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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.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the primary content manager for Muscle and Brawn.

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  • Steve Shaw Jul 5,2009 at 4:31 pm

    Best of luck and let me know how things progress for you. I tried German Volume Training and the squat day nearly killed me 🙂

  • William Stonich Jul 5,2009 at 4:12 pm

    I actually want to give this 10 sets 0f 10 reps a try when I feel that I am conditioned enough.In the meantime I am going to work my way there and build up to it. Presently I am 208lbs at about 17% bodyfat and I’m 5’10 1/2 inches tall.I am focusing on both strenght and muscle size and to see how far I can go with out the use of an AAS supplements. My body is feeling good so I don’t need to take them. Your sample routine looks great and I am going to see how it goes for me. I was having a mental block and just having a difficult time puting together a program that I wanted for a three day a week lifting schedule for the exercises that I mentioned.Also I figure that trying for 10 sets at that rep range working each lift one day a week would be plenty. I am trying to keep my goals realistic being that I don’t have the genetics to weigh 245 at 10%B.F. and have a 600lb Squat and Dealift and a 500lb Bench to go along with a 300lb PowerClean and Militay press(I’d sure like that though)My all time strength and size was achieved during the summer before I 38 yrs old.I weighed 215 at 14%B.F. and I could Deadlift 305lbs for 5 sets of 5 and I was at about 245 for the Squat at the same rep and set level(nothing exciting)
    I appreciate your feedback, you were very helpful and you gave me a solid looking 3 day a week program to play around with
    Thank you
    William Stonich

  • Steve Shaw Jul 5,2009 at 3:21 pm


    Are you looking primarily for exercises for the German Volume Training or the fullbody workout? Just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. For your full body you list: Deadlift, Squat, PowerClean as primary, and Military Press, Bentover row, Bench, Romanian Deadlift and Pushups, Pullups and Dip as secondary.

    This is a rock-solid approach! If you are looking for more exercises for the sake of variety, I would try:

    Sumo Deadlifts – this are amazing at hitting the hamstrings
    Yates Rows – Palms up BB Row variation which I REALLY like
    Arnold Press – This is an interesting pressing variation which seems to hit my shoulders effectively

    If you are going to setup a 3-day a week, I would do something like:

    Deadlifts or Sumo Deadlifts, 10 reps, rest-paused singles
    Romanian Deadlift
    Bench Press
    Yates Row

    Military Press
    Ab Work

    Squats (Any set/rep scheme you prefer)
    Bentover Rows

    I would keep Wednesday very light on the posterior chain (squat…deadllift style movements). For deadlifts, I do a rep and reset my form…it’s about a 30 second rest between reps. At 41, I don’t like to play with form on these.

    BTW, feel free to jump over to the forum. It might be easier to layout some more options without the limitations of the commenting system here.

  • William Stonich Jul 5,2009 at 8:32 am

    Oh my lord there so many questions I’d like to ask you. To start with I am 44 years old and will turn 45 in September and in fairly decent shape. I am a UPS driver and work on average 10 hrs a day Mon-Fri and my game plan is to lift after I get home from my job(have home gym in garage)I have been working out off and on since I was 11 yrs old and lately have been going at it. In the past I have done a couple of cycles MD prescribed(test&deca)because of work injuries back in 2001 and 03. Now for supplement use I am ony using a couple of products form MetabolicDiet which are testoboost and Creatine Advantage which I just started this past Wednesday. I am looking to bulk up and using a routine to address my desires. I want to try the German Volume routine(when I feel that I’m conditioned enough) I want to use the 3 day a week total body workout with the Deadlift,Squat and the PowerClean and the basis of my workouts. To go along I’d use the Military Press,Bentover row,Bench Romanian Deadlift and Pushups,Pullups and Dips to finish it off. Can you give me some suggestions on which movements I could use the 10 sets for 10 reps that I can do? The PowerClean and the Deadlift I would want to keep in the low rep range and the Squat I would perform on the last day of the work week(recovery time)If you can take the time and give me some ideas to experiment with I’d be very grateful. Thank you very much. William Stonich

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