% Training is Dead


% Training is Dead

You heard it here first. Delete your MROUND formulas – % training is no longer!

Every single strength coach in America has used percentage training. And it is time we come together for the funeral. Its over. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but as data becomes more readily and instantly available, monitoring and measuring equipment becomes cheaper, percentages will be no more.

As we all know, using intensity based percentages assigns a specific weight to an exercise. Several factors come together to assign the %:

What is the desired adaptation from the exercise?

What phase of training are we in?

What is the goal of that phase?

How many sets and reps?

These things can help you determine if you are doing 5×3 @ 88%, or 6×2 @ 45%. The assigned intensity to those set and rep schemes is determined BY the goal of the training, and DETERMINES the adaptation received from the exercise. If the goal is strength, that tells us we need to use a relatively higher %, and that higher intensity dictates that the adaptation is increasing maximal contractile tension within the muscle. Likewise, if the goal is speed, we know that we need to assign a lower % to the training, and that lower % will allow the athlete to perform the exercise faster and train the muscle to contract not with complete maximal tension, but to produce as much contractile tension as possible within a short of time as possible (training to increase rate of force development).

But those were days of yester-year. Percentage training has been studied and found valid in countless research over the last 50 years, but compared to the tools we have today, its not as good. It doesn’t take into account the most important factor in training: day to day fluctuations in strength based in internal and external stress. This can make a 90% single be too heavy to lift on certain days, based on how that athlete is feeling.

Today, we can fine tune with extreme detail and specificity the desired adaptation with VBT. Instead of training 55% with maximal intent, we can assign a very specific speed range, i.e .85-.95m/s. With this data, we do not even need hard sets and reps: we can do sets of 3 with as many sets as you can do while maintaining speed! You can do as many reps within 8 sets at the desired speed, there is an unlimited number of options for programming based on velocity.

With autoregulation and RPE based maximal effort training, we no don’t need to do sets of 2 or 3 at 95%. With a little practice and instruction, your athletes can learn how to do maximal effort training using one of the many RPE scales, and never need to have an assigned weight! Using Mike Tuchscherer’s RPE scale, an RPE of 10 means you could not perform any more reps at a specific weight, RPE of 9 means you could do 1 more, RPE of 8 means 2 more, and so on. What athlete cannot learn this over the course of a few weeks? Telling your athletes to hit 3 heavy triples, or an easy 5, is something every athlete can do.

With Omegawave and other similar HRV monitoring, the leads can be adjusted significantly based on the athletes level of neurological fatigue and readiness to train. If an athlete has a high level of fatigue, is additional training going to result in additional net positive adaptation? HRV will give you that answer, and the tools above can help you define the training based on the result.

All of this % training business is based entirely on the concepts of Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, two sports entirely different from athletic performance training. Why should we assume that using training protocols from these programs is the best way to increase athletic performance? Getting a football or baseball player to a 315 squat is relatively easy and takes very little planning. Doing VBT speed work is very easy: set a goal speed and adjust the weight to match. Exercises that become more specific to athletic performance (see specialized exercises) most certainly don’t have an intensity basis to it: just do it, get better at the exercise and myelinate the movement pattern that is specific to the sport. You have just created a program to maximize the athletic response from strength training, and not a single % was used that day.

And so it is with this information, we can announce the death of % training.

(No, I don’t believe this is true at all.  Read my rebuttal paper)

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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