Prilepin may sound like a Russian potato stew, but actually was a coach and researcher who observed hundreds of athletes and compiled their training data into a handy chart that helps finding an appropriate set and rep scheme. Later this chart went viral due to Luie Simmon’s Westside Barbell system that used it extensively. Let’s take a look at it and explore if it is still a viable tool.
Prileipin’s Chart is the result of Russian research done with Olympic weightlifters and depicts the optimum number and range of reps given a certain percentage to increase strength. The researchers looked at bar speed, technique, and the lifter’s next competition max and developed the following numbers
The “Percent” column indicates the percent of the lifter’s 1RM (Repetition Maximum). The “Reps/sets” column represents the range of reps that should occur for a single set. The “Optimal” column shows the optimum number of total reps at this percent range to implement a correct dose of stress (fewer reps would be too low a stress, more reps would cause too much stress). The “Total Range” column indicates the lower and higher extremes a lifter could use when lifting in the indicated percent range and gives an idea how many sets should be performed. For example, the 55-65% row says that a lifter would use three to six reps per set, the optimal rep total is 24 reps, and the range of total reps is from 18 to 30. If the lifter used sets of 3, they could perform 8 sets to achieve the optimal 24 rep total.
This chart was developed to structure the training of elite level weightlifters. Most of us are neither weightlifters, nor at an elite training level. These guys were genetic outliers, carefully selected by Russian sports scouts. Not to mention that the Russian regime probably had some “special nutrition supplements” for their lifters to help them regenerate that you and me would never use.
Weightlifting is a complete different beast than bodybuilding, the sport that most recreational trainees do (even if they are not aware of it). Olympic weightlifting is a highly technical sport that needs endless practice to reach perfection. High loads are necessary for this scope as lower loads wouldn’t be specific enough to hone the weightlifting skills.
If you take a closer look at Prilepin’s chart, you will notice that the lower percentages call for very little volume. Twentyfour reps with your 55% in a single workout is a joke! Maybe if you would do them in only one set, this would be enough stimulus, but the chart calls for four sets. This is way too less intensiveness for muscle growth to occur.
Another limitation are the broad intensity ranges that are given in each bracket. Doing eighteen reps with your 70% or your 80% feel very different and impose different amounts of stress on your system.
What we can learn from Prilepin
When you look at all the limitations listed above, you might think that there is nothing to learn from Prilepin’s chart. But do not judge too fast! Altough the chart itself probably isn’t very useful for the general population, its underlying principles can be of great value.
The chart advocates for submaximal effort repetitions. Doing multiple sets of fairly low intensiveness work (proximity to failure) allows the lifter to concentrate on technical perfection, which is is many cases necessary for long term progress. It is important to note that this is a principle and that the repetition ranges suggested by the chart may not be the only repetitions that provide this type of effect. Depending on the exercise and the lifter’s ability, the repetition ranges in the chart may not be appropriate at all. However the principle is still an important aspect.
For building muscle, low intensiveness work might not be the best choice though. Remember that you have to accumulate effective reps to properly stimulate hypertrophy. Staying too far away from failure might slow down your progress.
Another principle alluded to in the chart is that lower intensities should contain higher volumes and high intensities should contain lower volumes. Nothing groundbreakingly new here, but still worth mentioning. The chart gives some guidance of how much volume per session should be done, but there is no suggestion of training frequency. How often should you train a given exercise per week? Russian weightlifting systems are notoriously known for very high training frequencies, but how often can you train like this?
Weekly training volume is important to determine on a very individual level. Training age, diet, goals, sleep quality, stress, age, and sex might influence this significantly and need to be considered when planning training.
To sum it up, when can you use Prilepin’s chart as a guidline for your training plan?
- Olympic weightlifting
- strength training (powerlifting)
- training with heavy weights (=high intensity)
- rather not for bodybuilding/hypertrophy
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