Category Archives: Training

You…. What’s Your RPE

I am going to start todays blog by asking you a few questions. I hope these questions create more questions in your head, this will lead to even more questions and maybe one day even an answer or two.


  1. How do you judge or grade your training session?
  2. Do you know your goals for each session?
  3. Can you quantify what you did?
  4. Do you use subjective or objective metrics in your training?


I am going to answer all of these questions with some history of training. When I first began training (when dinosaurs still roamed the earth), in the 1990’s most people used percentages of 1 rep max to set the workout load for the day. There were some good rules of thumb, for instance we know you can do roughly 10 repetitions at 75% of your 1 rep max. If we were performing 5’s you could begin at 75% and then adjust from up from there. It would look something like 75×5 80×5 85×5 for a top set. This was a very basic way to train and it worked for many people.


Enter Westside.


As Louie Simmons grew in popularity and Westside Barbell style of training became more mainstream many started using velocity as a metric to judge the workout. Louie reintroduced Prilipen’s Chart to lifters. The goal became move the bar as fast as possible. The weight was important yet how fast the barbell seemed to be moving was the ultimate judge. I remember even going as far as using a stopwatch to time reps. If you didn’t get three reps in three seconds then the weight was too heavy. There are many weaknesses to this way of looking at velocity yet we were figuring things out as we went.


As the idea of velocity in training grew VBT (Velocity Based Training) became the go to for training with speed in mind. Bryan Mann has written extensively about this topic. The use of tend units, speed for lifts, push, and many other brands aided lifters in objectively scoring their acceleration. This was a natural progression, even if at times it lead to ugly form. VBT did give the lifters the opportunity to use an objective metric to judge their lifts. We knew going in what velocity we were looking for and as long as the barbell stayed at or near that number the load was correct. With this method the lifter could make adjustments  immediately.


RPE Take Over.


The Borg Scale began as a rating from 6-20. The idea Borg had at the time was this could equate to heart rate. 6 would equal roughly 60 beats per minute, and meant rest. Whereas 20 was 200 beats per minute and was 100% effort. So while training you could ask how do I feel?  If the answer was 12 then we’d assume 120 beats per minute.


The Borg Scale grew into todays RPE (Rate of Perceived Exerertion). This scale has been simplified to a 1-10 scale. 1 being rest and 10 being 100% effort. Lifters then began to use this to quantify difficulty of lifts, 1 being rest and 10 being a maximal effort lift. Using the RPE scale gave the lifter a chance to judge, as well as set their load based upon how the weight felt on any given day. This has been great as it is very simple for lifters and coaches to use. At the same time (from what I’ve seen) it has also been a hindrance for many lifters as they are using a completely subjective scale to set the load for the day. With the amount of technology available why not use both a subjective, as well as an objective metrics?


Another weakness I see with using only an RPE scale is it makes the feel more important than reality. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been training and I hit a weight, in my head I think, “I’m done,” then someone calls me out or loads the bar with more. I can taste and smell the fear, and I overcome it all and lift the weight. I am not saying this should be how one trains all the time, I am saying that if I just used RPE then I wouldn’t know what a ten truly feels like.


To take us back to the questions that began this post, the answer to all four is use RPE, use VBT, use percents. I didn’t even touch on the use of heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep data, or the multitude of other data we can use to help with our programming. In short, be sure that you are using both objective as well as subjective data to aid in your programming.





Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Change has always been a part of my life. I spent a lot of my younger life jumping from town to town because of my dad being in the military. We traveled all over Venezuela so being new in a lot of places is something that I was used to. Even though I moved a lot with my family, it did not prepare me for moving to the US. When we moved around Venezuela we knew we were going to come back to our hometown but not this time.


When I moved to the US I experienced a lot of discomfort. I didn’t know anyone- didn’t speak the language, didn’t know any places- I was lost. I had to force myself out of my comfort zone to do anything. At first I was terrified. I remember lunch being very quiet and lonely. I would see all these kids talking to their friends and laughing, and I wanted that. I decided that I would embrace that discomfort and reach a new goal I had set for myself- “be able to hold a full conversation in English and make friends”. It worked. I did everything I could to achieve that goal and it made setting new goals for myself easier as I graduated high school, and moved onto college. Watching myself be able to change in a way I never thought I would be able to, only furthered my drive to want more for myself after I graduated from college.


There was one more recent venture that gave me that same feeling of discomfort, and it was moving to Pittsburgh. When I moved to Pittsburgh the first couple of days were great but after 2 weeks, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I again had no friends, no job, no money but what I did have was experience with this discomfort so I started setting new goals for myself to be able to achieve all of those things. I wasn’t having any luck finding jobs, money or friends until I went into this little gym named Union Fitness (maybe you’ve heard of it) and I talked to this guy named Todd Hamer (weird guy, don’t talk to him), and he offered for me to come work a powerlifting meet. I was faced with that same feeling of discomfort but I knew that if I went to this meet, I would be opening new opportunities for myself. I met a lot of wonderful people and I got this great job!


We all have those feelings of being uncomfortable in new situations but we can’t let those feelings dictate how we live. Understand and acknowledge those feelings, but don’t let them hold you back from great, new opportunities.

It’s Ladies Night

Hello Everyone!


We are super excited to say that we are going to be offering our first ever Ladies Night here at UF! This will be held next Saturday March 12th from 4:30 – 6:30pm and we are planning to continue to offer this event on the second Saturday of every month moving forward. The Strength Lab, Cardio Lab, and the Fitness Center will all be open for us to train in for those 2 free hours. All ladies are welcome whether you are a current member or a non-member. Come on out and have some fun, bring a friend, hit some PR’s, and meet some fellow strong ladies. 


We are looking forward to seeing all of you there and continuing to create a strong community together! 



Meet the Ryde Instructors

Now that we are almost two months into the newest addition of cardio classes to Union Fitness, we thought it’d be nice to share a little more about the Ryde instructors over the next few weeks. Kayla, Vanessa, and Rachael are first up on this week’s introductions!


Kayla Hersperger


Hi! I’m Kayla! I’m primarily a yoga teacher but I’ve been teaching RYDE classes since this past summer. I absolutely love putting together my playlists and class plan each week and look forward to teaching on Friday mornings.


I started indoor cycling about four years ago at Urban Elements when Britt and Sharon encouraged me to venture outside the yoga room. I hopped around to various studios and then when the pandemic hit, I became obsessed with the peloton bike. Since buying my own, I’m pretty much riding every day between my own bike and the classes at Union Fitness.


In my class you can expect to ride to the beat of the music. I take extreme care creating my playlists that are often themed and always exciting. If you don’t have fun in my class, I haven’t done my job. My goal is to get your heart pumping and your face smiling. Basically, we have a party on the bike.


Vanessa Matthews


Vanessa went to school to be a chemical engineer, but left her career to pursue her passion of fitness full time.  She opened her own personal training business and has taught many different group fitness formats since 2010. In 2015 she was fitness director at a local gym, and won her first figure competition, all of which seemed like significant accomplishments, until her health began to fail in 2016.  When she had her first baby in 2018, health issues continued to spiral out of control.


Chronic pain forced her to change her entire philosophy and approach to health, which she believes is holistic, and more about food and mindset than it is about exercise. After a 4.5 year break from teaching, and now with a 1 and 4 year old, Vanessa is back with a new outlook on life.  In her classes, she takes her students on a mental journey as well as a physical one.  If you catch one of her classes, you will feel like you can take on the world!


Rachael Riddell


Rachael graduated from the University of Colorado Doctor of Pharmacy Program in 2014 and manages a team of Clinical Pharmacists in Pittsburgh. Shortly after finishing pharmacy school, she started teaching cycling, bootcamp, and barre fitness classes in Denver. Her love of all things fitness followed her back to Pittsburgh in 2018 where she has continued to teach around the city.


All of Rachael’s workouts (on and off the bike) are intended to challenge what you think you are capable of doing and leave you feeling accomplished. Look forward to a playlist to keep your body moving to the beat in every class.


You can catch Kayla, Vanessa, and Rachael early mornings during the week and also on the Saturday rotation!

CeJ’s Strongman/Powerlifting Experience

Hello Dream Team,


I have been just training for life, liberty and the pursuit of bumpiness for the past few months. With no competitions currently in sight I have been mixing various training styles, implements, exercises and just rolling with them for a few weeks at a time. With that being said I do miss the time frame goal, game time feeling that competing in powerlifting and strongman provide. So that got me thinking, why don’t I talk about my experiences in both and work to inspire or push you and the strong folks at Union and abroad to try new competitions.


Let it be known that ANYONE can compete in either of these sports and more people will support and cheer for you than grumble and poke fun. For those people that poke fun at people competing you’re not cool or helping new people enjoy the sport you do, we can have a chat later about that. If you are competing for the first time in either of these sports, I would recommend getting a coach that has competed or training with people that have competed. This will help boost your confidence and not go into training and competition without purpose, drive and knowledge. The saying “I don’t know if I’m ready yet” is the reason we prepare and train for the competition. Have no fear, find some battle buddies, coaches and let’s get at er!


In the grand scheme of things the two sports (powerlifting & strongman) are similar in training. Your goal should be to have a strong base of work capacity, proficient technique in the BIG moments (Squat Bench Dead Carry & Overhead Press) , build some muscle because you can’t flex bone and much to many people’s anti-cardio hearts, have a good aerobic capacity (mostly for recovery purposes but also so you aren’t a lump after your first event). I would say another cool thing about these sports is that the majority of people competing and supporting athletes are very nice, helpful and educational. They as anyone would want to see their sport grow and attract more attention.


There are a few differences I noticed in training and competing for both sports. In a full powerlifting competition you will always squat, bench and deadlift in that order. Strongman however can have 3-5 or more various events that you will usually know upon signing up but could also change due to equipment or other issues (the mystery is part of the fun).  While training for powerlifting I would recommend having a squat, bench, deadlift and second press emphasis day focusing on building your competition lifts. While training for strongman I would still keep my 3 strength and main mover days going but I would emphasis the Overhead press and deadlift more since that is used more in strongman. I would throw a variation squat and bench in to help strengthen my movements and keep building muscle. Also in Strongman, you will usually be head to head with another competitor but I would tell anyone to focus on their own efforts and do the best they can.


Overall I had a blast competing in both Strongman & Powerlifting. I liked seeing my maximal strength in the powerlifting competition and pushing the gas pedal in the strongman competition. I will definitely be doing more of both soon and would love to talk more in person with people who are interested in joining me in training and competitions.


Pitter patter let’s get at er and have some fun trying new events.

Ham’s Comeback

As you may already know I injured myself training three weeks ago. While injuries are never fun we all know that bumps and bruises are part of training. I am going to use this opportunity to fix some issues that I have ignored for far too long. While trying to return to training I am going to keep Jared’s words in my head, “In two weeks you will think you are better, then for the next two months you will do something that reminds you that you aren’t” 


I began “working out” the week after my injury (while it appears that my injury is 100% soft tissue, I must be smart in returning). The reason I quoted working out is because there is a big difference between training, and working out. Training has a purpose and is striving towards goals. Working out is aimless and not nearly as focused. To be fair I began this process two weeks ago, and while it seemed aimless it honesty wasn’t. The goal the first two weeks was to move, work on my mobility, and return myself to pain free (mostly) movement. 


Now to begin my training.


Today I will begin my training again. This will be the first time I train with a barbell or any real weight. I will lay out my plan below. Before I do that here are some specifics about the plan. I discussed this with many people to come up with a solid plan. First thing you may notice is that the program looks upside down. I squat last. Curtis had this idea as I will be warmed up and moving better by the time I get to my squats. In addition the only barbell movement I am doing for the next 2-3 weeks is a front squat. Here is the program.


  1. Slider Leg Curl 3×15
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat (31X tempo) 3×8
  3. Chins 3×10
  4. SA Bench with Iso opposite arm 3×10
  5. SA Overhead Press 3×10
  6. SA Row with Iso opposite arm 3×10
  7. Trap Bar Carries 3×20 yards
  8. Front Squat (10 count iso) 3×3-5 


That is it. I will still begin each day with bike 10 minutes and about 15 minutes or rehab/mobility work. Wish me luck as I will be SORE. 

Northside’s Strongest Bench Press & Deadlift

If you’ve been a member of Union Fitness for any amount of time, then you know how serious we are about your progress, performance, and your goals. There’s also a good chance that you’ve noticed how serious we are about our local community, and how much it means to us. So, what better way to do something great for our members as well as our local community than to hold our annual Push/Pull charity fundraiser competition? This year’s event will be held on Sunday April 3rd right here at Union Fitness. Last year we had a great turnout and a ton of fun. Many people who signed up were first time competitors and did an amazing job. As with any sort of competition, there will always be a bit of a learning curve involved. That’s where we come in to guide you along the way and help you be as prepared as possible.


If you are a regular in our Powerful classes, between now and the push pull event, each workout will be specifically designed and related to the preparation needed for the event. That includes going over the rules, perfecting the movements and techniques, as well as continuing to build upon your overall strength and conditioning. If you do not regularly take Powerful class, then we can still help prepare and guide you along the way. Just stop into the office and sit down with us for a few minutes to answer any questions that you might have. If you are unfamiliar with the lifts, we can also take the time to show you proper technique, as well as discuss all of the rules involved.


As we get closer to the event, we will be making more announcements to keep you posted on any specifics and future details. So, be sure to keep a lookout for more posts on our Instagram account, as well as future blogs. This event is a great way for you to challenge yourself, try something and learn something new, and to support and cheer on your fellow members and classmates who you have been working alongside of throughout your time here at Union Fitness. As always, do not hesitate to let us know if you have any questions at all. We look forward to seeing you all enjoy yourselves. 


– Curtis Miller

The Beauty of Injuries

Your body is going to hurt. I tell myself this everyday, as no matter what we do, or don’t do our bodies are going to hurt. As we train (and age) bodies break down, and if we don’t train, we still age and the body will still break down. My philosophy is, if my body is going to hurt then I should make it hurt by doing things. Another saying that helps me make sense of injuries is, “I want to come to end of each day tired, beaten, and victorious.” I have no clue who said this yet I love the thought.


MLK Day and Snow.


Last Monday was MLK day and as you all know it snowed. When I woke up Tenzing said, “Dad it’s MLK day we should do something for the world.” I responded with sure what do you got? “Let’s shovel our neighborhood.” So we grabbed shovels, remote control trucks (they ran recon), set my GPS and began shoveling. Tenzing did more remote control driving than shoveling, we made it 2.58 miles of sidewalks throughout our neighborhood. When I returned home I was soaked in sweat yet felt good. The rest of the day was spent sled-riding and the basic snow playing stuff.


Tuesday Squats and Deadlifts. 


Tuesday was normal morning and I felt no soreness from the shoveling. I began my deadlift sessions with a basic warm (about ten min). As always I started front squatting prior to deadlifts. Before I deadlift I have been front squatting 6×2 at 225 with 45 seconds rest. I treat this as both a warm up and a light pre-fatique prior to deadlifting. On set 5 I allowed the bar to control me (always control the weight, don’t let the weight control you), I shifted forward and felt the weight move onto my toes. I finished the set, racked the bar and went back to timing for my next set. Hit set 6 and felt a little off, but nothing too bad. I began deadlifting and something felt “off.” I didn’t know what is was, but my back didn’t feel right. I did some light traction, stretching, and had Toria walk on my back. Went back to deads and did my warm ups sets at 135,225,315, at this point I was two warm ups from my work sets for the day. I normally wouldn’t wear a belt for 365 but figured better safe than sorry. Threw my belt on and pulled 365 as the slowest rep I have ever experienced (ok that’s a lie but it was slow and painful). At this point I knew something was wrong.


I made it home to fall onto my couch and not move all night. I am a Boy Scout leader and I had a meeting that night. I attempted to put my socks on yet I couldn’t even sit up. Erica (my wife) began arguing that I was not able to go to the meeting. I argued I could make it and she won when I couldn’t get off the couch. I figured something was bad.


Wednesday, Recovery Begins.


Wednesday I saw Magic Hands Malik. If you do not know Malik he is one of our massage therapists. Malik spent and hour working my back and hips and it did wonders. Then my guy Jared took a look at me and said what Malik said, you are a mess.




I began my rehab. Lots of McGill type rehab/prehab work. If you are not familiar with Dr Stuart McGill than a good start would be google McGill big 3. Dr McGill is the back expert.  The pain has reduced and I was even able to put my own socks on Saturday. Monday is a new day and I feel much improved. The theory is I didn’t do any damage to the disks, yet I did make my muscles angry. So from here I am going to begin training today.


Moving forward.


Next will I will lay out my rehab and training plan for the next 12 weeks. I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many helpful, smart, and kind people. I will tell you that I am seeing Malik weekly for the next 4 weeks.


Until next week, stay healthy.





Five Priorities to Becoming a Complete Lifter

Over the past few months, I have taken the time to study what I believe to be a few of the most valuable aspects of training and becoming a complete individual inside of the gym. Here are 5 priorities I believe everyone should have every time they step foot through the doors.


  1. Treat the light weights like they’re heavy and the heavy weights like they’re light: I see many people getting under an empty bar and just moving it meaninglessly. There’s no focus on technique or intent until the amount of weight gets heavy enough where it forces you to focus. Now you’ve missed out on many repetitions that you could have used to perfect the movement. Just like a basketball player shooting a free-throw. Shooting a free throw isn’t hard for a professional, but if they only waited until they were under pressure to treat it with purpose, then they would never master the trade. So, when the weight is light, treat it as you would with a max lift, and when the weight is heavy, be just as confident as you would be when it’s light.
  2. Have purpose with all exercises: This one goes along with #1. After the heavy work is finished, it becomes easy to go through the motions with the rest of the session. Remember that the main exercise is roughly only 25% of the entire session. The exercises that follow are just as important, and need to be treated as such. Regardless of whether it is dumbbells, cables, machines, or bodyweight movements, make sure you’re focusing on full range of motion, full muscle activation, and intent with each rep and set. Those who consistently achieve their goals always make this a priority.
  3. Train hard & time your rest periods: Training has become very social. This is good in the sense that it has gotten more people involved and has built relationships within the training environment. However, if you aren’t careful, this can cause your training session to get away from you very quickly. The cure is to time your rest periods. If you train alone, use a stop watch or the timer on your phone to stay consistent and focused between sets. If you are training with others, make sure that you have the discussion before your session that you are going to keep the pace high with a quick transition between sets. This will absolutely improve your overall progress.
  4. Be involved with those training around you: I’ve been to many gyms over the years. One thing I often find are people who are completely oblivious to others around them. What makes Union Fitness special is the culture and community that has been built. When you walk through the doors, there is always someone that is looking to help with anything. At the same time, there is always someone who could use a hand, even when nothing is said. My suggestion is to acknowledge those training around you. By no means do you need to be best friends. However, when you see someone accomplish a good set or a PR, congratulate them. If you see someone struggling, help them. This will ultimately build a culture that everyone wants to be a part of and can benefit from.
  5. Be the standard: One of the best lessons that my father taught me was that if I choose to do something, do it right. This means that everything you choose to do should be with full effort and maximum dedication. From your career, to your relationship, to your workouts, to how you carry yourself as a human being. When you are in the gym training, be everything that you believe everyone should be. Even if you don’t think others are holding up their end of the bargain, continue to be the standard that you believe there should be, and carry yourself with it every day. This means helping others and being kind, picking up after yourself when you’re finished with your session, and training hard and being dedicated every time you walk through the doors, just to name a few. 


Apply these 5 priorities to your training and I guarantee you will find yourself becoming a more complete and well rounded individual.

-Curtis Miller

Terms You Should Know

There are many terms in the fitness world and here are 12 exercise terms you should know.



A set refers to how many times you repeat a given number of reps. For example, one set might be 12 reps of push-ups—repeating for three sets means you’ll do that three times through.


Repetitions (Reps)

Repetition is the amount of times you will perform the exercise (push-ups) in a set.


Super Set

Super setting means pairing two exercises and doing them back-to-back with minimal rest. There are many superset pairings to do.



A circuit consists of a series of exercises performed in sequence, with a short rest in between each exercise. A circuit can be timed, where you do as many completions as you can in a given time frame.


1RM (One-Rep Max)

This is the maximum weight that you can lift for one repetition of an exercise.



This acronym stands for “as many reps as possible.”


HIIT (High-intensity interval training)

A HIIT workout consists of several work-rest intervals. During the work interval you exercise as hard as you can. During the rest interval you either rest completely or continue moving at a low intensity, allowing your heart rate to decrease.



This stands for rate of perceived exertion, and refers to intensity. It’s a point of reference used to communicate how hard you should be working since what feels easy or challenging is different for everyone. On the RPE scale a 1 is little effort while a 10 means you couldn’t possibly do another repetition.



DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, which is the soreness you feel the day or two after a hard workout.


Single, Double, Triple 

This is for my class people and now they know the answer to this one. A single is 1 rep, a double is two reps and a triple is 3 reps. If I were to say “let’s work up to a heavy triple”, what would that mean?



This is what you should be doing before exercise to raise your heart rate and body temperature in preparation for the workout. This helps increase mobility, range of motion and preparation.



This is what you do at the end of your workout. The goal is to gradually bring your body back to a resting state by lowering your heart rate and calming your nervous system.


There are many more terms and more to come. The more you know.