Ways To Reduce Perceived Exertion And Enjoy Your Run


Let’s face it: running is hard, especially if you are a beginner who is trying to get in shape or if you’re an experienced runner trying to push yourself toward a PR.

Perceived exertion refers to how difficult or vigorous your effort level feels during exercise. Runners may be familiar with the acronym RPE, which stands for rate of perceived exertion.

But does your rate of perceived exertion when running really matter?

It certainly does because the harder that running feels, the less motivated you may be to keep pushing yourself, which might mean that you’ll either end up easing up on your pace or cutting your workout short.

So, are there ways to reduce perceived exertion so that running feels easier? What tips can you use to help make running feel easier?

Keep reading to find out!

We will cover: 

  • What Is Rate of Perceived Exertion When Running?
  • Tips to Reduce Perceived Exertion So That Running Feels Easier

Let’s get started!

A runner with their hands on their knees, tired.

What Is Rate of Perceived Exertion When Running?

Perceived exertion, more formally called “rate of perceived exertion” and often referred to simply as RPE, refers to how hard you subjectively feel like you are pushing yourself or how difficult your workout feels.

It can be used for any type of exercise but is often used by runners to try to quantify a qualitative aspect of their workout—effort level.

There are two primary scales used to measure rate of perceived exertion, the Borg Scale, which ranges from 6-20, and the general RPE scale, which ranges from 1-10. 

The Borg Scale was initially devised to loosely correlate with heart rate, such that an effort level of 6 would be approximately a heart rate of 60 beats per minute, and an RPE of 20 (max effort) would equate to a maximum heart rate of 200 bpm.

The RPE 1-10 scale simplifies the Borg Scale, yet it is still intended to roughly correlate with your heart rate during exercise, as follows:

A runner hunched over, looking at the camera.
RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) ScaleSubjective Effort Level “Feel”Estimated Heart Rate
2-4Light exertion; should be quite comfortable, very easy warm-up pace50%-60% of maximum heart rate
4-5Moderate effort; heavier breathing but able to carry on full conversations, easy pace60%-70% of maximum heart rate
5-7Moderate to vigorous effort; uncomfortably hard, tempo pace70%-80% of maximum heart rate
7-9Vigorous to extremely hard; short, at the higher end range (8-9), breath is short, and you can’t talk in anything other than short, choppy breaths, race pace80%-90% of maximum heart rate
10Maximal effort; full-out sprint100% of maximum heart rate

The higher your rate of perceived exertion, the more uncomfortable and difficult your run will seem.

A runner sitting down, with high perceived exertion.

Tips to Reduce Perceived Exertion So That Running Feels Easier

Of course, we all want to be able to run faster and longer without feeling tired. 

The easier your workouts feel, the more comfortable you will be, enabling you to enjoy your run more and possibly even train at a faster pace or extend the duration of the workout.

Here are some tips to reduce perceived exertion while running to make running feel easier:

#1: Train

Ultimately, no runner wants to hear this, but if you are looking for how to run without getting tired, the answer often comes down to patience and training.

Being able to run without getting tired requires that you have developed a certain level of strength and stamina in your heart, lungs, and leg muscles to support running.

Running is a physically-demanding form of exercise, and it takes consistent training over a period of at least a couple of months to build the endurance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness to run comfortably without feeling breathless or like your legs are burning.

Three runners smiling while running on the coast.

#2: Work On Your Running Form

Running with proper form can make running feel easier because your movement pattern will be more comfortable.

Holding excess tension in your muscles, such as your shoulders and upper back, will lead to premature fatigue.

Hunching over as you run will compromise the patency of your airway and compress your lungs, making breathing harder as you run.

If you aren’t using your arms effectively— such as not swinging your arms enough or using too much side-to-side motion across your body instead of front-and-back— your running stride will be less efficient, and more workload will be placed on your legs, making running feel harder.

Working on your running form is a good way to make running feel easier and more natural. Consider getting a running gait analysis at your local running store, working with a running coach, or having a friend take a video of your running form and then using that information to make small adjustments over time to run with better technique.

A person running outside.

#3: Wear a Heart Rate Monitor 

This tip for how to make running feel easier works really well for some runners and is counterproductive for others, depending on how in sync you are with your true physiological effort level and your rate of perceived exertion.

When you think about RPE, it is a subjective measurement, meaning that it is your perception of how hard your body is working. Some runners are relatively in tune and accurate with their rate of perceived exertion and true physiological intensity level.

For these people, wearing a heart rate monitor may do little either way in terms of affecting how hard running feels because obtaining objective metrics that indicate the relative intensity of your physiological exertion will not differ appreciably from how hard your mind perceives you are pushing yourself.

However, if you are prone to feeling like you are pushing yourself harder than your body is actually working, wearing a heart rate monitor during your workout can be a great way to readjust your mental perception and guide your rate of perceived exertion down to be more accurate with your true effort level.

For example, imagine the case of a runner who has a maximum heart rate of 180 bpm and feels that they are at an RPE of 9 out of 10. 

A person running with poor posture.

This rate of perceived exertion essentially denotes that the runner feels they are working at 90% capacity, which would correlate to a heart rate of 162 bpm (90% of their maximum heart rate).

However, if you look at your heart rate monitor and your actual heart rate is only 135 bpm, about 70% of your maximum heart rate, you should subjectively be running at an RPE of 7 out of 10. Seeing the true number may help you recognize that you’re more relaxed and comfortable than your mind is telling you.

In this way, wearing a heart rate monitor can be a reality check to keep your brain from trying to convince you that you are more tired than you are.

#4: Focus On the Benefits of Running

Have you ever heard that your expectations can color your reality? In other words, if we think the run is going to hurt or be hard, it may actually feel harder. The converse can also be true. If you set your expectations with a positive mindset, focusing on the benefits to be gained by running, your run might feel that much easier. 

In fact, evidence suggests that focusing on the potential benefits of exercise can reduce perceived exertion during the workout.

There are so many benefits of running, so try to keep several in the forefront of your mind and remind yourself why you are out there, and maybe the seemingly impossible struggle will fade into a more doable effort.

A runner running down the lake.

#5: Listen to Upbeat Music

Many runners enjoy running to music. Music can be distracting, and the beat can also be energizing, helping you feel a pep in your step. 

If you find that it feels easier to run faster when you’re listening to music, it’s not all in your head. Evidence has demonstrated that listening to music during aerobic exercise reduces perceived exertion and increases enjoyment.

So, pop in your earbuds (as long as you can still hear your surroundings), queue up your favorite playlist, and enjoy your run!

#6: Run With a Friend

Having a running buddy can certainly make running feel easier because social companionship helps distract you from the physical discomfort of pushing your body. 

Consider joining a local running club if you don’t know anyone who runs, or try encouraging a neighbor or coworker to join you.

Two people running.

#7: Slow Down

Of course, slowing down your pace will help reduce your perceived exertion because the demand for oxygen decreases the slower you go. 

Allow yourself time to build your fitness. 

Stay patient and positive. Running will start to feel easier over time. What feels impossibly hard now will someday feel like a leisurely jog. You’ve got this!

If you need a pump-up playlist for your runs, check out our High BPM Songs To Power Your Run.

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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