
repetitions of a moderate load for each exercise
before the first set of the bench press and squat. After
the warm-up, participants performed five sets of 10
repetitions (or to muscular failure if 10 repetitions
was not possible) at 70% of one-repetition-maximum, for both exercises. During the lifts, participants were encouraged to complete each repetition
through a full range of motion without deviating
from the proper technique, while keeping the lifting
speed constant. Two spotters were present to provide
verbal encouragement and ensure adherence to
correct technique and safety of participants. Both
RPE and estimated-repetitions-to-failure were recorded upon completion of each set, with the order
in which participants reported these ratings randomized between sets. The experimenter was blinded to
randomization. During the reporting of RPE and
estimated-repetitions-to-failure, the barbell remained
supported by the participant at the top of the
concentric phase. Therefore, participants achieved
full extension of the elbow joint while supine for
the bench press, and full extension of the knee joint
while upright for the squat. These positions were held
for approximately 5 s, after which the participant
performed repetitions to volitional exhaustion. During this part of the set, verbal encouragement was
given to each participant to perform as many
repetitions as possible. This was referred to as the
actual-repetitions-to-failure and was indicated by the
inability to perform the concentric phase of a lift.
Once muscular failure was achieved, spotters were
required to remove the load safely from the
participant.
Statistical analysis
Since the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale was
0 to 10 or greater, any actual-repetitions-tofailure value that was 410 was adjusted to 10. Data
for all recordings are presented as means + standard
deviations (s). Data were analysed using Statistica
v.10.0 (StatSoft Inc., Tulsa, AZ). Parametric tests
compared estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure
since the data were interval, normally distributed
(confirmed using probability plots), and had similar
variances. Relationships between estimated- and
actual-repetitions-to-failure across participants for
each exercise were assessed using Pearsons correlations and linear least-products regression (Ludbrook,
1997). Estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure for
each exercise were assessed by a fully within-groups
factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA). Tukey post
hoc tests were used as appropriate. The reliability of
participants accuracy in estimating repetitions-to-

failure between the habituation and the experimental


sessions was determined via the intraclass correlation
coefficient (a two-way random-effects model). As a
general rule, an intraclass correlation coefficient
above 0.90 is considered to be high and shows a
consistency of measurements across trials. In addition, the reliability was assessed using Bland and
Altmans 95% limits of agreement as described by
Atkinson and Nevill (1998). The relationships between both estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure with RPE were analysed using a Spearsmans rank
correlation because RPE is a non-parametric variable.
Statistical significance was set at P 5 0.05 and effect
sizes (ES) were evaluated as per the scale: 0.2, 0.5,
and 0.8 representing small, medium, and large effect
sizes respectively (Cohen, 1992).
Results
For both the bench press and squat, the estimatedand actual-repetitions-to-failure for set 5 was 0 for all
participants. Therefore, data from set 5 were
excluded from the ANOVA. Estimated- and actualrepetitions-to-failure decreased across sets for both
bench press (F3,48 81.5; P 5 0.01; large ES
2.2) and squat (F3,48 42.7; P 5 0.05; large
ES  1.2). Actual-repetitions-to-failure was greater
than estimated equivalents for the bench press
(F1,16 27.9; P 5 0.01) and squat (F1,16 6.8;
P 5 0.05). There was an interaction between
estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure across
sets both for the bench press (F3,48 5.0;
P 5 0.01) and squat (F3,48 33.4; P 5 0.01). Post
hoc testing showed that actual-repetitions-to-failure
were greater than estimated equivalents for sets 1 and
2 (P 5 0.01; small and medium ES 0.65 and
0.49, respectively) for the bench press, and set 1
(P 5 0.01; medium ES 0.76) for the squat, with
no differences between estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure for all other sets (P  0.21; small
ES  0.37) (Table III and Figure 1).
The intraclass correlation coefficient for the
accuracy of participants estimates of the repetitions
to failure between the habituation session and the
experimental session ranged from 0.92 to 1.0 for the
bench press and 0.96 to 1.0 for the squat, indicating
high reliability. The 95% limits of agreement
between sessions ranged from 0.63 to 0.0 (mean
0.18 + 1.25) repetitions for the bench press and
from 0.45 to 0.0 (mean 0.04 + 1.13) repetitions for
the squat, again indicating good agreement.
There were positive correlations between estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure across all
participants for the bench press (r 0.95; P 5 0.05)
and squat (r 0.93; P 5 0.05) (Figure 2). There
were also positive correlations for individual participants between estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-

1409

A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort


Table III. The 95% confidence interval (CI) and effect sizes (ES) for mean estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure.
Estimated-repetitions-to-failure

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Set
Bench press
1
2
3
4
5
Squat
1
2
3
4
5

Actual-repetitions-to-failure

Difference

mean

95% CI

mean

95% CI

mean

ES (Cohens d)

5.8
4.2
2.4
1.4
0.0

2.2
1.5
1.4
1.5
0.0

[4.66.9]
[3.44.9]
[1.63.1]
[0.72.2]
[00]

7.1
4.9
2.7
1.5
0.0

1.9
1.7
1.3
1.5
0.0

[6.18.0]
[4.15.8]
[2.13.4]
[0.72.3]
[00]

1.3
0.8
0.4
0.1
0.0

0.65
0.49
0.27
0.04

5.1
4.0
3.5
2.1
0.0

2.6
2.1
1.3
1.1
0.0

[3.86.5]
[2.95.1]
[2.84.2]
[1.52.7]
[00]

7.1
4.4
3.1
1.8
0.0

2.6
2.4
0.9
1.1
0.0

[5.78.4]
[3.15.6]
[2.63.6]
[1.32.4]
[00]

1.9
0.4
70.4
70.3
0.0

0.76
0.16
0.37
0.28

Figure 1. Estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure values for


the bench press (A) and squat (B) (mean + s). *Significant
difference between estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure.

failure across sets 1 to 5 for the bench press (r


0.97 + 0.04; P 5 0.05) and squat (r 0.90 +
0.11; P 5 0.05).
For the bench press, negative correlations were
observed between estimated-repetitions-to-failure
and RPE (Spearmans rho 70.96 + 0.03;
P 5 0.05) and actual-repetitions-to-failure and

Figure 2. Scatter plot showing the relationship between estimatedand actual-repetitions-to-failure for the bench press (A) and squat
(B). The lines of best fit, r2, and the least-products regression
equations are shown. Note that the slopes are close to 1 and the
intercepts are close to 0.

1410

D. A. Hackett et al.

RPE (Spearmans rho 70.96 + 0.03; P 5 0.05)


for individual participants. For the squat, there were
negative correlations between estimated-repetitionsto-failure and RPE (Spearmans rho 70.86 +
0.15; P 5 0.05) and actual-repetitions-to-failure
and RPE (Spearmans rho 70.94 + 0.05; P 5
0.05) for individual participants. The RPE at volitional exhaustion (set 5) was 8.9 + 0.8 and 9.0 +
0.7 for the bench press and squat, respectively.

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Discussion
The purpose of this study was to design and evaluate
a novel estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale to
assess resistance-exercise effort. We recorded both
the estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure
across five sets of exercise in experienced resistance
trainers. The results showed high positive correlations between estimated- and actual-repetitions-tofailure across all participants, and from individual
participants across all sets. During sets 3, 4, and 5,
estimated-repetitions-to-failure accurately predicted
the number of repetitions to failure for the bench
press and squat as indicated by no differences with
small effect sizes (Table III). However, the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale was less accurate
(underestimated by a mean of approximately one
repetition) in predicting repetitions to failure during
sets 1 and 2 for the bench press, and set 1 for the
squat, as indicated by the interaction of rating with
time (Figure 1) and medium effect sizes (Table III).
These findings suggest that the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale is valid for predicting repetitions to failure, although slightly less accurate during
the earlier sets of an exercise when participants are
probably less fatigued. In addition, the high intraclass correlation coefficient and narrow limits of
agreement for the accuracy of participants estimating repetitions to failure between the habituation and
the experimental sessions indicated that the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale had good reliability. Importantly, the estimated-repetitions-to-failure
scale accurately predicted the point of muscular
failure. In contrast, and in line with previous reports
(ACSM, 2009; Pritchett et al., 2009; Shimano et al.,
2006), despite being positively correlated with
estimated- and actual-repetitions-to-failure, mean
RPE was less than 10 at the point of muscular failure.
The RPE is a widely accepted method for assessing
resistance-exercise effort (ACSM, 2009). Previous
studies have demonstrated that active muscle RPE
ratings increase with the lifting of heavier loads and
as an individual approaches fatigue (Duncan & AlNakeed, 2006; Gearhart et al., 2002; Lagally et al.,
2001). However, an intriguing aspect of the RPE
scale is that muscular failure is often achieved with
ratings less than maximal effort (RPE 10)

reported (Pritchett et al., 2009; Shimano et al.,


2006). Yet prediction and identification of muscular
failure is required for assessing resistance-exercise
effort and for prescription of training loads (i.e.
repetition maximum) (Kraemer & Ratamess, 2004;
Ratamess et al., 2009; Wilardson, 2007). Furthermore, the number of repetitions performed in a set in
relation to the number possible is suggested to be the
most accurate method to assess resistance-exercise
intensity (Fisher et al., 2011). Therefore, a scale
based on the aerobic exercise estimated-time-limit
scale was designed for resistance exercise. For
experienced resistance-trainers in the present study,
the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale was valid
for predicting the repetitions to muscular failure
during resistance exercise. However, participants
underestimated the number of repetitions they could
complete to muscular failure during the earlier sets of
the exercises. Similar to perceived exertion, estimation of repetitions to failure probably involves the
interplay of afferent and efferent feedback, as well as
psychological and situational factors (Eston, 2009).
In the earlier sets, participants could have relied on
past experience as opposed to recent experience to
make their estimations. Therefore, it was not
surprising that as the sets progressed, the accuracy
of the participants estimation increased. Despite the
differences between the estimated- and actualrepetitions-to-failure for the earlier sets of exercise,
the difference was approximately only one repetition,
indicating that participants only slightly underestimated this.
The ACSM recommendations for muscular
strength and hypertrophy suggest that 6085% of
one-repetition maximum for 812 repetitions should
be performed for novice and intermediate individuals, and 70100% of one-repetition maximum for
112 repetitions for advanced resistance-trainers
(Ratamess et al., 2009). However, the number of
repetitions to muscular failure at a fixed percentage of
one-repetition maximum varies between muscle
groups (Arazi & Asadi, 2011; Hoeger et al., 1990),
with more repetitions generally required for larger
muscles. In addition, inter-individual variation in
intensity and effort probably occurs when performing
a specific number of repetitions at a fixed percentage
of one-repetition maximum (Hoeger et al., 1990).
For example, at 70% of one-repetition maximum,
one individual might perform 12 repetitions to
failure, whereas another might perform 18 repetitions
to failure. If both of these individuals performed 10
repetitions at 70% of one-repetition maximum, each
would be training at different levels of effort.
Resistance-trainers could use the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale to assess the onset of muscular
failure after an exercise. For example, performing
10 repetitions of the bench press at 70% of

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A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort


one-repetition maximum could result in the estimation of two or eight repetitions to muscular failure. If
a lifters intention is to perform multiple sets of
this exercise in a specific repetition range, an estimation of two repetitions to failure would inform
the lifter of the need to increase recovery between
sets. In contrast, an estimation of eight repetitions to
failure indicates that a greater load is required to
achieve a specific intensity and effort for the set.
Whether sets should be performed to muscular
failure is a topic of enthusiastic debate. Some
investigators have demonstrated that training to failure
is superior for increases in strength and hypertrophy
(Drinkwater et al., 2005; Rooney, Herbert, & Balnave, 1994), whereas others concluded that it is not
necessary (Folland, Irish, Roberts, Tarr, & Jones,
2002; Kramer et al., 1997; Sanborn et al., 2000).
Prescription of resistance exercise based on training to
failure can be expressed as a repetition maximum or as
the maximal repetitions to failure at a fixed percentage
of one-repetition maximum (Kraemer & Ratamess,
2004; Ratamess et al., 2009; Tan, 1999). However,
performing consecutive sets to failure reduces the
force that a muscle can generate, with reductions in
exercise load required to maintain a specific number
of repetitions (Izquierdo et al., 2006; Rahimi, 2005).
Therefore, an effective strategy to maintain a specific
number of repetitions at a fixed load is to select a load
that requires slightly less than maximal effort for the
first set (Wilardson, 2007). Resistance-trainers could
use the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale to select
an appropriate load that would result in muscular
failure during the final set. For example, for a session
involving three sets of 10 repetitions, if the lifter
estimated 7 repetitions to failure after the first set
performed with 100 kg, the load could be adjusted to
110 kg. This would reduce estimated repetitions to
failure by 2 on the subsequent set, and because of
increasing fatigue, lead to absolute failure on the final
set. In addition, for individuals with pre-existing
musculoskeletal injuries or cardiovascular conditions
for which training to failure is contraindicated (Stone,
Chandler, Conley, Kramer, & Stone, 1996), the
estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale could be a useful
way to avoid this outcome.
Prolonged training to failure could lead to overtraining and overuse injuries (Stone et al., 1996;
Wilardson, 2007). Athletes using resistance exercise
as part of their overall training programme could use
the estimated-repetition-to-failure scale to indicate if
they are overreaching and require more recovery.
This would be seen by fewer repetitions to muscular
failure estimated during the initial set of an exercise
despite the repetitions and load remaining the same
as in previous sessions. The load could then be
adjusted to correspond to greater repetitions to
muscular failure estimated at a specific repetition

1411

range. The scale could also be useful for assessing


improvements in muscular strength, whereby increased strength would be indicated by more
repetitions to muscular failure estimated for sets of
the same exercise between training sessions.
A scale similar to estimated-repetitions-to-failure
could be used to assess the occupational capability of
injured workers. Rather than estimate repetitions to
failure for a resistance exercise, the scale could be
modified to estimate the ability to perform specific
manual tasks. For example, the number of boxes or
bricks that could be lifted before pain or fatigue occurred. Employers could use this information to
determine the capabilities of an injured employee or
safety of a task. Further research is needed to
examine the suitability of the procedure in applications such as these.
The high accuracy in estimating repetitions to
failure could have been because participants were
attuned to sensations of effort as a result of their
exercise experience. Garcin et al. (2011) demonstrated that high-standard cyclists were better at
estimating time to exhaustion than low-standard
cyclists. It was postulated that high-standard athletes
are accustomed to signals of exertion associated with
exercise and use these as cues to estimate exercise
limits (Garcin et al., 2011). Therefore, it is possible
that the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale might
not be valid for novice resistance-trainers. Research
is required to assess the validity of this scale in
different groups.
We cannot exclude the possibility that the accuracy in estimation of repetitions to failure was
influenced by goals set by individual participants.
Namely, participants could have used their estimation as a goal, and once this was achieved, motivation
to continue was lost. However, all participants in this
study were highly experienced resistance-trainers
who commonly perform additional repetitions after
reaching muscular fatigue with the help of spotters or
by reducing the load. Therefore, it is unlikely that the
participants ceased sets because they achieved their
estimated repetitions rather than reaching muscular
failure. Furthermore, participants received equal
encouragement in all tests, and had spotters to assist
when muscular failure resulted. All together, this
supports the contention that the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale is valid for predicting repetitions to failure for resistance exercise. However,
further research in a larger sample size of experienced resistance-trainers is required to confirm its
broader validity.
Conclusion
The estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale is a valid
method for reporting estimated repetitions to failure

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1412

D. A. Hackett et al.

during resistance exercise. High positive correlations


between estimated-repetitions-to-failure and actualrepetitions-to-failure occurred across sets. Participants slightly underestimated repetitions to muscular
failure during the earlier sets (by approximately one
repetition), although they accurately predicted repetitions to muscular failure during the later sets. The
estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale could be useful
for assessing intensity at a fixed percentage of onerepetition maximum between individuals, targeting
sets to produce muscular failure, assessing effort for
individuals with pre-existing musculoskeletal injuries
or cardiovascular conditions, and assessing whether
athletes are overreached and need further recovery.
Research is required to determine the appropriateness of the estimated-repetitions-to-failure scale for
novice resistance-trainers.

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