Advanced Template 1: Using Percentages
Experience level: 4-5 years +
Frequency: 3-5 days per week depending on goals
Type of training: 10-16 week cycles, building strength
As I have mentioned before the definition of advanced is not necessarily the amount of time spent training.
If you have spent the last 5 years doing bicep curls and playing on your phone between every set you are not advanced.
Advanced means that you body is in a developed and trained state, relative to your specific potential. It doesn’t mean that the only way you can be considered advanced is by being a certain level of muscularity or by lifting a certain weight.
It would be easy to set a benchmark, say squatting at least 2x bodyweight for 5 reps before you are advanced by the simple fact is some people will never be able to hit that due to their genetics. Advanced is different from elite.
Elite implies a performance level, where you can be advanced just by having paid your dues in the gym week-in week-out and most importantly have a great knowledge of how training works and what works for your own body.
For example you might know through trial and error and experience that you are mechanically better suited to high bar rather than low-bar squats. Or because you’re particularly quad dominant when performing the deadlift you need to work on the stiff-legged version and Romanian deadlifts to strengthen your hamstrings.
If you just go to the gym every week and blindly do the same routine without knowing how it works or whether it is effective you’re still a beginner, no matter how long you have trained.
My point is as an advanced trainer you have probably taken your body quite far in terms of strength and development. As a result your lifts are maybe stuck on one number, or you know that you suck at a certain movement.
As I mentioned in my post on building strength instead of muscle it is at this point where focusing on strength increase is most important to keep yourself motivated for training: after 4-5 years+ of serious lifting you shouldn’t be expecting anything drastic in terms of muscle growth from now on.
So this is not a template as such, in the form of the Intermediate and Beginner’s where I specify a rep range and the exercises, this is going to be now more of a way to break through plateaus and keep your strength improving, bit by bit.
One thing you’ll find in many strength training programs is the use of percentages and volume in working up to a maximum attempt.
Once you have developed a good level of strength progress is exponentially harder; you can’t just go in there and expect the numbers to go up. Each additionally pound to your maximum is harder than the last to obtain.
Because of this many well-known strength programs use the idea of training cycles, where you train with a percentage of your maximum for 8-12 weeks, gradually building up to a new (hopefully) personal best at the end of it.
Here is an example.
|Week||Percentage of maximum||Sets x Reps|
|1||60%||5 x 8|
|2||65%||5 x 8|
|3||70%||5 x 6|
|4||75%||5 x 5|
|5||80%||4 x 4|
|6||85%||4 x 3|
|7||90%||3 x 2|
|8||95%||3 x 1|
|9||Rest week||Rest week|
As you can see you start relatively light and get a lot of volume (total reps) done early on, gradually increasing the weight and decreasing the volume as you get closer to your old maximum.
Programs like this tend to start quite easy but the middle and end weeks are extremely tough, especially if you apply this to squats and deadlifts.
This is why week 9 is a week off, to let your body ‘consolidate’ before you attempt a new maximum in week 10.
Perhaps the most important and useful part of being an experienced lifter is that by now you know how hard you can push yourself, and that on a given day you can feel more fatigued than another, for no good reason other than some days we’re on, and some we’re a bit off.
When you follow a program using percentages like the example above therefore you should make use of self-regulation.
For example in week 6 you might feel good and the reps are easy. But in week 7 you’re really struggling.
By now you should be able to tell whether you are really ‘off’ that day or just that you need to focus more. But once you’re working at around 90% of your maximum I would advise you not to force it.
The week by week structure is a guideline to help you plan your sessions, but it is not set in stone. If week 7 feels impossible then drop some of the weight and try to get some reps done. Then go back to it the next week before moving on to week 8.
Adapt the program to your own pace
Another thing to be aware of is the fact that many programs you find using percentages and volume (such as Smolov squats or the Ed Coen deadlift program) are not really geared towards natural lifters.
If a program is telling you to squat 70-80% of your max 4 or 5 times a week as an advanced lifter then it is very likely you won’t be able to complete this much work without overtraining or injury.
Similarly some people naturally need more time to recover than others. If you are really sore from a workout but are meant to go heavy again after a day’s rest, don’t be afraid to take an extra day to recover: you will probably have a more productive session because you will be fresher.
Not hitting all the required reps and weights on the right days is not being a ‘pussy’ or quitting. It is training smart, for longevity.
If you are stuck on a lift, try implementing a percentage cycle into your training; it should help both freshen up you training and allow you to get past the sticking point.