Training Programs and Percentages

Training programs describe the effort to be undertaken by an athlete in the pursuance of training goals. The effort is usually quantified in terms of the volume of work to be done (the number of sets and reps) and the intensity of effort (described as a percentage of the athlete’s best).  Training programs in Weightlifting written using percentages have a number of pitfalls of which athletes and coaches should be aware, and there are also anomalies in describing the workload in terms of sets and reps.


Power Snatch 80% 4 x 3
Jerk from Racks 80% 4 x 2
Romanian Deadlifts 80% 3 x 5
Back Squat 95% 4 x 3
Press b Neck 40% 5 x 5

In the above example, there is plenty of scope for error in interpreting the program. For the Power Snatch, is the 80% intensity rating worked off the athlete’s best Snatch or their best Power Snatch or even what the athlete assumes might be their current capability in the Snatch? Some athletes, unwisely, even work off a target weight that they hope to achieve in the next competition.

Furthermore, for the Back Squat, is the 95% worked off the athlete’s best Back Squat. Well, if it is then it would be a nightmare squat session!

Percentages are useful for coaches as one program can be issued to a number of athletes who can then set limit weights according to their own personal bests. If a program is written so that kilograms instead of percentages are used to describe intensity, then the coach must prepare an individual program for each athlete as one athlete’s targets weights will not suit another athlete. In reality, the creation of unique programs for each individual is an excellent practise but this is really only achievable if a coach has very few athletes or carries out the coaching task on a professional full-time basis.

The use of percentages has a number of issues as described above and therefore in writing a program, it is important to make clear the basis on which percentages are worked. The system favoured by the author of this article is that percentages relate either to the athlete’s best Snatch or their best Clean & Jerk. Using percentages in this way solves some anomalies but creates others, and there is no perfect system. One important issued solved is that using percentages of best Snatch or best Clean & Jerk reduces the tendency of athletes to have entrenched weaknesses or overspend effort in exercises where they are already strong. For example, athletes should be able to squat with 110% of the best clean & jerk for 3 reps reasonably comfortably. Knowing this relationship helps the athlete to judge whether they should expend more effort on squats or not. It also enables athletes to compare their efforts with one another.

On the other hand, if an athlete is programmed to squat 90% of their best squat, and they happen to be exceptionally strong in the squat then performing 90% for sets of 3 reps might be far in excess of what is actually needed. In the short term, the athlete’s time and energy might be better spent on other exercises, especially those that improve technique as strength may not be the athlete’s issue.

It is possible therefore to relate all exercises, in percentage terms, to best Snatch or best Clean & Jerk. Using this system, however, means that the coach can no longer use just one percentage to describe the overall training session intensity. Instead the coach must provide information to athlete as to how percentages are worked out for each exercise. In the above example, Power Snatch percentage can be worked out as a percentage of best Snatch, but the other exercises (Jerk from Racks, Romanian Deadlifts,  Back Squats and Press Behind Neck)  would be worked off the athlete’s best Clean & Jerk.

Complicated, yes, but quite achievable after instructions are given.