Training with Percentage Ranges


Note: In John Evans’ latest blog, he explains that Dan Pfaff suggests to use percentage ranges with nearly all of his training prescriptions. While I’m certainly not trying to challenge Pfaff’s idea (and there is probably not many that could), I’m more so sharing my experiences with using percentage ranges.

Training in percentage ranges offers some great benefit. But, before we go full bore on this type of prescription we need to first understand what it can bring to the table, our athlete population, and if it fits our training scenario. A great benefit to training with percentage ranges is the ability to exploit the athlete’s capacity to train hard and recover while still having the capability to constrain intensity based on the time of year. Another way of putting it would be that it is flexible enough for day to day or week to week fluctuations in fatigue, but concrete enough to still progressively overload the athlete.

I’ve had experience using this method only with our weightlifting team at Athletic Lab. Just for context, we have a wide range of ages on our team, all of whom have full time jobs or are students outside of being a competitive weightlifter. We typically have one team training plan and diverge for individuals with big competitions or minor injuries when necessary. This is why I tried it out for a little while – to give the athletes that are handling the training load well an opportunity to push pretty hard on the high end of percentages and if they’re not handling it well to stay on the low end of the prescription.

To give an example of what I mean, I’ll outline what a basic Olympic lift progression could look like:

Week 1 (Intro) 6×2 @ 80-85%

Week 2 (Load) 6×2 @ 82.5-87.5%

Week 3 (Load) 3×2 @ 82.5-87.5%, 4×1 @85-90%

Week 4 (Unload/Test) 5×1 @ 90%+

As you can see, you still have quite a bit of control over the intensity from week to week offering the ability to amp up or back off the training based on fatigue for that week. You can also widen or narrow the percentage gaps based on how much control you want over intensity. Only in a couple scenarios of many possible weekly combinations would this example not qualify as progressive overload – that was a small risk I was willing to take.

In my head, I thought this would be merging the best of both worlds for our mid-20’s and masters lifters, but I had mixed thoughts about this way of planning for a couple of reasons.

1. There are some inexperienced athletes that don’t quite know what their bodies are telling them. They don’t know what heavy or light fatigue feels like so they keep pushing when they shouldn’t or they don’t push hard enough.

2. You might have slackers that always choose to stay on the low end of percentages even if they feel great.

3. And then you have the experienced athletes that are not disciplined enough and always stay on the highest end of prescription (and then some) regardless of makes and misses thinking they’re superman and can handle any training load that is thrown at them.

What I realized is that this method of loading is really meant for the experienced and disciplined athlete. At least that’s what I came away with after using it for a period of time.

After having tried it, I like the method and can see how it can be very beneficial, but only for certain athletes and in certain scenarios. I’ve since moved to using this mostly on “easy” days when we typically have accessory work and relatively less specific exercises compared to our heavy days. I’m sure I’ll come back to it at some point.

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace


Performance Coach | @ChicagoFire | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.