Repost: Prilepin’s Chart

Prileipin’s Chart is the result of a lot of Russian research done with Olympic weightlifters. It depicts the optimum number and range of reps given a certain percentage to increase strength. The researchers looked at bar speed, technique, and the lifter’s next competition max and developed the following numbers (for more on Prilepin’s Chart and it’s use on strength training, check out this solid article by Tim Kontos on EliteFTS).

The “Percent” column indicates the percent of the lifter’s 1RM. The “Reps/sets” column represents the range of reps that can occur for a single set. The “Optimal” column shows the optimum number of total reps at this percent range to implement a correct dose of stress (fewer reps would be too low a stress, more reps would cause too much stress). The “Total Range” column indicates the lower and higher extremes a lifter could use when lifting in the indicated percent range. For example, the 55-65% row says that a lifter would use three to six reps per set, the optimal rep total is 24 reps, and the range of total reps is from 18 to 30. If the lifter used sets of 3, they could perform 8 sets to achieve the optimal 24 rep total.

This chart is a very good way to structure a training day, though it isn’t really necessary unless you’re more of an “advanced intermediate” type of lifter (i.e. someone who has been using intermediate programming for at least six months, and probably at least a year). Let’s say you found yourself going hard too often in your training, and de-loads were necessary and often. If you actually looked at your percentages and rep totals, you might find that you’re essentially doing three heavy days a week. Instead, you could fluctuate your week’s training better (perhaps with a Heavy-Medium-Light set up) by orienting your training sessions with Prilepin’s Chart.

If Monday you went heavy, the chart would help you see that “heavy” is anything over 90%. You’d do about four total reps by hitting a couple doubles or some singles, and you definitely wouldn’t breach the ten rep mark — it would just be superfluous training volume at this percentage. If you kept the rep ranges the same, you could aim to improve the weight slightly the following week. This is essentially what is done in the Texas Method and Advanced Texas Method protocols (though numbers of sets and reps are modified for goals, like raw powerlifting).

Prilepin’s Chart also allows for proper progression. If you’re less adapted to using its protocol, then you would stick to the lower end range of reps within a given percentage. For example, instead of using 15 to 20 reps in the 80-90% category, you’d stick to the lower rep range of 10 and build it up over time (perhaps adding a rep or two every week). You can see how it’s easy to apply more stress via total tonnage than simply adding weight, and this is also why you’d want to be more advanced before even worrying about any of this. Less adapted intermediates can make plenty of progress with a good training template and not over working themselves, but this Chart can corral those who are ignorant, belligerent, or not on a given template (hmm, two of those three describe Brent…).

Westside Barbell and Louie Simmons are the primary sources that educated the general strength population on Prilepin’s Chart. Louie based the DE/ME structure on these percentages and rep ranges and has tweaked them over the years (I’d suggest getting a copy of the “Westside Barbell Squat and Deadlift Manual” if you’re interested to see his implementation). Things are tweaked because a) the Westside lifters are using supportive gear and b) the above chart is based on the the quick Olympic lifts. Supportive gear will assist the lifter in his performance, so heavier percentages can be used. The Olympic lifts have a much lower time under tension and can be typically labeled as “sub-maximal” with respect to absolute strength, so a powerlifter or strength athlete will typically use fewer reps than an Olympic weightlifter. Also, Tim Kontos pointed out that a sport athlete (who is running, attending practice, or using a broader range of lifts) will use fewer reps so as not to apply too much stress that would inhibit the rest of the training.

Prilepin’s Chart is a good tool to use for experienced lifters, yet it can give a good programmer a strategy for how to plan his session, week, and training. Take a look at your own training and see how it compares with these rep ranges. If you decide to use it, remember to start with the lower rep ranges. If you experiment with something and it works well, then let us know (but include your stats and previous program). Don’t forget that less experienced lifters will complicate a good progression by trying to adhere to percentage-based training.

Weightlifting and Strength Program

Two years ago I wrote a post about Transitioning Into Olympic Weightlifting. If you have considered making the switch, it’s worth a read. @conorjmcclure asked how the program could be turned into a 3x/week program instead of the regular 4x/wk.

There are two ways to use the original template: 1) as a transition into weightlifting to allow joints and soft tissue to adapt to the explosive movements or 2) as a combination of explosive weightlifting movements with traditional strength movements. How I’d approach a 3x/wk would depend on the trainee’s intention, but usually people still want to get stronger while incorporating the Olympic lifts. Here’s how I’d do it:

Snatch (heavy)
Clean and Jerk (medium)

Press or Push-press
Front Squat
Barbell rows

Snatch (medium)
Clean and Jerk (heavy)
Squat or Bench

It’s not a perfect template, but I like the symmetry of snatching and CJ’ing on the first and third training days instead of bunching them on one side of the week. If the lifter was young (and therefore can recover well) or an intermediate squatter wanting to push it hard, they could squat on Friday. This weekly structure would work well with a traditional Texas Method set up, and depending on the lifter’s deficiency, they could focus more on the Olympic lifts or the squatting. Otherwise, I’d clean and jerk heavier near the end of the week, use that as some squatting work, and then get some benching in if the person was weak or still wanted to get bigger. I don’t usually knock bench completely out of a program unless someone is no-shit committed to weightlifting.

I always like to get quality RDLs in most programs since most trainees rarely develop their posterior chain properly and they can be a benefit in weightlifting. If someone wanted to, they could squat and bench and RDL, but that’s kind of a lot of shit going on. The benching could always be lighter or medium-ish and supersetted with RDLs for the sake of getting through it.

As far as the snatch and CJ, I’d approach it like I mentioned in the previous article. To summarize, you’d lift heavy in one of the lifts and then “medium” (or about 80% of the hypothetical max) with the other lift. Snatch is always done first since you’ll always CJ after a snatch in a meet. Monday would be heavy snatch, medium CJ. Friday would be medium snatch, heavy CJ. For the medium lift, accumulate 6 to 10 reps preferably on a clock (1 minute for snatch, 90 to 120 seconds for CJ). For the heavy lift, work up to heavy singles, meaning you can only do about five of them. Each week you’ll aim to increase the weight by 2.5 or 5k. When you can’t maintain 5 singles, just do about 3 and keep progressing. Eventually you’ll only be able to hit one heavy single and can’t repeat it. Keep pushing the weight each week with as small increments as you can. If you did this progression right, you should have about 2 or 3 months of work. If you have serious mechanical errors, then decrease the top load about 10% and work on your issue.

This is pretty much a beginner progression on the Olympic lifts that can last anywhere from two to four months. It’s simple and effective. Once you peter out on this progression, you’ll be ready for more complicated programming unless you just want to continue doing sub-maximal work on the Olympic lifts and max them every few weeks.

Ideally you’d want a coach before starting so you don’t ingrain bad habits or movement patterns, but once you complete this progression you definitely need to seek out a coach. If you spend a couple months working on something, it means you’re dedicated enough to spend a little money and improve on whatever you accomplished solo.

I wouldn’t add much more to this other than pull-ups or chin-ups sprinkled in on any day. Of course, muscle imbalances should be corrected when necessary, but most people throw too much shit into a training program, clutter it up, and they miss out on raw performance gain that the basic barbell lifts provide.


Chalk Talk #8 – Speed Deadlifts & RDL

In a recent post by my Australian SOF buddy, Shaun Trainor, he reminded me that I recommended he do speed deadlifts and RDL’s while he was deployed in lieu of heavy deadlifts. In a program or circumstance that can’t tolerate the systemic depression or local soreness associated with heavy deadlifts, using speed deadlifts with posterior chain work will still get explosive work with the posterior chain. When Shaun returned home, he was able to jump back up to his previous deadlift numbers fairly quick.

Speed deadlifts can be alternated every week with heavy deadlifts, as they are in a few of my Texas Method templates, or they can be done every week to maintain some deadlift work without getting beat down. Not to mention you can accumulate some decent volume with doubles or triples on deadlift to develop a jacked back.

If you watch until the end of the video, you’ll see an explanation of NOT leaning back at the top of a deadlift. It’s a common fault that is incredibly injurious, looks ugly, and makes someone look inexperienced with anatomy or lifting. Simply lift the chest to ensure a neutral spine; don’t lean back.

Flexible Training Programs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis article is written by my good friend Shaun Trainor, owner and operator of Project Warrior in Fairy Meadow, New South Wales, Australia. Shaun spent 12 years in the Australian military with the last half of it in 2nd Commando Regiment, a special operations unit. 

The subject of Justin’s recent post (Category Programming) on training around an erratic schedule is one that is near and dear to my heart. One of the things that used to frustrate me when I was trying to design a training program was that almost everything out there has a weekly structure. Obviously that makes sense for the majority of people, because they have a Monday-to-Friday job, but it makes it difficult for those of us who work in the military, law enforcement, or emergency services.

I spent 12 years in the Australian military; the last 6 in SOF. Obviously this was a job that required a high level of physical preparedness, but it was also a job that at times made it extremely difficult to train effectively. On any given day I was doing anything from hanging around the office, drinking coffee, to climbing a caving ladder up the side of a ship with 90lbs of gear strapped to me.

The problem
Say I’m running a basic Texas Method and Friday is my squat intensity day. But what happens if I spent Thurday night in an exercise that involved clearing a 30 story office building until 4AM? How do you think my squats are going to go?

The obvious answer is that I take the session off, or just go really light, and it’s no big deal. Everybody has life interfere with their training. However not everybody works an unpredictable schedule that may involve intense physical demands for a week or two on end. There is only so much that this can happen before the whole effect of the program starts to be destroyed.

Military personnel – especially those deployed in combat roles – as well as Police, Fire & Rescue, and paramedics can all been dicked around so much as to make a weekly program almost unworkable. This was certainly my experience.

Weekly Template
After spending quite some time struggling to implement a normal strength training program as an operator, I then tried a template solution. I determined what sessions I wanted to do in a standard week, and then shuffled them around week to week to fit what was going on. For example, you might decide that you were going to squat twice, deadlift once, press once and bench once. You can then decide what you’re going to do each day, depending on what’s going on with work/life.

This worked a little better than trying to stick to a weekly program, but I didn’t love it. Depending on how busy my week was, I’d often get behind my allocated sessions. If the disruption last more than a few days – as it often would – then the template didn’t work very well.

Rotation system
After that I tried a much more basic approach. I realised that any sort of weekly program wasn’t going to work for me when my job was busy, or when I was deployed. There’s too many variables when you’re overseas, and you often don’t know about a mission until a day before. Detailed planning in these sort of situations doesn’t work very well.

I tried a much more basic solution: a Rotation System.

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Press

Each training session, I would hit one of the lifts. The next session, whenever that was, I would move on to the next lift in the order. The order is designed so that you can still hit the sessions back to back if you’re lucky enough to get three days in a row to train.

No matter how much (or little) you’re getting to train, your work is balanced between the main lifts.

Sporting the Project Warrior gym shirt

Sporting the Project Warrior gym shirt

Rep Scheme 
The rep scheme for the day is down to you, but considering this is a very basic program I usually run a 3×5 or 5×5. There isn’t a great need for complex rep schemes because this isn’t a long-term solution; it’s just something that’s designed to keep you ticking when work is sucking donkey dick. If you want some higher intensity you could work up to a heavy triple then drop down and hit a 3×5.

Accessory Work
Depending on how physically demanding your last few days have been, you can either add in some assistance work or simply leave it there. If you’re beat up and tired, then at least you got some squats in. If it’s been an easy day or two, then you might throw in 1-2 accessory exercises. Keep the total number of sets at six or under for your accessories. The whole reason you’re doing this type of skeleton program is because training isn’t your main focus at the moment. If you’re overseas or on shift for Law Enforcement, then you don’t want to cripple yourself with assistance exercises because you don’t know what the coming days will bring.

Conditioning is going to be driven by context. Some people will be able to let this slide for a few weeks without much hassle, others will need to keep up regular conditioning as well as their lifting. I fall more into the former catagory, but if you are in the latter then at least keep it either very short or very long. Either do something like a single Tabata or a few Prowler sprints, or go for a long, easy run. Don’t get sucked into doing the 10-30min ‘mess you up’ CrossFit type workouts.

Bench Press
I’m sure there are people who are already agitated about the lack of bench in the rotation. If you want to keep benching during this, you have two options. You can alternate press days with bench days, so that every second time you get to a press day you bench press instead. That’s what I personally did. The other option is to include it after you press. If you take this option then I wouldn’t press more than a 3×5.

Whether or not you deadlift is going to depend on your specific situation. If you’re overseas and you might have jobs coming up, or if you’re wearing armour all day – on a CQB course, for example – then you probably don’t want to pull heavy. A couple of times I went out on missions with sore legs. It sucked a little bit, but it wasn’t terrible. I only did it once with bad DOMS in my lower back, and it was not a fun night. Trying to clear compounds in Helmand with my back blowing up wasn’t a good idea. However if you don’t need the same level of readiness at a moment’s notice, then there isn’t a problem deadlifting as usual.

If you don’t want to do heavy deads then you’ll need some other sort of posterior-chain exercise. RDLs and good mornings are an obvious choice. While power cleans aren’t a bad option you’ll probably need to still do RDLs as well.

Speed and banded deadlifts work well to keep your numbers up without having to pull heavy weights. If you’re going to do speed deads, avoid the temptation to start putting more and more weight on the bar until suddenly it’s a heavy triple.

I spent another six months in Afghanistan last year, and on Justin’s advice the majority of my deadlift days consisted of RDL 5×6, followed by 3×15 banded good mornings. It let me bring up my posterior-chain without the sort of fatigue that deadlifts can bring. When I got back to Australia my deadlift bounced back to where it was before pretty easily.

Short-term Solution
Is a rotation system the perfect training program? Absolutely not. It’s designed to be used when work or life prevents you from using something better. It was my answer to the unpredictable and arduous nature of my profession. It should keep you ticking over, and split your work between the main lifts in a simple to program fashion.

Since my last trip I’ve retired from active duty and opened my own S&C facility (Project Warrior). I use a variation of this with any of our new lifters that we get who can’t, for whatever reason, commit to a weekly program.

Category Programming

Some times life gets in the way of training. Whether it’s a surprise work project, family issues, or forced physical activity, it can throw off a well-intentioned strength program. The best way to mitigate the damage is by trying to hit the most important lifts the way the program wanted (i.e. getting a bit of volume if it was supposed to be a volume day). This might mean performing an abbreviated training session by cutting some exercises. Other options include removing a whole training day, shifting the entire week forward or backward a day, or having some light or medium sessions before getting back into heavy training.

But there are some of you out there that can’t even commit to a regular template because your schedule is so erratic — like parents with a newborn baby, shift workers, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, and military personnel. I see this the most in special operations guys; training, missions, or scheduled physical training will interfere with training templates.

The following is what I like to program for these populations — especially SOF guys — that need to tack quality strength training onto their demanding schedule.


There are three or four categories that will comprise a strength training session. There is the Main Lift, a Pressing Movement, Assistance Work (or Pulling Movement), and a Trunk Builder. The trainee will pick one exercise from each category for a given session. The more deficient a trainee is in a given area of strength or muscular balance, the more they should emphasize that weakness in their week.

Deadlifts don't have to be back breaking to be effective

Deadlifts don’t have to be back breaking to be effective

Having categories allows the trainee to pick what exercises they can do based on what other stress they have had to endure in the week. For example, if there has been a lot of pounding on the knees via running or rucking, then squatting or cleans may not be desirable and will only limit recovery. Instead, that trainee may choose to do medium deadlifts.

Also, each session doesn’t have to be “balls to the wall”. Even doing a light or medium session with basic barbell exercises will maintain or build strength, muscularity, and prevent injuries. Hard charging athletes and SOF guys typically need to be taught the concept of rest or lower stress training.

The category method is essentially an organized autoregulation of strength training. It still provides a good systemic stress and if two or three sessions are preformed a week, then strength can be maintained or built on top of a rigorous schedule.

Main Lifts include squat, deadlift, power clean and jerk, and front squat.

Presses include press, bench press, and push press.

Assistance Work includes pull-ups, chin-ups, barbell rows, and RDLs.

Trunk Builders include side planks, Turkish get-ups, and spinal stabilization exercises (e.g. Stuart McGill stuff).

Note the exercises are all compound movements that work lots of joints and musculature. If you have limited time to strength train — as SOF personnel often do — then make the most of that time with movements that use large muscles that take the major joints through a full range of motion. Prehab/Rehab and Mobility work is not included here as it should be a separate, yet consistent, element in a training program.

Mike uses front squats in his program to build his squat and stone lifting strength. 

The trainee can vary the above exercises (i.e. they can perform cleans by themselves or clean and jerks instead of the power variation), but exercises don’t need to be cute. Chains, bands, or weird-ass partial movements are unnecessary for most athletes. Once a good strength base has been established (in the barbell lifts as well as balanced musculature), training can shift into more explosive or speed training to maximize the strength-to-weight ratio, but most athletes and SOF guys are in a perpetual state of being beaten down and recovering that a shift in training usually isn’t necessary.

Generally the Main Lifts and Presses are done for three sets of three to five reps whereas Assistance Work is done for three to five sets of five to ten reps. Certain exercises will require a different set and rep scheme — like deadlifts, clean and jerks, power cleans, and Turkish Get-Ups — but their inclusion is more important than their rep schemes.

I keep referencing SOF guys because I made this template when programming for them, but this can work for any person who has a crazy schedule or simply wants more freedom and variation in their program. If you’re busy or getting beaten down throughout the week, try this Category Method of programming and choose exercises you want to focus on for a couple of months. Even if your schedule isn’t crazy, this type of programming may give you some stimulating variety in your training yet still focus on a handful of lifts you want to improve on.

This kind of template will allow someone to be consistent in their training regardless of what else is going on in their life. And with strength and muscularity, consistency is the first step to success.