Background: Previous studies suggest that the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) increases during steady-state, open-loop exercise in proportion to the relative time to fatigue. This suggests that RPE is scalar and integrates physiological status and homeostatic disturbances.
Purpose: This study assessed the relationship between the rate of change in RPE, and relative distance in time trials at distances of 2.5, 5, and 10 km. It also assessed the rate of change in RPE during 5-km time trials while breathing hypoxic air.
Methods: The subjects were well-conditioned cyclists. In part 1, each subject completed habituation time trials, and then randomly ordered time trials at each distance. The category ratio RPE was measured in 10% increments throughout each trial. In part 2, each subject completed three 5-km time trials while breathing different inspired gas mixtures (FiO2 = 0.2093 throughout the trial, FiO2 = 0.15 between 2 and 4 km, and FiO2 = 0.15 between 2.5 and 4 km). RPE was measured at 10% increments.
Results: In part 1, when RPE was plotted against relative distance, there was no significant difference in the growth of RPE at proportional distances. In part 2, the decrease in power output during the hypoxic segments was sufficient that the growth of RPE was the same at each proportional distance. In both parts of the study, an RPE of 5 (hard) was achieved after 20% of the time trial distance, and an RPE of 8 was achieved after 80% distance.
Conclusions: This study supports the hypothesis that RPE increases similarly in relation to relative distance, regardless of the distance performed, and it suggests that the perception of effort has scalar properties.