Friday, October 26, 2012

Percentage Based Programs

Choosing the program that you want to do is like choosing the right toppings for your ice cream sundae: they are all going to taste amazing and you'll ultimately end up happy with your choice.

To be frank, if you are looking for a program to do you can pretty much do no wrong if you choose one of the "popular" and well-known options: Show and Go, Maximum Strength, Superhero, Mad Cow 5x5, Starting Strength, Outlaw and Supreme Strength are just a few of the easily accessible programs that you can purchase/download and achieve pretty good results with.

Percentage based programs, though, often help people achieve extremely high levels of strength. Jim Wendlers 5/3/1, Chad Wesley Smith's Juggernaut Training System, and the Westside Method are some of the most popular percentage based programs that are easily available. (Note: many programs, especially in the collegiate world, will be based off of percentages of your capability). 5/3/1 and Westside are two of the most popular strength programs that are out there; they are certainly the most commonly used. Why? So many people have success with them.

They are not programs, so much as templates that allow you to design a program around their parameters but fit to your needs. These are all great aspects, but what about the negatives?

I've personally used 5/3/1 with great success with myself and my clients, and I recently used it and absolutely hated every rep of it.

What happened? Well I was dealing with a lot of school work and a lot of work work. I'd go right from work to class to work and then try and lift. I felt ragged at the beginning of every training session and no amount of caffeine would light a fire under my ass. I wanted to lift, but I was having a really tough time keeping up with what the percentages and reps were telling me to do. Every once in a while I'd come in feeling good and crush the workout, but it wasn't enough to see any progress. I had the same issue with some of my clients that I had doing 5/3/1.

I've since moved exclusively to auto-regulation as a means of controlling my weights. On days I feel good I know I can push it. On days that I don't feel great, I tone it down a little. It allows me to consistently make progress while not feeling like a sack of shit for not meeting the expected reps at a particular percentage.

There are more and more coaches training themselves and their clients on auto-regulated programs. Given the instance where your job is to lift weights in order to get bigger and/or stronger, then you're going to have outside stress in your life. Work, school, relationships, money, family; these are all things that can drag your workouts down a little bit.

What are your thoughts on percentage based programs?

Have a great day and go lift something heavy!


  1. I think percentage-based, or periodised programmes work reasonably well for professional athletes. Not great, since only around 1/5 athletes post their year's best performance at the Olympics... but they work reasonably well.

    For people with lives outside training, not so good. Too much other stuff interferes.

    The problem with auto-regulation is that it's self-regulation. It's like that Rate of Perceived Exertion nonsense they taught us in PT school: perceptions vary. When I start someone in the gym I show them the right heart rate to go at. You can get two people physically the same, put them both at 135 beats per minute, one says, "I can go harder than this, yeah?" and the other says, "oh my God we have to stop!"

    Some people are naturally hardcore and some people are naturally wussy. Between those extremes, we all have good and bad days - but the days which are good or bad in attitude may or may not match the days good or bad in body.

    Sometimes the person will be a bit tired or hungover or the like, but physically they're fine, and can set PBs. Other times there's so much shit going on in their life they're desperate for a win at the gym... but there's no way they're going to get it.

    All in all, you need a coach who can be objective about things, who can structure it as a slow and steady progression, a progression you can keep up even on bad days - and who can see when you need to go easy, even if you can't see it. A good coach acts as both accelerator and brakes, and both are needed.

  2. I agree with Kyle... I think it's easy to go lighter when you don't "feel" good even though your body may be able to handle more than your mind.

    Question for you..... I did Wendler for a little over a year, plus quite a bit of heavy accessory work, and was blown away by how much stronger I got. My top reps were consistently anywhere from 7-13, then I'd "reverse pyramid" for 2-3 additional sets. However, when I gave my boyfriend a similiar program, he barely could make the minimal amount of reps for his top sets. I see here that you had a similiar experience... Do you think this has to do with being female vs male, and the fact that I will naturally be squatting less weight than you guys, so I can get more reps out? Or, do you think that isn't relevant since the weight lifted should be proportionate to the body(weight) moving it? Does that make sense? ;-)

    Thank you, I'm so glad I stumbled on this blog! I will be embarking on my personal training career shortly once I finally move out to CO!

    1. Jess,

      The weight being lifted should be proportional to the lifter and their level of strength. What is your training age? If you tested your 1RM as a beginner and then started 5/3/1 that could account for your huge final sets. As you became more neuro-muscularly efficient, you got a lot stronger very quickly. For your boyfriend, maybe his training status was different, or it could have been something as simple as his technique wasn't as good as yours!

      I hope that answers your question.