Inspired by Dan Cleather’s article in the latest issue of the UKSCA journal, this article looks at how I apply a concept I call ‘Rep Zone’ training with some of my more experienced athletes.
In case you haven’t seen Dan’s article it’s a training philosophy piece that outlines some of his views regarding training prescription. Dan writes about how he classifies his training in to three parts:
- ‘The intensity bit’ – all the max and circa-max stuff
- ‘Grease the groove (GTG) volume’ – all about achieving good quality, comfortable reps at a moderate to high intensity
- ‘Just get it done volume’ – pretty much everything else (i.e. structural, metabolic, flexibility, etc.)
It’s GTG bit that really rang home with me. The rationale is that it allows an athlete to build up an appreciable volume of lifting, what I would term ‘training density’, without inducing high levels of stress.
I define training density as the amount of reps completed within a given zone; you can loosely think of if as volume x intensity. This term will more typically be used to define work performed in a given time period but I feel that the former is a better fit. Adopting a GTG approach within some of your programme allows you to accumulate density within a specific rep zone. This density is a key driver for adaptation and a terrifically powerful training variable.
If you want to apply the rep zone concept the first thing to do is to define your rep zones. I typically use four training zones based upon an athlete’s training 1RM (estimated 1RM – 5%) for that given training cycle:
- 40% Zone
- 60% Zone
- 80% Zone
- 90% Zone
The total number of lifts performed in each of these four zones is logged over the training week. Totals are tallied separately for each category of exercise. It is important to note that every lift both at and above the training zone is recorded, i.e. the 40% zone will include all 60, 80 and 90% lifts too.
Application of Rep Zones for the athlete
This zone is what I would class as high-intensity work. I like most athletes to be hitting this zone fortnightly, however, I tend not to accumulate a lot of density within this zone for the most part. Think of it more as ‘maintenance’. A good tactic is to work up easy single or two for a given lift and then drop down into the 80% zone. For strength exercises I recommend that you use bar speed as your guide. I don’t want to be seeing any depreciable reduction in this zone and certainly not any ‘grinding’ reps.
- The 80% Zone
This tends to be the money-zone for athletes. It’s moderate-to-high intensity and where I believe that your typical strength prescriptions of 3-6 repetitions should be performed. I rarely want athletes lifting near rep maxes, I want them to accumulate the prescribed density within this zone.
- The 60% Zone
Whilst this is a big zone for hypertrophy with your traditional lifts, and also where peak power outputs will tend to lie for your Olympic lifts, I use this more as an indication of total training volume. Assistance work pretty much lives in this zone.
- The 40% Zone
A lot of people don’t count reps at this magnitude of loading but I think that they’re missing a trick. Strength is a skill and takes a lot of time to master movement. I see accumulating density in this zone as deliberate practice. These repetitions performed with optimal form (I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect) for the individual and with a clear coaching point to focus on. Differential learning techniques fit well here, but that’s definitely a topic for another day!
What’s the point of Rep Zones?
I don’t think the rep zone concept is anything new; if it is it’s certainly not ground-breaking. It doesn’t really change the way you’ll programme and I’m sure you’ll be monitoring volume and intensity in some manner already. I just think that it’s a slightly different viewpoint. I think it can help ‘filter’ training – eliminate the good days and the bad days in the gym. Prescribing by density allows the coach and the athlete to self-regulate but still work with a structured plan and key objectives.
What do you think?
Does Rep Zones sound like something you use in your own coaching or training? Let me know what you think and what you use. Drop me a comment below.