Advanced Training: 90% Training for Strength and Size Gains

In my previous advanced training article I explored wave loading for bodybuilding and powerlifting. In this article, I will jump to the other side of the training fence, and explore the benefits of 90% training –  or training with near maximal heavy loads.

First, let me say this…many fans of wave loading believe that it’s the golden key to getting stronger. It is often said that wave loading leads to a 2.5% strength increase. This is the example provided…

350 x 6 reps

390 (97.5% of 1RM) x 1 rep

360 x 6 reps

400 (100% of 1RM) x 1 rep

370 x 6 reps

410 (102.5% of 1RM) x 1 rep

I believe wave loading to be a very effective training tool. But I would never claim that wave loading is the be all, end all training tool. Some strength training gurus pit wave loading and 90% plus heavy training  on opposite sides of the training spectrum – directly opposed to one another.

I do not view weight training through this lens. A training tool is a training tool. Some tools work better for some lifters, end of story. And it goes without saying that performance enhancing drugs can impact the effectiveness of training tools. Be careful about articles that shoot down other training techniques.

Studies and spiel don’t mean squat compared to personal experience.

90 Percent Training. 90 percent training isn’t rocket science. It’s a training scheme that uses heavy weight training to promote strength and size gains. You could say the mantra of 90 percent training is…to lift heavy, you have to lift heavy.

Like all training tools, you should approach 90 percent training from a scientific standpoint. Experiment with it, and see if it works for you. The toll of heavy lifts might wear on older lifters or natural trainees.

The following are some 90 percent training examples…

90 Percent for Strength. In week 6, you will shoot for a new 1RM. Use your new 1RM for the next 6 week cycle of 90 percent training. Rest 3-5 minutes between singles.

Week 1. 10 singles @ 90%

Week 2. 8 singles @ 90%

Week 3. 6 singles @ 90%

Week 4. 10 singles @ 90%

Week 5. 6 singles @ 90%

Week 6. Perform the following singles… 90%, 95%, 100%, 102.5%, 105%, 107.5%, 110%, etc. Stop when you fail on a single.

90 Percent for Muscle. The goal of this training style is to hit 15 total reps with 90% of your 1RM. Rest periods between sets are 45 seconds.

Un-rack the weight and rep out, stopping shy of failure. Rack the weight, wait 45 seconds, un-rack and rep out again. Continue this cycle until you hit 15 reps, or until you reach failure and can’t perform a heavy single.

When you hit 15 reps in any given amount of these rest-paused sets, bump your weight up the next time you hit the gym.

Final Thoughts. There are numerous ways to structure 90 percent training. The above examples are just that…examples. Some trainees benefit from fewer reps, and some can hang with more. Play with the 90% examples, and tweak them to fit your body and your needs.