Question: Why does percentage-based strength training specifically for group training not work?
Let’s start with a TL;DR: Percentage-based work for group training doesn’t work!
Now that I have your attention, let’s dive into why I feel so strongly about this whole percentage statement.
When we develop programming for individual athletes, our first step is to assess if they are more powerful or more enduring. To be more powerful means you can exert a tremendous amount of force in a very short amount of time. And to be more enduring means you can sustain a prolonged effort over a long course of time. Depending on their bias, we expect to know how their body (the overall system) will react to the training stimulus we devise.
Two athletes, one workout
Let’s look at an example with two athletes who have joined us for strength training and how they may react to the same percentage-based workout.
Athlete 1: “the marathon runner”: Her body composition is lean, well-muscled, with no excess body fat, and she often indicates that she could run forever. How would she feel after a heavy set of twelve reps on back squats?
With her background in long-distance running, even with a higher repetition range, she would most likely be breathing normally and quickly recover. Her aerobic system is so well-developed that her heart rate probably remained moderate to low, and she experienced only moderate exertion throughout the workout.
Athlete 2: “the powerlifter lifter”: He’s heavier, with thicker muscles and a bit of a power belly. He’s similarly doing a heavy set of twelve reps of back squats. How would he feel upon completion?
Compared to his regular strength sessions of one to three reps, this is a cardio session because the repetition range is so much higher in relative terms. His heart rate would be sky-high, he would visibly be in discomfort, and he’d likely look and feel like he just sprinted all-out.
As you see, we have two very different athletes experiencing different physiological responses to the same workout. Do you see where I’m going with this yet?
Our CrossFit classes include people of different backgrounds, body types, and levels of athleticism. Asking everyone in the class to complete 12 reps at 72 percent of their one-rep max lift will impact each athlete differently. Some athletes will be able to do it with ease, and some may not be able to do it at all.
How we’re different at CrossFit Fringe
So, if I dislike percentage-based training for groups, you might be wondering what I prefer, and how we approach this dilemma at CrossFit Fringe. Simple, we utilize the athlete’s autoregulatory system and their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to approach strength training. This is a scientific way to say that we encourage our athletes to push themselves as they’re able to on that given day, in order to meet the intent or stimulus we’ve provided in our programming design.
So what will this look like for you?
Let’s walk through a workout to illustrate our approach. If you are attending a class, and the workout prescribes three sets of ten to twelve back squat reps at a tough weight, we would instruct athletes to strive for a working weight, aka a starting weight for the first set, that feels tough after eight to ten reps. Our instructions would include that getting past the ten reps and into the twelve repetition range should feel really hard. However, failure shouldn’t happen before completing ten reps. After completing the set, athletes should feel like they are capable of maybe one or two more reps at most, which constitutes their reps in reserve (RIR).
We are ready for you today (literally), and any day you want to train
By relying on the athlete’s autoregulation, RPE and RIR, we can account for a host of outside influences — from work and home stress to sleep and nutrition. All of these impact your readiness to train and performance on any given day on a sliding scale.
Each day you come in you are different from your last workout. Instead of simply falling back on percentages to more easily write for group training, we’re enabling you to work to your peak capacity, where you know the intent and it’s clearly stated for you. This means you get all the fun and community of a group class, with an approach and workout tailored to you.
Go ahead, have that cake, and enjoy it.