Training load percentages
What You Need to Know
- Understanding the effects of each training zone will help you make the right choices when designing your training plan.
- Training percentages (from 0 to 100% of your 1 rep-max) have a distinct impact on speed, power, muscle hardness, muscle density, and hypertrophy.
- You can’t always follow percentages to the letter. Sometimes when we train, 80% feels like 90%… and vice versa… However, these guidelines can help you plan your training so you get the results that you want.
Although training percentages may vary depending on how you are feeling at any given time, they are still very useful. Knowing the training effects of different levels of loading will allow you to choose the right weight for your goals. Here’s something that you won’t often see… A list of percentages that describe what each type of training load can offer, and what kind of body it will give you.
Zero Percent (bodyweight)
Using only your bodyweight is very good when building explosive speed and strength. Jumps and sprints are great tools to achieve this goal. It should come as no surprise that both are closely related. In nearly all cases, the person with the highest vertical jump sprints the fastest.
Jumps and sprints are the best ways to overcome a person who isn’t explosive. It is counterproductive to try and lift weights explosively if your body can’t move fast enough. Therefore, if you can’t lift weights explosively with a barbell, focusing on being able to move explosively via sprints and jumps will help.
Even though you aren’t lifting weights, sprints and jumps can be very intense work that requires a lot from your nervous system. Volume (or dosage) should not be too high and should be kept to a minimum of twice per week.
You can also use bodyweight work to build strength-endurance using movements such as chin-ups or dips. You can use it to build strength using more complicated moves like front and back lever work. That said, it is not the ‘best tool’ for either of these purposes due to the skill component.
Effect on Performance: Builds explosive strength and speed
Effect on Muscle: Improves muscle hardness
This percentage is a little low for lower-body speed-strength/ballistic work, but adequate for upper-body ballistic work. For upper-body ballistic work, the best example of using a 10% load is medicine ball throws. For example, you can use 10% of your military press for overhead throws and 10% of your bench press for throws from your chest.
Medicine ball throws, to me, are at the same level of jumps. They’re great for teaching the body how to explode and can be used to help an athlete develop the ability to lift heavy weights quickly.
To be powerful, you must be both explosive and strong. If you are already strong, the key is to increase your contraction speed through jumps and throws.
Performance Effect: Increases speed of upper body contraction
Effect on muscle: Increases muscle hardness
This is the lowest end of the optimal loading area for lower-body ballistic movement. Jump squats, such as with dumbbells on your shoulders or a barbell in your hands, jumping squats, are best done in a training area that starts at 20% of your maximum squats.
For example, if your 1RM for a squat is 405 pounds, then 85 pounds (20%) is the minimum load that will give you the best results. You can do this by placing an 85-pound barbell on your shoulders, a 40-42-pound dumbbell in each hand, and an 85-pound kettlebell between the legs.
This is the best option for people with little experience in explosive lifting, and those who are a lot stronger than they are fast. Jump squats, jump lunges, and jump RDLs are good exercises to use.
Performance Effect: Increases speed of muscle contractions
Effect on muscle: Improves muscle hardness
This is the high-end of the optimal loading zone for lower body ballistics work. This power production rate is roughly the same as 20%, but it is a little slower and force production is slightly higher.
This approach is best for those who have a lot of experience in explosive lifting. It’s important to note, you can’t use the same approach to explosive lifting as you would for regular lifting. It is not a good idea to jump with the largest weight possible, instead increase your explosiveness by using a specific load.
Performance Effect: Builds lower body contraction speed
Effect on muscle: Improves muscle hardness
This is the maximum weight that anyone should use to do explosive ballistic exercises. Note, that the goal of ballistic work is not to see how much weight you can jump with, but instead to be violently explosive. For most highly trained athletes using ballistic exercises, 40 percent is where they should be working.
Soviet-era sports scientists found strong correlations between jumping performance with 40% of your max squat and the maximal snatch.
40 percent is also the low end of the optimal range to ‘speed lift’ on regular lifts like squat or bench. Experimentation reveals that peak power occurs between 40-60% of 1RM when max acceleration is used.
Therefore, If you are trying to increase explosiveness, then you will see significant training effects starting at 40% of your maximum as long as you try to be violently explosive.
That said, extremely explosive athletes should use a weight that is higher than 40% for speed work on basic lifts. These people are so explosive, the 40% weight will not be enough resistance; their bodies will naturally slow down early in the movement to avoid a shock ballistic at the joint.
Average people should start speed work at 40%. Anything heavier will likely cause them to move too slowly, and they won’t be able to explode violently.
Performance Effect: The weight limit for building speed, the low end of the range for building explosiveness and power
Effect on muscle: Too low to stimulate hypertrophy
This is the load we believe to be the most efficient for speed work on regular strength lifts. This is the place where 90% of the population has their peak power. Training peak power will increase fast-twitch muscle fibre recruitment and dramatically increase muscle hardness/density.
Note, when doing speed work, don’t go anywhere near to fatigue/failure. You must be explosive on all reps. Therefore we’re saying 3 to 5 reps per set, exploding as much as possible on each.
Performance Effect: Increases power and explosiveness
Effect on muscle: Dramatically increases muscle hardness and density
This is the minimum load that will result in significant muscle-building effects. You can achieve this effect by either:
- Perform accentuated eccentrics, which involves lowering the load slowly.
- Do as many reps as you can until you reach a point where you are almost at failure.
Sixty percent doesn’t seem to be a high enough mechanical load to impact growth, without significant metabolic fatigue and excessive metabolite accumulation (in the muscle). A set that stops 2-3 reps shy of failure will not help growth, whilst it will with heavier loads.
Performance training: 60% is the maximum load that you can use to speed lift on strength movements. However, this load should only be used by naturally explosive people.
Performance Effect: The heaviest load you should use to build explosiveness and power
Effect on muscle: Conditionally builds muscle
This is the lowest end of the optimal range for stimulating hypertrophy. You can do this by performing regular sets that are close to failure (approximately 10 reps per set), focusing on quality muscle contraction, or by doing density exercise – attempting to reach 30 reps in the shortest time possible (4-6 reps per set with very brief rest periods).
When using various Olympic lifts (power clean, power clean, push press, power jerk), seventy percent is the ideal load to build explosiveness. In this case, you should not do too many reps and you will lose speed. For most people, three to five reps are sufficient.
Performance Effect: The optimal range for building explosiveness in Olympic lifts
Effect on muscle: Low end in the range to stimulate hypertrophy
This is the highest end of the optimal range for stimulating hypertrophy. Hypertrophy can be achieved in the same way as in the 70% range. You can do straight sets to near failure (about 6 reps per set), or you can do density work (trying to complete 30 total reps in as short a time as possible) by doing sets of 2-3 reps and very brief rest periods.
However, eighty percent is the best zone for strength-building when you don’t want to make inroads in recovery. In this case, multiple sets of 3-5 reps (normally, 3-5 sets), is the correct loading scheme. For Olympic lifts variations, 80% will build equal power and strength. (70% will give you more speed/power and 95% more strength).
Performance Effect: Best percent category for building strength (with minimal recovery required)
Effect on muscle: Highest end of the optimal range for stimulating hypertrophy
This is the highest-end zone we believe to be optimal for strength training. Some recommend that lifters train in the 90-100% zone often. Whilst this range is very effective for quickly peaking strength, it is not the best zone for building strength.
It’s also not possible to train for a long enough time in the 90-100% zone, or do enough volume to solidify strength gains without risking neutral fatigue. The ideal for this percentage is to train in sets of 2-5 and 1-3 reps.
Performance Effect: The optimal percentage to quickly peak strength
Effect on Muscles: Increases hardness/density
For training above 90%, it is best to do short training cycles in order to be able to demonstrate the strength that you have gained from training in the 80-90% range. Training between 92-100% can result in rapid increases in strength for the well-trained individual. However, this is mostly due to improvements in neural factors.
Our experience tells us that work in the 92-100% range, must be limited to a shorter period of time (e.g. 2-3 weeks), to peak strength and not as a way to build strength. Although an occasional single with 92-97% of your max strength is fine now and then, it’s best to limit your training to 92-100% for 2-3 weeks out of 12. Only 3-4 sessions should be used.
Performance Effect: Strengthens quickly through neural factors
Effect on Muscles: Increases hardness/density
|Effect on Muscles
|Speed training via medicine ball throws or plyo/jumps
|Improves muscle hardness
|To maximize power development, ballistic work (jumping while gaining additional weight) is recommended.
|Improves muscle hardness
|To increase power production, regular strength lifts are completed explosively.
|Minimum effective load (60%) to stimulate growth
|Optimal weight to build power (using Olympic lift variations (70%))
|Lower-end of the ideal zone to stimulate muscle growth
|The best load to increase max strength and avoid inroads into recovery
|Higher-end of the ideal zone to stimulate muscle growth. Experience tells us that 75-80% is the best zone for hypertrophy.
|Training load that maximizes strength development
|Increases muscle hardness/density
|Training load best suited to learn how to display maximal strength (92-100%)
|As per 90%… no additional benefits
We are the first to say that percentages can’t always be followed to the letter. Depending on how you feel on any given day, 80% could feel like 90%. How tired or sick you are, will impact things. That said, knowing the effects of each zone can help you make the right choices in designing your training programs.
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