Percentages or Rep Maxes?

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Percentages or Rep Maxes?

I have gone back and forth with this question. What is better when programming exercises percentages or rep maxes? I want to answer this question with my biggest realization over the last few months. All of us should be careful of using absolutes. A lot of experts out there are quick to pick sides, and even quicker to declare that side as the absolute best without a shred of evidence.

I say that because I want to be clear in saying that this is just my opinion. This isn’t scientific fact. What I am about to tell you is my observation having coached hundreds of top athletes and from my own experience. I will say that I have watched athletes succeed with just about every program in the world from a straight Bulgarian to a Russian to a Chinese.

First if you weren’t a coach or an athlete under those countries, you don’t truly know what any one of them did. Don’t tell me how you were coached by so and so in the United States for a month or two either. If you weren’t there, in that country with that coach with those athletes, you don’t know anything. Did they take drugs? What was their recovery program? What was the mood of their training hall? Did they really train the way that you believe they did? Truth is none of knows, so we are just guessing.

Ok I am done with my tangents. Personally I have used percentages and rep maxes. I prefer rep maxes for one solid reason. You don’t know what your biorhythms for the day are when you are writing a workout months in advance. I could tell you to perform triples up to 80%, but I don’t know if that is truly 80% for that day. You could be firing on all cylinders, and that weight is more like 75%. You could be tanked and run down, so that weight is more like 88%.

If I say work up to a 3RM, you are going to do work up to a weight that is good for that particular day. If I want to get a little more specific, I can add RPEs and give misses allowed. Let me explain:

RPE– Rate of Perceived Exertion is a way of telling your athlete how hard to go for the day on a scale from 1-10. If I say 10, then you are working to an all out max. If I say 9, you are going to leave one set in the tank and so on.

Misses allowed– If I want to keep the lifter fresh, I will say no misses allowed. That means that they stop before they miss, or if they miss, they are done.

This is a much simpler way to program, and it is easy for the lifter to follow. Even if I use percentages for my athletes, the percentages are more like a guide. If the athlete is looking terrible, I will shut them down early. If they are looking crisp, we might go a little heavier. The main reason that I might use percentages is to guarantee that enough volume is taking place before the main work sets. This is especially true in the Olympic movements because of the complexity of the movements. A certain amount of practice is needed if one ever wants to become proficient in the movements.

As an athlete I simply used any percentages programmed as practice in the movement, a focus on speed, and a warm up. I would normally always work up to a daily max of some kind whether it was a single, double, triple, pause, or whatever. I liked the way that I was able to be competitive on a daily basis. It kept the gym exciting for me, and it taught me to compete.

That brings me to another point. Some athletes simply don’t like to compete. That’s ok if they never want to enter a competition, but if they ever want to win at something, they need to get over their fear of competition. I am not saying that I got full-fledged jacked every day. That would cause mental and physical fatigue in a quick way. However I did battle mentally on a daily basis.

I learned to overcome fear and negative thoughts this way. I learned to never change my approach to the bar, my set up, or anything else. All that I would do was visualize perfection in a clearer way. My original coach Wes Barnett taught me that. I would close my eyes, visualize the performance of the lift with perfect movement, and then walk up to the bar and lift it. The better that I got at visualization equaled more successful attempts in weightlifting and powerlifting.

At the end of the day you can do percentages or rep maxes. If you use percentages, I suggest using them more as a guideline and less like the gospel. If your body is ready to lift the most weight that it has ever lifted, do you really want to waste that opportunity? Once again that is up to you and your coach. Personally I am willing to give a green light more than not.

Here’s the way that you can measure things. If your program is consistently getting results, stay with it. If it stops working for 6 months to a year, make some changes. It’s that simple in my opinion.

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