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International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2013,8, 62-69

2013 Human Kinetics, Inc.

Factors Affecting Perception of Effort (Session Rating

of Perceived Exertion) During Rugby League Training
Thomas W.J. Lovell, Anita C. Sirotic, Franco M. Impellizzeri, and Aaron J. Coutts

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the validity of session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE)
for monitoring training intensity in rugby league. Methods: Thirty-two professional rugby leagiie players
participated in this study. Training-load (TL) data were collected during an entire season and assessed via
microtechnology (heart-rate [HR] monitors, global positioning systems [GPS], and accelerometers) and sRPE.
Within-individual correlation analysis was used to determine relationships between sRPE and various other
measures of training intensity and load. Stepwise multiple regressions were used to determine a predictive
equation to estimate sRPE during rugby league training. Results: There were significant within-individual
correlations between sRPE and various other interhal and external measures of intensity and load. The step-
wise multiple-regression analysis also revealed that 62.4% of the adjusted variance in sRPE-TL could be
explained by TL measures of distanc, impacts, body load, and training impulse (y = 37.21 -i- 0.93 distance
- 0.39 impacts + 0.18 body load + 0.03 training impulse). Furthermore, 35.2% of the adjusted variance in
sRPE could be explained by exercise-intensity measures of percentage of peak HR (%HRpeak). impacts/min,
m/min, and body load/min (y = -0.01 + 0.37%HRpeak + 0.10 impacts/min + 0.17 m/min + 0.09 body load/
min). Conclusion: A combination of internal and external TL factors predicts sRPE in rugby league training
better than any individual measures alone. These findings provide new evidence to support the use of sRPE
as a global measure of exercise intensity in rugby league training.

Keywords: training load, microtechnology, training intensity, GPS, internal training load, external training load

Physical training forms the foundation for the and risk the loss of data due to technical error.'''^ More-
development of an athlete's physical, physiological, and over, the measurement of external TL merely describes
performance characteristics.''^ Therefore, the ability for the activity a player has completed and may not accurately
coaches and sports scientists to monitor specific training depict the physiological stress imposed on individual
doses applied to individual athletes is essential to opti- athletes. Accordingly, internal TL has been suggested to
mize the process of training.^ This is especially important be the most efficacious method for monitoring an athlete's
in the team-sport setting, where players with different response to a training dose.*
fitness levels may not have similar training responses to Session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) was
the same training session."* At present, however, while proposed as a simple, noninvasive, and inexpensive
there are many different approaches to monitoring train- method for monitoring internal TL. sRPE has since been
ing load or dose in team sports, the validity of these for validated for many endurance'''" and team sports.^'^"
team sports has not been properly inyestigated. Based on psychophysical constructs, the sRPE method is
The recent development of microtechnologies such understood to provide a global indicator of exercise inten-
as heart-rate (HR) monitors, global positioning systems sity, providing an accurate measure of an individual's
(GPS), and accelerometers has allowed for very detailed response to a training dose.'^ Recent studies have vali-
information on the external (ie, distance) and internal (ie, dated the sRPE method for intermittent team sports such
HR) training loads (TL) to be measured in team-sport as soccer''* and basketball," with internal TL measures
training.' These devices are now widely used in many of HR and blood lactate providing strong relationships
professional sport teams to moiiitorTLs.^ However, these with sRPE. These findings have lead to widespread use
devices are expensive, require high technical expertise. of sRPE to monitor TLs in team sports.
In contrast to these findings, sRPE has recently
been questioned for its validity in collision sports such
Lovell and Coutts are with the Sport and Exercise Discipline as rugby league.'^ It has been suggested that the sRPE
Group, UTS: Health, University of Technology, Sydney, Austra- method is unable to reflect the underlying physiological
lia. Sirotic is with the Parramatta Eels Rugby League Football stress arising from frequent collisions and intermittent,
Club, Parramatta, Australia. Impellizzeri is with CeRiSM, high-intensity activity.'^ Moreover, no studies to date have
University of Verona, Verona, Italy. properly assessed the relationship between external TL

Using Session RPE in Rugby League 63

and perceived exertion. Accordingly, the purpose of this Speedshort, intense drills aimed at ihiproving
study was to examine the validity of sRPE for monitor- speed, agility, and running technique
ing training intensity in rugby league. In particular, we Wrestlehigh-intensity contact sessions aimed at
examined the internal and external factors that contribute improving both tackling and wrestling techniques
to perceived exertion in rugby league training.
internal TL
Methods The TL for each session was calculated usihg the sRPE
Participants method for each player duririg the study period." sRPE
was measuf-ed to determine intensity using Borg's CR-10
Thirty-two professional rugby league players from the scale,'^ which was collected -30 minutes after each train-
same National. Rugby League (NRL) club participated ing session. sRPE was then multiplied by session duration
in this study. The participants had the following char- to calculate TL (sRPE-TL). All players who participated
acteristics: age 24.4 4.1 years, height 184.8 5.3 cm, in this study had been familiarized with this RPE scale
body mass 98 10 kg, NRL experience 62 76 matches. according to standard procedures" before cmhiencing
Before this study, players had completed an 8-week the study. .
period of active recovery. A written consent form was HR was collected during each training session (every
obtained from each subject before the commencement of 5 s) using Polar HR straps as an additional measure of
the study. Before any testing, ethical approval was granted training intensity (T14, Polar, Oy, Finland). The data
by an institutional human research ethics committee. were continuously transmitted to a GPS monitor (SPI
Pro, GPSports, Fyshwick, Canberra, Australia) before
Study Design being analyzed using Measures of
both HRresi and HRpeak were required for each participant
This study used a prospective longitudinal research design
to determine individual HR training zones. HRresi was
where training load data were collected during an entire
calculated from the lowest HR observed for each player
season, which included 17 weeks preseason training and a
while at rest, while HRpeak was calculated from the high-
26-week competition period. TL measures were assessed
est HR achieved during the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery
via microtechnology (HR, GPS, and accelerometer) and
Test Level 1 (YoYo IR 1 ), '" at the start and at the midpoint
perception of effort (sRPE) during each training ses-
of the observation period. The YoYo IRl was used as it
sion. Before the study, players were familiarized with
was a normal part of each player's physiological- and
all methods. Both HRresi and HRpeak were determined
performance-testing regimen and was conducted accord-
for each player before the corhmencement oif the study.
ing to previously described methods.'^ It has previously
Relationships between the internal- and external-load
been reported that players achieve 99% 1 % of their
measures were examined.
HRpeak during the YoYo IRl.'^ All players were familiar
with the field-testing procedures, as they were part of
Physical Training their usual fitness-assessment program.
The training program was prescribed and implemented In addition, an HR-based training impulse (TRIMP)
by the NRL club's coaching staff during the entire study. was used in this study to determine internal TL. Banister's
During the preseason period, each player usually com- TRIMP'* is calculated according to training duration,
pleted 4 or 5 training sessions per week. The typical week HRpeak, HRrest, and HR, and is expressed in the follow-
consisted of 2 skills sessions, 2 conditioning sessions, ing formula: ' . '
and 1 skills-conditioning session. In addition, wrestling
and speed training were commonly incorporated into TL = D(AHR ratio) e*('^'^'* ""'^
existing sessions on 2 occasions per week. During the where D = duration of training session, and b = 1.92 for
competition period, each player usually completed 2 or males.
3 skills sessions per week. Training sessions were typi-
cally conducted together with the entire training squad.
All sessions could be identified as one of the following External TL
5 training modes: External-load measures of distance, high-speed running
Conditioninglargely high-intensity running aimed (HSR), body load, and impacts were measured during
at improving players' aerobic fitness, rugby-league- each session. Distance and HSR (>15 km/h) were col-
specific endurance, and match-fitness lected concurrently during each session using 5-Hz GPS
devices (SPI Pro, GPSports, Canberra, Australia). GPS
Skillsfocused on refining rugby league skills and devices have been shown to provide an acceptable level of
team tactics and strategy accuracy and reliability for distance and speed measures
, high-intensity duririg high-intensity, intermittent exercise."''^
conditioning games aimed at improving rugby- . Player impact measures and body load were gathered
league-specific fitness and performance of skills from triaxial accelerometer data provided in g force and
under fatigue sampled at 100 Hz. Previous research has reported an
64 Lovell et al

acceptable level of reliability for triaxial accelerometers ods were used for the calculation of means, SDs, and
both within and between devices in team sports.'^ The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients. The
measure of impacts is determined from the summed multiple-regression, ANOVA, and collinearity statistics
accelerations from 3 accelerometer planes. The load and linear-regression analysis were conducted using the
and intensity measures for these impacts were identified PASW statistical software package (Version 17, Chicago,
as total number of impacts and impacts/min, respec- IL). Statistical significance was set at P < .05. The data
tively. The intensity of impacts was graded according are presented as means and SD unless otherwise stated.
to the following acceleration zones provided by system
manufacturers: 5.0 to 6.0 g, light impact (zone 1); 6.01
to 6.5 g, light to moderate impact (zone 2); 6.51 to 7.0 g, Results
moderate to heavy impact (zone 3); 7.01 to 8.0 g, heavy
impact (zone 4); 8.01 to 10.0 g, very heavy impact (zone A total of 2400 individual training sessions with a mean
5); and >10.0 g, severe impact (zone 6). duration of 35.9 16.9 minutes were observed during
this study, with 32 players eaeh providing 75.2 25.7
Body load provides a measure of total stress result- sessions. Mean load and intensity measures are presented
ing from accelerations, decelerations, changes of direc- in Table 1. Table 2 shows the number of sessions, mean
tion, and impacts. The load and intensity measures were
intensity, and mean load of all 5 training modalities.
identified as total player body load and body load/min,
Figure 1 shows the proportion of all training sessions
respectively. Body load was calculated automatically
when categorized by intensity measures of %HRpeak and
using a custom algorithm included in the proprietary
software provided by the manufacturers (TeamAMS
Version 17, GPSports, Canberra, Australia). Briefly, the Table 1 Load and Intensity Measures for All
body load is derived from the square root of the sum of Training Sessions, Mean SD, N = 2400
the squared instantaneous rate of change in acceleration
in each of the 3 vectors (x-, y-, and z-axes). The body-load Measure
intensities were then classified into 6 discrete acceleration
zones (described previously), and a loading factor (ie,
a loading factor of 1-6 for zones 1-6, respectively) was sRPE-TL (AU) 229 131
applied to each zone. The body load for each zone was distance (m) 2801 1578
multiplied by the player's body mass and then summed
and expressed in arbitrary units (AU). high-speed running (m) 392 316
body load (AU) 63,466 70,409

Statistical Analyses impacts (N) 451 493

training impulse (AU) 29 80
Within-individual correlations between the RPE-based
measures of training intensity and load and HR-, GPS-, Intensity
and accelerometer-derived measures of intensity and sRPE(AU) 6.5 1.9
load were analyzed using the Pearson correlation coef- speed (m/min) 79 38
ficient. The following criteria were adopted to interpret
the magnitude of the correlation (r) between test mea- high-speed running (m/min) 1212
sures: <.l trivial, .1 to .3 small, .3 to .5 moderate, .5 to .7 body load (AU/min) 1903 2127
large, .7 to .9 very large, and .9 to 1.0 almost perfect.^ impacts (N/min) 1315
Differences between the mean within-individual corre-
percent peak heart rate 72 9
lations between all of the methods were assessed using
a 1-way ANOVA with Tukey HSD post hoc to locate Abbreviations: sRPE, session rating of perceived exertion; TL, training
differences. A stepwise multiple regression was used load; AU, arbitrary units.
to determine a predictive equation to estimate sRPE
of rugby-league-specific training from internal- and
external-load measures. Partial correlation coefficients Table 2 Load and Intensity Measures of All
were also calculated to assess the relationship between Sessions, Divided Into Training Modes, Mean
RPE-based measures and various other intensity and load SD
measures. CoUinearity-tolerance statistics were calcu-
lated to determine the correlation between the predictor Training type sRPE sRPE-TL
variables. The collinearity-tolerance statistics are used Conditioning 398 8.8 1.1 249 120
to determine when a predictor is too highly correlated Skills 1097 5.6 1.3 245 82
with one or more of the other predictors. If the predictor
variables are highly correlated with each other, the influ- Skills conditioning 365 7.2 1.5 337 189
ence of one variable on the response variable cannot be Speed 262 4.7 1.0 82 38
separated from the other predictor variable. Therefore, Wrestling 278 7.4 1.7 130 53
any variable that had a tolerance level of less than .10
Abbreviations: sRPE, session rating of perceived exertion; TL, train-
was not included in the model. Standard statistical meth-
ing load.
Using Session RPE in Rugby League 65

sRPE. Within-individual correlations between the RPE- The stepwise multiple-regression analysis revealed
based measures of intensity and load and various other that 62.4% ofthe adjusted variance in sRPE-TL could be
training-intensity and -load measures are presented in explained by exercise-load measures of distance, impacts,
Eigure 2. Within-individual correlations divided between body load, and TRIMP Cy = 37.21 + 0.93 distance - 0.39
training modes are shown in Table 3. impacts -h 0.18 body load -i- 0.03 TRIMP; adjusted R^ =

I %HR peak

Low Moderate High


Figure 1 Proportion of training sessions at lower, moderate, and higher intensities when determined by percent peak heart rate
(%HRpcak) and session rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Intensity zones for %HRpcak were classed as low (<75%, n = 1488),
moderate (75-%, n = 686), and high (>85%, n = 226). Intensity zones for RPE were classed as low (RPE < 4, n = 372), moderate
(RPE 4-7, n = 960), and high (RPE > 7, n = 1068).

i l 0.85-
^ 0.70-

5 0.55-


Distance (m) HSR (m) Body Load (AU) Impact (N) TRIMP (AU)
0.80-1 B.

0 4
0.40- <1



Speed (m/min) HSR (fn/min) Body Loacl (AU/min) Impacts (n/min) %HRpeak

Figure 2 Within-individual correlations betv/een session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) and sRPE training load with various
other measures of (A) training load and (B) training intensity (mean SD). Abbreviations: HSR, high-speed running; AU, arbitrary
units; TRIMP, training impulse; %HRpeak, percent peak heart rate.
66 Lovell et al

62, F5,2394 - 796.08, P < .001). The collinearity statis- standardized coefficients, and the level of significance
tics for this niultiple regression were acceptable, with of predictors are shown in Table 4.
tolerance levels at .487, .170, .217, and .965. Further-
more, 35.2% of the adjusted variance in sRPE could be
explained by exercise-intensity measures of %HRpeak. Discussion
impacts/min, m/min, and body load/min (y = -0.01 +
0.37%HRpeak + 0.10 impacts/min + 0.17 m/min + 0.09 The purpose of this study was to examine the validity
body load/min; adjusted /?2 = -35, ^5,2393 = 260.02, P < of sRPE for monitoring training intensity and load in
.001). The collinearity statistics for this multiple regres- rugby league. In particular, ihe internal and external
sion were acceptable, with tolerance levels at .787,. factors that contribute to perceived exertion in rugby
.155, .341, and .249 respectively. Partial correlations. league training were assessed. The main finding of the

Table 3 Within-Individual Correlations for sRPE and sRPE-TL With Various Measures of Load and
Intensity, Mean SD
Measure Conditioning Skills Skills conditioning Speed Wrestling
n players (n sessions) 22(15.32.9) 32(34.313.0) 22(13.72.2) 12(108I.O) 13(12.21.4)
distance (m) 0.80 0.11 0.69 0.10 0.88 0.05 0.79 0.12 0.37 0.19
high-speed running (m) -0.23 0.20 0.53 0.15 0.84 0.08 0.43 0.15 0.16 0.21
body load (AU) 0.63 0.15 0.51 0.17 0.64 0.14 0.58 0.19 0.45 0.22
. impacts (n) 0.69 0.14 0.57 0.11 0.75 0.16 0.73 0.15 0.30 0.22
TRIMP (AU) 0.68 0.19 0.45 0.16 0.75 0.23 0.56 0.29 0.56 020
speed (m/min) 0.25 0.32 0.27 0.19 0.26 0.20 0.13 0.30 0:02 0.14
high-speed running (m/
min) . 0.03 0:24 0.23 0.22 0.28 0.23 0.25 0.24 0.20 0 1 6
body load (AU/min) 0.37 0.25 0.23 0.23 0.22 0.25 0.15 0.31 0.14 0 2 7
impacts (n/min) 0.36 0.30 0.28 0.18 0.36 0.23 0.13 0.33 0.12O15
percent peak heart rate 0.22 0.33 0.26 0.19 0.25 0.34 0.16 0.32 0.48 0.27
Abbreviations: sRPE, session rating of perceived exertion; TL, training load; AU, arbitrary units.

Table 4 Partial Correlations, Standardized Coefficients, and Level of Significance for Predictors of
sRPE-TL and sRPE
Partial correlation Standardized coefficient (/3) Significance of

Distance (m) .726 .927 .001
High-speed running (m)
body load (AU) .139 .184 .001
impacts (n) -.252 -.387 .001
training impulse (AU) .050 .031 .015
Speed (m/min) .130 .180 .001
High-speed running (m/min)
body load (AU/min) .055 .089 .001
. impacts (n/min) .046 .095 .001
percent peak heart rate .380 .373 .001
Abbreviations: sRPE, session rating of perceived exertion; TL, training load; AU, arbitrary units. All correlations significant at P < .05.
Using Session RPE in Rugby League 67

study was the significant within-individual correlations study. For example, Gomez-Piriz et aP^ employed Borg's
between sRPE and various other internal and external 6-to-20 ratio scale, while the current study used Borg's
measures of intensity and load. It was also observed that CR-IO. In addition, the current study reported within-
a combination of internal and external TL factors predicts player correlations from a large sample (N = 2400), while
sRPE in rugby league training better than any individual the previous study used pooled data from a relatively
measures alone. These results further demonstrate the small sample (N = 130). Accordingly, the current methods
validity of sRPE as an indicator of training intensity for provide a more valid means for assessing the validity
rugby-league-specific training. of load monitoring for athletes, especially when these
Similar to previous team-sport studies,^'*'" moder- measures are used to assess training within individuals.
ate to very large within-individual correlations were Taken collectively, both GPS- and accelerometer-derived
observed between sRPE-TL and the various TL measures. measures of exercise load and intensity relate strongly to
These results agree with those of Impellizzeri et al,^ who sRPE-TL and sRPE, providing new evidence to support
reported large to very large correlations between HR and sRPE's validity in rugby league training.
sRPE (r = .5O-.85) during soccer-specific training in 19 While the combined results from all training ses-
young soccer players. Similar correlations (r= .62) were sions have shown sRPE to be a valid measure of TL, the
also reported by Waldron et al,^' who observed rugby comparison of different training types provides a deeper
league matches in 12 elite rugby league players. However, understanding of the factors that affect sRPE in rugby
that study used pooled data from a relatively small sample league training. The within-individual correlations taken
size, differing from the within-individual correlations from each of the training niiodes (Table 3) showed that
observed in the current study. While our findings are sRPE-TL correlated with various measures of TL in all
similar to those of several previous studies,^'^'" stronger training types. These findings agree with research in
relationships between RPE and HR have been observed women's soccer,^ where TRIMP provided moderate to
during steady-state endurance exercise.^''" Collectively, very large correlations (r = .45-0.75) with sRPE-TL in
these observations suggest that factors other than HR con- a variety of training types. Furthermore, HR was signifi-
tribute to the perception of effort during high-intensity, cantly related to sRPE-TL and sRPE during wrestling
intermittent activity such as rugby league training. drills, with TRIMP and %HRpeak sharing large (r - .56)
A new finding from this study is the large and very and moderate (r = .48) correlations. While most TL mea-
large within-individual correlations between sRPE and sures provided poorer correlations during wrestling ses-
various GPS-derived measures of external load and sions, this may be due to the brief, intense, and physical
intensity. Specifically, load measures of distance and nature of these particular drills. Moreover, low to moder-
HSR provided very large (r - .82) and large (r = .62) ate correlations were found between sRPE and various
correlations, respectively, with sRPE-TL,, while intensity training-intensity measures in all other training modes.
measures of m/min and HSR/min provided moderate We suggest that this poor relationship may be due to the
(r = .47, .30) correlations with sRPE. While no known combination of many different factors that contribute to
previous studies have examined this relationship in team intensity in intermittent team-sport exercise, rather than
sports, similar findings have been reported ih swim-, HR-, GPS-, and accelerometer-derived methods alone.
ming,'" where large correlations (r = .65) were reported Similar to previous research on small-sided games
between distance swum during a training session and in soccer,^ the current study showed that a combina-
sRPE in 12 well-trained swimmers. The current results tion of various load and intensity measures collectively
show that both total distance and the distance traveled at explains more of the variance in sRPE than any individual
high speed significantly affect perceived exertion in rugby measures alone. However, no known previous research
league training. Respective intensity measures similarly has assessed both internal and external TLs in relation
affect sRPE; however, these provided weaker correlations to sRPE during team-sport training. The stepwise mul-
than the load measures. It is likely that these poorer cor- tiple regression for sRPE-TL showed that measures of
relations are a result of the many additional factors that distance, impacts, body load, and TRIMP accounted for
contribute to the perception of intensity in intermittent 62.4% of the variance during rugby league training ses-
team-sport exercise. sions. Similarly, the stepwise multiple regression could
In contrast to previous research conducted with explain 35.2% of the variance in sRPE with intensity
professional soccer players,^^ large correlations were measures of %HRpeai(. impacts/min, m/itiin, and body
observed between sRPE-TL and accelerometer-derived load/min. Collectively, these results provide further evi-
measures of body load (r = .57) and impacts (r - .55). dence suggesting that a niyriad of internal and external
Similarly, intensity measures of body load/min (r - .42) factors contribute to sRPE and sRP-TL. For example, it
and impacts/min (r - .45) provided moderate correla- has been suggested that additional psychobiological fac-
tions with sRPE. These results disagree with recent work tors such as blood lactate, metabolic acidosis, ventilatory
from Gomez-Piriz et al,^^ who reported a low correlation drive, respiratory gases, catecholamines, -endorphins,
between sRPE and body load {r- .23). Possible reasons and body temperature are also related to perception of
for the different findings are the alternative RPE scales effort during intermittent exercise.^' However, the rela-
and methods of statistical analysis employed in each tionship of these factors to sRPE during high-ihtensity
68 Lovell et al

intermittent exercise is yet to be determined. It is likely studies or in a club setting when using different monitor-
that if any of these measures were used to quantify TL ing methods. Moreover, accounting for session duration
or intensity independently, different information on the accurately should also be considered when using sRPE
training stress would be provided. We therefore suggest in team-sport training. While only accounting for time at
that care be taken when using different monitoring meth- work may provide better associations with various load
ods to compare TL. measures, the logistical difficulty in achieving this with
To our knowledge, no previous studies have com- large groups of players may be limiting. It is therefore
pared the distribution of training according to intensity suggested that using sRPE in the traditional manner, as
using different measures. The current findings show that suggested by Foster et al," would be the most practical
when sessions are categorized into low-, moderate-, and method to quantify TL in rugby league training.
high-intensity zones by both %HRpeak and sRPE (Figure
1), contrasting information is provided by each of the
measurement methods. While it is possible that the arbi- Conclusions
trary cutoff points for sRPE and HR are not at the same
intensity (ie, an HR of 75% may not be equivalent to an In summary, sRPE provided significant within-individual
RPE of 4), these individual demarcatioh points for low, correlations with various other measures of training
moderate, and high have been used by previous stud- intensity and load during rugby league training. It was
ies 24.25 jjie difference in demarcation points between also observed that a combination of internal and external
these methods may explain some of the variation in the TL factors predicts sRPE in rugby league training better
distribution of training intensities; however, there is a than any individual measures alone. These findings pro-
remarkable difference in the proportion of high and low vide new evidence to support the use of sRPE as a global
training intensities provided by HR and sRPE measures. measure of exercise intensity in rugby league training.
This finding suggests that different monitoring methods
provide different information on the stimulus applied to Acknowledgments
individuals during training. For example, in a wrestling
session, m/min is generally low while sRPE is high. This research was conducted with the support of the Parramatta
Conversely, in a skills session, m/min is generally much Eels Rugby League Football Club, Parramatta, Australia.
higher, yet sRPE moderate. It therefore appears that
the increased effort in wrestling sessions may not be
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