The training weight

Most weightlifting programs rely at least partially on percentages to determine the weights used in training on various days. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I believe that for many athletes, especially those at the level of novice or advanced, percentages should not be the last word in choosing the weight to train with.

It is typical for a novice to be able to max out with say a 70kilo snatch, which is ugly and all over the platform, but still make the lift. This same person might not be able to do 60 kilos for several sets or reps with consistently good form. 60 kilos is about 85% of 70, and it would not be atypical for a training program to call for several doubles to be done at 85%. Practicing with a weight like 60kg which would ensure rep after rep of bad form would not be the best choice for this person. I believe that if 35kilos is the most they can show consistently good technique with… then that should be the main training weight even though it is only 50% of max! Of course, the lifter should continually attempt to raise the weight at which he or she can show good form, and there will be periodic attempts with higher weights and even attempts with new maximums even if they are ugly. But there should always be more “perfect” lifts done than ugly ones, no matter how low the weight needs to be.

An advanced lifter is at the other end of the spectrum. Let me use as an example Caleb Ward, who has the most consistent technique of any lifter I have ever worked with. Caleb has as a best snatch 127kg. 85% for Caleb would be 108kg. 108kg for Caleb is so light that I really doubt there is any training effect whatsoever at that weight. Even on his light days he works to 110 or 115kg on the snatch. Caleb has been lifting for 5 years, is in great shape, very consistent, and doing anything up to and including 90% is about as challenging as getting out of bed in the morning. In training the snatch, Caleb works quite consistently and regularly with 120kilos, or about 95% of his max. Holding his training weight down because he is only supposed to hit a certain percentage would undoubtedly decrease the training effect of his workouts.

Percentages are good guidelines, especially for average lifters who are neither novices or advanced. However, they shouldnt be followed blindly.


8 responses to “The training weight

  • pauge

    being a novice myself in this sport though an S&C coach as well I would tend to agree with your opinion on this one. Percentages are what I would call a “generic design strategy”. It gives me as a coach a guideline from which to work with my athletes but on an individual level it is only evident that the days best efforts are going to drive that days training. If all variables are taken into account (impossibility) than exacting measurements would yield perfect results where percentages could be set and fixed. But being that we are human beings good judgement and willingness to perform are our best allies.

    I am such a novice at this point myself that my weights are going up nearly every workout, this indicates to me two things, one – the work I have put into technique is paying off, and two – that technique is applying itself to making me stronger. At this point who knows what my max is? How do you determine a max when you are so far from your genetic potential that you improve daily or weekly? I think it is ludicrous to think in this manner as it is unrealistic! I think most coaches at your level would agree with me.

    What’s 85% of a weight that continues to increase linearly?

    I have a concept here in the gym, a good coach I know has something similar which he calls:
    Sorta Max
    Max Max
    Max Max Max

    No offense to him as he really is a good coach but thats Stupid!

    I understand what he means but it is much more effective a concept when said like this:
    Easy Max
    Heavy Max
    Hard Max

    Easy Max being your best effort with optimal form, your gym or training max.
    Heavy Max being your best effort when attempting a PR within the gym setting.
    Hard Max being what you would only attempt while wearing a funny suit at a public event for the sake of competition!

  • glenn


    One thing I am in complete agreement with is the concept of “if something works, keep doing it, if something doesnt work, stop doing it”. This is why I try to NEVER criticise too strongly someone elses training program or way of doing things… if they are making progress training only under a full moon on newly cut grass then they should keep doing it untill progress stalls!!!

    Having said this, both your definitions and the other coaches definitions seem a little difficult to me. I dont think they would be that usable, at least for me in my situation.

    Just as an example, it is not uncommon for an athlete to make an all time personal record in the gym, and do so with great form. Now your easy max is higher than your heavy or hard max.

    I prefere to label things (if they even need labeling) a little different… training max, or the most ever done in training, and competition max, or the most ever done in competition. No telling which one would be higher, but every athlete has a best number done in competition, and a best number done outside of competition. Then you have the training weight, or the best weight someone can do consistently with good form for multiple lifts.

    That having been said, keep using whatever works for you within your system, and good luck with your progess, sounds like you are making some rapid gains!

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