I’ve mentioned a number of times before how much I like the 90% method for strength and size gains. In fact I recently used a variation of it to take my squat from 5x165kg to 1x230kg in just 5 weeks and have a few other people testing this variation as well with remarkable gains in just weeks. While I’m not quite ready to release this full version just quite yet, I do want to cover how to progress using the 90% method because simply diving head first may cause more problems than it’s worth.
Basically, the 90% method involves building up to a daily rep max and performing a certain number of sets over 90% of that load. This is an example session based on 5×5. The goal is to do 5 sets of 5, greater than 90% of the daily 5RM.
5 x 60kg (Warm up)
5 x 70kg (Warm up)
5 x 80kg
5 x 85kg (heavy)
5 x 90kg (equal PB)
5 x 92.5kg (New PB) DAILY 5RM
Here the athlete has done 3 sets over 90% of 92.5kg (83.5kg). They need to do two more sets of 5 using at least 83.5 kg.
Now the problems with this method come with working up to the daily max. Simply put you cannot continually hit new 3RM or 5RMs (or any RMs for that matter) week after week. Sure initially you might be able to get 3 weeks or such in a row, but then you will crash. Louie Simmons at Westside barbell knew this and that is why his lifters rotate lifts every week or so. Lesser mortals can get a bit more mileage, such as 1-3 weeks, but the end result will be the same.
The problem stems from the desire to see instant/immediate results and gains. We all do it. We want results fast. That’s why specialization programs are so popular. We don’t want to wait six months to add 10kg to a lift, we want it today. As a result, many people haven’t added weight to the bar in years, whereas if the progressed slowly they would be lifting bar bending weights by now. I’m no different. Back in 2008 I ran a six week cycle that took my squat from a current max of 180kg (lifetime was 190kg) to 210kg. Massive gains at rapid speed. The end result was burn out and I probably didn’t get under the bar again for a couple of months. It’s not popular but in the strength game, slow and steady wins the race.
I’m going to cover three solutions to this burnout problem, with one being my recommendation.
1. Adopt the conjugate method- There are two definitions of the conjugate method/periodisation. I’m referring to the one Louie Simmons uses in which exercises are rotated each week to avoid burnout. This works fine and is probably suitable for powerlifters and such but as an athlete you probably don’t have the resources that some gyms do, plus you don’t need to be learning a dozen new movements every year.
2. Change the reps- One week do 5′s the next week 3′s. This will work, but only for a short time. It also requires some level of self control and discipline.
3. Patience, Self Control and a Plan
This is my preferred methodology. Let’s assume you are performing a Block of 3′s which looks like this:
Week 1: 8 x 3
Week 2: 6 x3
Week 3: 10 x 3
Week 4: 4 x 3 Deload
We need to have a plan of attack for the three work weeks so that we simply don’t go in, grind out 3RMs each week, burn out and get weaker. Remember the volume will contribute greatly to getting stronger.
I’m going to suggest three different ways to set up the block, they are simply examples /guides to follow to give you an idea where you should be heading. As you can see the first and second weeks should be quite obtainable without to much struggle, then in the third week you chase that PR.
This is based on a successful method used to introduce new movements to advanced novices/intermediates, where by in the first week you introduce the movement, in the second you set a record and in the third you break a record.
Week 1: Safe- You work up to a ‘safe’ weight, something you know you cannot miss. An example in this block might be what you have done for a 5RM in a previous block (especially if you progressed from 5s to 3s).
Week 2: Set- This week work up to either a previous 3RM or a slightly higher number (5-10lbs maximum).
Week 3: Break- Work up to a 3RM you have never handled before, again keep the jump small. Constant progression is the key.
PERCENT OF 3RM METHOD
I’m actually testing this exact method myself at the moment. All weights are based on 3RM at start of block, not a progressively updated 3RM.
Week 1: Work up to 95% of 3RM
Week 2: Work up to 100% of 3RM
Week 3: Work up to 101+% of 3RM
PERCENT OF 1RM METHOD
Similar to the above method, the percents are not set in stone but just a guide. Different athletes will display their strength differently.
Week 1: Work up to 87% of 1RM
Week 2: Work up to 91-92% of 1RM
Week 3: Work up to 92%+ of 1RM
All of these methods require some restraint and also some planning. For example I’d have your goal weights for weeks 1 and 2 planned in advanced, then attack week 3 by feel. That said, it is far better to gain 5kg on a 3RM over a month than it is trying to gain 5kg per week and not getting anywhere.
I will be writing alot more on the 90% method and a variety of variations, but if you have any questions simply drop them in the comment section below.