Sunday, April 07, 2013

Rambling 4/6-4/7/2013: Some thoughts on daily max and percentage based programs

I've had quite a few questions lately about the benefits of percentage based programs. Here is some of the stuff I've been thinking.

I've always thought - and I feel as though this is the general perception - that percentage based training programs are good for building consistency, and that programs of a more "Bulgarian" bent are more valuable for athletes who are already very consistent, and are highly likely to make 90-95% weights every time they train.

The more I think about it, and watch my athletes, the more I move away from this notion. It's not necessarily that I think it's wrong, or that there is something inherently bad with doing things this way, but I'm realizing that there are a lot more benefits than I previously thought with less consistent athletes taking a more daily-max based approach, and correspondingly, there are more benefits than I thought for athletes who probably could hit those 90-95% weights every time they trained, doing a percentage based program.

I'm sure none of the following "revelations" are new to most people who have been around weightlifting for a long time, so I'm really just talking to myself here. Also, my programming tends towards the more Bulgarian in general, but very few of my lifters just snatch and C&J every day. We do a lot of variations of the lifts, but usually take them up to a top single or double. Finally, I'm not trying to say that percentage based programs can't work for athletes who aren't super consistent, or that new athletes should max their lifts every day. I'm just thinking about some ways that percentage based programs or programs based around regularly lifting to maximum may benefit athletes other than those who they are conventionally considered to be best for.

1) People sometimes perceive a percentage based program as being less stressful on the athlete mentally/emotionally than a daily-max program. The assumption is that you are asking less of the athlete by saying "you just need to go to 85%, and hit that for five doubles" than you are by saying "work up to the heaviest weight you can do today." I think this is only true if:

-The athlete is highly consistent. If he is not, then there are going to plenty of days when he won't manage 85% for a bunch of good doubles, and that's going to stress him out just as much as not hitting 90-95%+ for a single. I distinctly remember asking one of my athletes for five singles at 90% in the snatch. She made four, and was mad at herself the rest of the day. Not helpful.
-The athlete is not capable of emotionally divorcing himself from the day-to-day training process. If he is capable of viewing each training session as a very small part of a much larger whole (as I think athletes and coaches should), then hitting a daily single will not mean "I need to PR today," it will mean "I need to do what I can do, stay calm, and come back tomorrow and do it again."

2) The following may be the most obvious statement in history: more consistent lifters will better reap the benefits of any program. One thing I didn't think about before, was that a more consistent lifter can treat the classic lifts more like we can treat the squat, or other general strength exercises.

What I mean by this is that I can tell pretty much anyone with a decent baseline in squatting to squat 85% for five sets of three, and they're not going to miss. They can follow a simple, percentage based progression for four or six or twelve weeks, and make progress. They are making that progress based on making reps, and a good coach can pretty easily devise a program in which the lifter is very unlikely to miss more than a few reps over the course of the progression.

If the lifter is highly consistent, he can treat the classic lifts in a similar fashion, and reap the benefits of using a linear periodization scheme. Again, this only works under the assumption that the lifter will not miss many reps. It seems likely to me that part of the reason the Russians, Chinese, Koreans, etc can be so successful with percentage based programs is that they are highly consistent (probably because they started training when they were basically fetuses), and thus the snatch and C&J, to them, may be more a matter of strength. I think it is very, very rare that you find lifters who started out relatively late in life who are so technically consistent and ideal, that they regularly miss lifts because of a lack of strength. It happens, but not often. This may also be why the Russians like doing lots of triples, and even sets of 4-5, where doing that, at least as a large part of a program, may not be as useful for lifters with other backgrounds and situations.

3) There are also issues of individual response, and circumstance/environment. The stress - physical, mental, and emotional - of daily maxes is not the same as the stress of a high volume percentage based programs, and thus the physical, mental, and emotional responses will vary. It takes time and experience to learn which athletes respond best to which stressors.

When I talk about circumstance/environment, I'm referring to the lifters surroundings, support system, training situation, and the like. It is important to remember that a brilliant program which a lifter doesn't adhere to gets him nowhere. I have generally thought that a program which has the lifter going to maximum daily is better when training with a team, preferably alongside teammates of similar ability and even weight class, because the competitive environment will spur lifters on to be successful at big weights even when fatigued. Vice versa, I have assumed that lifters training on their own would do better with a program based around percentages, which doesn't push them to make big lifts every day.

Lately I've been looking at things differently, thinking about the possible benefits of doing things the other way around.

A lifter training on his own may benefit from a protocol which calls for going to maximum daily on some variation of the lifts - as long as he is able to understand that a daily maximum is not a competition, and he is not expected to PR every day. I think it's actually less stressful that the rigidity of "85% for five doubles" or something similar. It also allows the less experienced lifter, without the aid of a coach, to discover his limits, learn what a good "working weight" feels like, and figure out when he needs to push and when he needs to back off.

Conversely, lifters in a competitive training situation may be better able to withstand the boredom and stressors of a percentage based program. These lifters will be able to turn any training day into a competition, without having to go to maximum. Additionally, they will have a coach to keep them from straying too far from the program, which is all too easy to do when you're training on your own and things get boring.

Big gulps huh? Welp cya later.

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