I go to the gym 3 times a week. I am currently doing 5x5, but I was on 5/3/1 before and plan to do it again once I stall with 5x5, but my point is, over a few years I try different programs and workouts differ. I log all my workouts and I would like an objective way to compare my workout today to one I did one year ago, possibly in a different program.

For example, today I could do 5x5x100, last week I could do 3x5x100 + 2x5x90. Is there an objective way to compare these intensities?

3 Answers 3


You could potentially try recording Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Rate of Perceived Technique (RPT). Both on a scale of 1 - 10.

RPE has been fairly well explained elsewhere, but is essentially how hard you feel you worked (so, a classic 20 rep squat session where you take your 10RM in the squat and squat it 20 times is going to be higher than polishing your guns with some cable curls).

RPT is something I've taken from the Gold Medal Bodies (GMB) training programs. The idea being that you can rate your technique on a scale of 1 to 10, based on how it feels (and possibly on video review); so if you're squatting and your knees are caving in, hips are shooting up and you're doing a bastardised good morning / squat combination, your technique rating is going to be a lot lower than if you keep your knees out, chest up and back tight the whole time.

You could also look at using some sort of heart rate monitor (yes, I know it sounds weird to use one with weight training, but I've tried it and it does reveal a surprising amount, probably because a heavy set of squats of deadlifts will make your heart try and burst out of your chest). I use one that gives you a breakdown of heart rate over the session, and an "MEP" rating for the whole workout (basically, a value of how hard you've worked. By itself, a single MEP value is relatively meaningless, but if tracked over a period of time, it gives you a measure of how hard you worked during the training session).

If you want metrics to compare, volume (so weight * (sets * reps) for total poundage moved) isn't a bad comparison to make, but that doesn't really get you the intensity.

Another option would be to get a gadget to measure bar speed, the idea being if the bar is moving slower this week for a given weight than last week, then arguably, you're training less intensely.

I would say that your best bet is a combination of techniques. In your training log (you are keeping a training log, right?), record the RPE and RPT and get a heart rate monitor as described above, then, over time, you'll be able to track how intensely your workouts are.

  • Along with this, you could consider the total weight moved during the workout. 5x5x100 would mean 2500 lbs moved, while 3x5x100 + 2x5x90 = 2400. While not a big difference, if you feel the same, it could mean the 5x5 workout was a "better" workout. This is where training logs are invaluable, not just for the actual workout but food, time of day, how you feel, etc etc. The more detailed the more valuable.
    – JohnP
    Feb 6, 2017 at 20:41

No, there's no complete way of comparing performances like that, because those are only 3 variables (rep/set/weight), out of hundreds.

If you want to solidly compare them, you'd have to take into account form, variation, time spent during concentric/eccentric portions of the lift, rest period between reps, rest period between sets, and the list goes on and on.

I mean, can you say that these are all completely equal every rep? Almost certainly not. And even if you could, there are still many other variables to consider.

  • I wasn't really looking for a scientific way of comparing but would be nice to have something
    – simao
    Feb 6, 2017 at 10:08
  • Could you be a bit more specific then? Because when you say "objective way to compare", then that definitely sounds like you're looking for something scientific.
    – Alec
    Feb 6, 2017 at 11:53

The inherent problem with measuring intensity is that it tends to be very subjective. Additionally, “intensity” can mean different things to different people. Having said that, I would suggest you frame your question around the context of whatever your goal is. For example, if your goal is to be a bodybuilder, then, body part measurements should be a starting point in contrasting your routines for efficiency. If your goal is to lift increasingly heavier weights, then, collecting records indicating the poundage used on each lift should be your starting point. The point is that you should use your particular goal(s) as the measuring stick to compare the “intensity” of each routine. And, even with that, your results will be totally subjective at best.

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