In part three we created a strength program for a hypothetical strength athlete. In part four we will discuss how to exchange repetitions in reserve (RiR) for percentages of one repetition maximum and the adjustability the conversion affords.
RiR is a fine method of determining the intensity of a lift but with a major limitation: RiR is highly dependent upon athlete or coach perception and therefore lacks adjustability. While an athlete may be able to discern between a RiR of 1 and 2, can an athlete discern between the difference of 1 and 1.5? Certainly the athlete cannot discern between 1 and 1.1. At least for movements that carry the most importance, we need an intensity metric with greater adjustability.
Percentage of a one repetition maximum (1RM) is very adjustable. Percentage of 1RM is simply a certain percentage of an established or theoretical maximum. 90% of an established 1RM at 225lbs is 202.5lbs. The measurement itself is infinitely adjustable from 0% to 99.999% and beyond. Practically percentage of 1RM is adjustable to the degree it causes a difference in load. The increments of measurement are determined by the smallest load available and the magnitude of the 1RM. For a 225 pound 1RM with 2.5 pound plates available for loading, increments of adjustment are approximately 2%. With 1.25 pound plates available, 1% increments are possible. A 500 pound 1RM with 1.25 pound plates available, increments of adjustment are approximately 0.5%. With larger 1RM, smaller loads available, and taking into account the potential for rounding, percentage of 1RM is superior for adjustability of intensity.
In order to utilize percentage of 1RM we must first establish 1RM. There are several ways to establish 1RM. The first method is simply working up to a 1RM in competition. A competition 1RM is suboptimal in many ways due to the condition in which it was established. A competition 1RM is typically following a taper, a period of time of focus, under specific technical requirements, and in an environment that typically fosters 100% intent. A competition 1RM is not usually representative of an athlete’s ability on a given day. A training 1RM is more representative and therefore often more useful. The athlete works up to a 1RM with an established acceptable form under the same conditions as training. For newer or risk intolerant athletes, a 1RM may be inappropriate due to inability of maximal force production and risk reward of a high percentage lift. Another method of establishing a training 1RM is to work up to a submaximal load and complete it for as many repetitions as possible. Using the data obtained there are several available equations for estimating 1RM from a submaximal load.
The final piece that needs to be put into place is how to establish what percentages to use for different repetition schemes. Since we have established a RiR for each repetition scheme wouldn’t it be great to simply convert it into percentages as a starting point? With some basic math wizardry we can utilize the same submaximal 1RM formulas to establish a percentage of maximum at a given repetition number. The below chart was created utilizing Wendler’s Formula.
*The established chart is not meant to be perfect but rather serve as a starting point from which to adapt to the specific lifter. Notoriously repetition maximums greater than 10 are less accurate.
In order to convert RiR into a percentage we need only compare the repetition scheme with the RiR. 2x3 @ RiR of 2 would suggest a repetition maximum of 5 or 85.7%. A 5x5 at RiR of 3 suggests a repetition maximum of 8 or 79.0%. Once converted, a baseline is established that provides significantly more adjustability to a given athlete. In this manner each repetition scheme is also linked to a single training maximum. As a training maximum is increased or decreased the determined loads change based upon their percentages in a manner that the different schemes will never become unbalanced. Rather the entire system is balanced upon itself. If 5’s are increasing then so are 3’s. As the athlete or coach we need only worry about the relative difficulty of 5’s in comparison to 3’s in comparison to 1’s and adjust percentages of each to assure the equivalency or the desired effect. Following that, only adjustments to training maximum need to be made as the athlete gets stronger.
The program with percentages.
We will wrap the series up in part five with a discussion of how to adjust the program for a specific athlete. For now I have attached the program in spreadsheet form fully editable and ready for use.