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From 0 to 100: Know Your Percentages!

0 Percent (Body Weight)

Using only your body weight is great for building explosive strength and speed.
The best tools for this purpose are jumps and sprints. Not surprisingly, both are
very tightly correlated. In almost all cases those with the highest vertical jump
also sprint the fastest (note that I mean running, not necessarily the 40-yard dash
which is actually a very technical test). I live in a cold climate in which we have
snow five months out of the year and it makes running problematical. I've found,
though, that improving maximum jumping capacity during the winter months
allows an athlete to become faster without doing much actual sprinting.
Very few people are actually explosive, and using jumps and sprints is the best
way to solve that issue. Trying to lift weights explosively if you can't even move
fast is counterproductive. As such, if you find yourself lacking the capacity to
explode with a barbell, you should focus on first being able to move explosively
via jumps and sprints. Be aware that even though you're not lifting any weights,
jumps and sprints if done all-out are a very high intensity type of work that
demands a lot out of the nervous system. As such, dosage (volume) should
remain on the low side and all-out work should be limited to twice a week.
Body weight work can also be used to develop strength-endurance with
movements like chin-ups and dips. It can even be used to develop strength with
more complex moves such as front and back lever work, but it's not the best
"tool" for both of these purposes (especially the latter) because of the skill
component involved.
Effect on Performance: Builds explosive strength and speed, builds strengthendurance
Effect on Muscle: Improves muscle hardness
10 Percent
This percentage is a bit low for lower-body speed-strength/ballistic work but
adequate for upper body ballistic work. The best example of using a 10% load for
upper body ballistic work is various types of medicine ball throws; for example,
doing throws with 10% of your military press for overhead throws and 10% of
your bench press for throws from the chest. To me, medicine ball throws are on
the same level as jumps they're great to teach the body to explode and will be
a very important tool for a strong athlete who wants to learn to develop the
capacity to be able to lift big weights with speed.
Being powerful requires that you are both strong and explosive. If you're already
strong, then the key is to work on contraction speed via throws and jumps.
Effect on Performance: Builds upper body contraction speed
Effect on Muscle: Improves muscle hardness
20 Percent

This is the low-end of the optimal loading zone for lower body ballistic
movements. For example, jump squats (either with a barbell on your shoulders,
dumbbells in your hands, holding a kettlebell between your legs, or a goblet
squat hold) are best done in a training zone starting at 20% of your maximum on
squats. So, for example, if your squat 1RM is 405 pounds, then a weight of 85
pounds (20 percent) is the minimal load that will get you maximal results from
the exercise. This can be done by using an 85-pound barbell on your shoulders, a
40-42 pound dumbbell in each hand, or an 85-pound kettlebell between your
This low-end of the optimal spectrum is the best option for people with little
experience in explosive lifting and who are a lot stronger than they are fast. Good
exercises to use include jump squats, jump lunges, and jump RDLs.
Effect on Performance: Builds lower body contraction speed
Effect on Muscle: Improves muscle hardness
30 Percent
This is the high-end of the optimal loading zone for lower body ballistic work. The
power production is about the same as with 20%, but the speed is a bit lower
while force production is a tad higher. This is more appropriate for individuals who
already have a significant experience with explosive lifting. Remember, when
doing explosive work, you can't take the same approach as when you do regular
lifting exercises. You shouldn't shoot for using the heaviest weight you can jump
with, but rather try to increase explosiveness with a certain load.
Effect on Performance: Builds lower body contraction speed
Effect on Muscle: Improves muscle hardness

40 Percent
This is the weight limit that all but the biggest freaks should use for explosive
work on ballistic exercises. Remember, when doing ballistic work, the goal is not
to see how much weight you can jump with, but to be violently explosive. Forty
percent is the most a highly trained athlete should use for ballistic exercises. As
evidence, it's worth noting that sport scientists from the Soviet era found a strong
correlation between jumping performance with 40% of your max squat and the
maximal snatch.
Forty percent is also the low-end of the optimal range for "speed lifting" on
regular lifts (squat and bench, for example). I found through experimentation
(measuring power output with various loads on the squat and bench press) that
when max acceleration is used, peak power occurs between 40 and 60% of 1RM.
So, if you want to build explosiveness, you'll see a significant training effect
starting at 40% of your max, as long as you try to be violently explosive.

From experience though, athletes who are super explosive already should use a
weight that is higher than 40% when doing speed work on basic lifts. These
people are so explosive that the 40% will not provide enough resistance; the
body will instinctively decelerate early in the movement to avoid ballistic shock
at the joint. However, average people should start speed work at around 40%, as
anything heavier is likely to move too slowly and won't develop their capacity to
be violently explosive.
Effect on Performance: Weight limit for building speed, low end of range for
building explosiveness and power
Effect on Muscle: Too low to stimulate hypertrophy
50 Percent
This is what I consider to be the best load to use for speed work on regular
strength lifts. This is where the peak power lies in 90% of the population. Working
on peak power will improve fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment and will
drastically increase muscle hardness and density. Remember that when deciding
to do speed work, you shouldn't go anywhere near fatigue/failure. You must move
explosively on all reps. We're talking 3 to 5 reps per set, trying to explode as
much as possible on each.
Effect on Performance: Builds explosiveness and power
Effect on Muscle: Drastically increases muscle hardness and density
60 Percent
This is the minimal load that will have a significant muscle-building effect. To get
that effect, you should either:
1. Perform accentuated eccentrics (lowering the load very slowly) to activate
mTor as much as possible. If you use this technique, you do not need to go to
failure to make gains.
2. Perform reps until you hit a point close to failure. Sixty percent isn't a high
enough mechanical load to have an impact on growth without incurring a
significant amount of metabolic fatigue and metabolite accumulation in the
muscle. As such, doing a set where you stop 2-3 reps short of failure won't do
much for growth (while it will work with heavier loads).
For performance training, 60% is the heaviest load you should use for speed
lifting on regular strength movements, but only people who are naturally very
explosive should use this load.
Effect on Performance: Heaviest load one should use to build explosiveness and
Effect on Muscle: Builds muscle conditionally
70 Percent

This is the low-end of the optimal range when it comes to stimulating

hypertrophy. This can be done either by doing regular sets close to failure (doing
around 10 reps per set) focusing on the quality of the muscle contraction, or by
doing density work trying to reach a total of 30 reps in as little total time as
possible (doing 4-6 reps at a time with very short rest periods).
Seventy percent is also the optimal load to build explosiveness when using
variations of the Olympic lifts (power snatch, power clean, power jerk, push press,
etc.), in which case you shouldn't do so many reps that you fatigue and lose
speed. Three to five reps is adequate for most.
Effect on Performance: Optimal range for building explosiveness on Olympic lifts
Effect on Muscle: Low end of range for stimulating hypertrophy
80 Percent
This is the high-end of the optimal range when it comes to stimulating
hypertrophy. Similar to the 70% range, hypertrophy can occur through doing
straight sets close to failure (getting in around 6 reps per set) or by doing density
work trying to reach 30 total reps in as little total time as possible (doing sets of
2-3 reps with very short rest periods).
Eighty percent, however, is the best zone to build strength when you don't want
to make any inroads into recovery, in which case multiple sets of 3-5 reps
(normally 3-5 sets) is the proper loading scheme. When doing variations of the
Olympic lifts, 80% is the load that will build power and strength equally (70% will
build more speed/power and 90% more strength).
Effect on Performance: Best percentage for building strength
Effect on Muscle: High end of range for building muscle
90 Percent
This is what I consider to be the high-end of the optimal zone to train for
strength. I used to recommend that lifters train in the 90-100% range often, but
over time I found that while the range is very effective for quickly peaking
strength (which is essentially learning how to demonstrate the strength you
have), it's not the best zone to actually build strength. Furthermore, you can't
train for too long in the 90-100% range or do enough volume to solidify the
strength gains without risking neural fatigue. When training at this percentage, 25 sets of 1-3 reps are ideal.
Effect on Performance: Optimal percentage for quickly peaking strength
Effect on Muscle: Increases hardness and density
100 Percent
Training above 90% is best done for short training cycles to learn to demonstrate
the strength you built via training in the 80-90% range. Training between 92 and

100% can lead to rapid gains in strength in the well-trained individual, but mostly
through improvements in neural factors. Recent experimentations led me to the
conclusion that work in the 92-100% range should be limited to short periods of
time (2-3 weeks) to peak strength and not as a way to build strength. While the
occasional single with 92-97% of your max is fine once in a while, real training in
the 92-100% range should be limited to 2-3 weeks out of 12 and used only for 3-4
singles per session.
Effect on Performance: Improves strength rapidly through neural factors
Effect on Muscle: Increases hardness and density
Load Effect on Performance

Effect on Muscle


Speed work via plyo/jumps or

medicine ball throws

Will improve muscle hardness


Ballistic work (jumping with

additional weight) to maximize
power development

Will improve muscle hardness


Regular strength lifts done

explosively to develop power

Minimal effective load to stimulate

growth (60%)


Optimal weight to build power

with the Olympic lift variations

Low-end of the best zone to stimulate

muscle growth


Best load to build maximal

strength without making inroads
into recovery

High-end of the best zone to stimulate

growth. From my experience 75-80% is
best for hypertrophy


Optimal training load to

maximize strength development

Will increase muscle hardness and


100% Training load best suited to learn No additional benefits compared to 90%
how display maximal strength
I'll be the first one to point out that percentages can't always be followed to the
"T". Eighty percent might feel like 90% on some days because you're tired or sick,
but knowing the effects of each training zone will allow you to make the best
choices when it comes to designing your own training plans.