The Revival: % Training is Here to Stay!


The Revival: % Training is Here to Stay!

Autoregulation will never replace percentage training.

In my last article, we held a memorial for % training, a relic of training years past for when technology wasn’t readily available.  Who needs a training method based on assumptions of specific training loads and the assumed outcome, when you have machines that will tell you specifically what is happening on every rep, every set, and if it’s matching the desired goal?

Better question: who doesn’t?  If you dismiss % training entirely, you are either:

  1. A gym stocked by every major training technological piece of equipment known to man and have an amazing coach to athlete ratio
  2. Selling something

Percentages have been around since essentially the beginning of modern training methods for a reason: it is a highly effective and predictive measure of training prescription for meeting the desired goal.  Percentages can dictate, for a large percentage of the population, a large percentage of the time, exactly what is going to happen and the physiological response resulting from a set of an exercise.

Are there outliers? Absolutely.  Some athletes will hit 85% for 5, some for 6.  Some days that athlete would normally hit it for 5 can only get 3.  Some days, stress and fatigue will take part and the set will be slower than desired, some days the athlete will be on fire and smoke a set that was supposed to be difficult.  Day in and day out, its not a perfect system.

But if you look at your entire population over the course of their training career with you, percentages are dead on, highly accurate, and highly effective for prescribing training loads.  You don’t need tens of thousands of dollars in equipment to accurately train speed-strength, knowing that 25-45% of 1RM will accomplish that same goal.

Want to train at 1 m/s?  Have your athletes perform their sets at 40-50%.  Is the difference between .95 and 1.05 bar speed (call this your first standard deviation) going to be the difference between a tackle and a miss?  Maybe, but if I were to make an educated guess, no.  If you believe it does, train all 3 zones over the course of 1 week, you’ll never miss your target, and you are technology free in the process.  Proper programming, understanding of training, and sequencing is going to have a significantly bigger impact on your athletes than knowing their exact velocity on any given set. A Tendo doesn’t make a great coach.  True, a tendo can have a “competitive” effect and manipulate more intent of a lift to move fast, and that cannot be manipulated without instant feedback.  However, increased use of jump squats and timed sets can bring about that 100% intent from an athlete.

In my last article, I mentioned RPE as an amazing autoregulatory replacement for percentage training for building maximal strength.  It makes sense on a conceptual level.  But I dare you to do this: go ask your athletes to do 3×1 at RPE 7.  How many of them will do it right?  These are athletes, they don’t lift for a living and a good amount don’t care to in the first place.  Half will accidentally max out while doing a half rep, the other half will go too light.  But what if on your athletes lift card, you had 88% for 3×1.  Simple enough, it will essentially be an RPE 7, except your compliance of that specific goal will be 100%, because you removed all doubt.  By assigning a specific percentage based on the knowledge we have about intensity zones and rep maxes, and modifying that based on time of year, anticipated fatigue and what you monitor first hand while training, you can achieve amazing results without the use of technology.

Try asking for an autoregulated 5×3 @ RPE6.  Most athletes are not in tune enough with their body in regards to lifting weights to do quality training at submax loads.  Not easy to follow Prilipens chart without using %!

And the finally the impossible: Can you imagine implementing triphasic training without percentages?

Yes, having speed measuring devices are amazing tools and can significantly impact the training methods and philosophy of a team.  Autoregulatory methods and allowing athletes to pick their own weights is also an effective method which does allow to adjust for day to day stress, and has its place in a training program (say, day after competition).  But for most of the year, you can anticipate a response to training and account for it by applying a proper intensity for the desired goal, and making changes on the floor as needed.  Essentially every single major training manual to date (Supertraining, Block periodization I & II, Periodization, Triphasic Training, SST, Strength Training Playbook / Tier, to name a few) discuss percentage training at length.  Are they wrong?  Would they change their tune entirely because of the equipment and methods we have available?  Maybe for certain aspects of the year.  On a global scale? No Way!  I am not one to stick with antiquated methods out of sake of convenience or resistance to change, in fact quite the opposite, but this area is tried and proven effective.

Lastly, all of the technology on the planet cannot replace understanding of programming, and proper sequencing of training.  A bad program done with VBT feedback and HRV monitoring and every other piece of equipment is still an ineffective, bad progarm.  A great program can be done with a bar, a few dumbbells, bands, and open space.  Equipment is used for the contribution of information and CAN make certain aspects of training more precise, but it does not replace methodology or knowledge!


% Are here to stay. They are extremely practical, effective and have 60 years of research and programming.  This isn’t to dismiss the use of VBT and other technology, which have displaced the need for year round % training and provide immediate useful impact to adjust the training loads based on the day, it just can’t completely fill the gap on an annual plan, especially for team sport athletes.

About the author 

Steve Olson, MS, CSCS

Steve is a strength and conditioning coach, gym owner, and founder and CEO of Strength Coach Pro. Prior to founding SCP, Steve owned Excel Training Designs, a company created to help coaches better learn and use Excel for programming. Steve also owns a strength and conditioning gym in Cary, NC, and has his bachelors and masters in Exercise Science.

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