One Chart to Rule Them All

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • If you look closely, you may notice this article has very little to do with actual Olympic Weightlifting advice. You are a crafty observer.
  • If you are in pursuit of strength and power, methods developed by Olympic Weightlifting coaches have paved the way, and you can apply their research and methods to general strength training and powerlifting.

There is no doubt that the sport of Olympic Weightlifting was pushed to its limits by the performance of Soviet and Eastern Bloc athletes. Starting in the 1970’s, Olympic programs within the Soviet Union groomed top performing athletes. The scientific approach to creating super athletes was somewhat spoofed in Rocky IV, as Ivan Drago was under constant supervision and study from a myriad of trainers and doctors. The cynic might also point out that some pharmaceutical enhancement was part of the training regimen, and that part of the movie is also accurate. Should we really trust the methods of folks who probably relied on various doping methods to achieve performance? My short answer is “yes,” and the long answer of “still yes” is saved for another day.

Enter A.S. Prilepin, one of the most pivotal and influential strength training coaches to ever glimpse at a barbell. His work was based upon the training logs of over a thousand elite level weightlifters, and continues to serve as the backbone of many effective strength programs, spanning beyond strictly Olympic weightlifting. What is often passed along as simply “Prilepin’s Table” should become familiar to you as you expand your strength training journey, whether a Weightlifter, powerlifter, or just an athlete seeking effective strength training.

PercentageReps per SetOptimal RepsRep Range
55%3-63018-30
60%3-62618-30
65%3-62418-30
70%3-62012-24
75%3-61812-24
80%2-41510-20
85%2-41210-20
90%1-264-10
90+%1-232-4

If you are firmly wedged in the “clueless beginner” phase of lifting, you may just show up to the gym and knock out countless reps of countless sets of poorly designed workout days. And honestly, this may work for a very short time. Your body is transitioning from “zero stimulus” to “some stimulus” and your methods of adaptation find this new and exciting. Inevitably you will find yourself no longer responding to this, and searching for an actual method to progress. And most of the methods you will initially attempt are based, to an extent, on this table.

Though not expressly written into percentages, the Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5 methods will wedge you right into the ideal rep range, and rep total for your day. Programs like Wendler’s 5/3/1 actually are based on percentages, and attempts to bridge the gap between different level’s of intensity within the table. And lastly, should you attempt to create your own programming, the table is an ideal place to start structuring your work sets.

For an example, lets say I got a harebrained scheme to knock off Wendler’s idea, and create a cyclical program based on weeks of 6 reps, 4 reps, and 2 reps, around 85%, 90%, and 95%. Wendler himself recommends using 90% of your true max as your training max, so that actually turns out to 76.5%, 81%, and 85.5%. And instead of doing bonus reps, we are just going to do multiple sets of 6, 4 or 2 with that weight, and we aren’t going to do the work up sets. So let’s get frisky and see where it takes us.

  • Week 1 – sets of 6 @ 76.5% 
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal for that percentage (3-6) and the ideal TOTAL number of reps is 18, but can land us between 12-24 which depends on individual needs. So this leads our home-cooked workout to give us 3-4 sets of 5@76.5%
  • Week 2 – sets of 4 @ 81%
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal (2-4) and the ideal total reps is 15, but can land us anywhere between 10-20. Our home-cooked workout program looks like 4-5 sets of 3@81%
  • Week 3 – sets of 2 @ 85.5%
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal (2-4) and that the ideal total reps is 12, but can land us between 10-20 just like the previous week. Our home cooked workout program looks like 6-10 sets of 2@85.5%
  • Week 4 – deload…. if you believe in that sort of thing.

This is a beginner’s intro into understanding Prilepin’s Table for building effective strength training programs. One need not actually design their own workout, you can find an abundance of effective strength programs online. But this can serve as a sniff test for any programs you find. If you are in pursuit of STRENGTH and POWER, the program you choose should resemble something that fits within the limits of this table. If not, approach with caution.

 

 

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