In my last article, I talked about the use of RPE (rate of perceived exertion) for making better training decisions with regards to weight on the bar. Now I'm going to touch on how to use that in conjunction with fatigue percentages to regulate the amount of sets/reps in your training.
So, what is "fatigue percentage" and how does it relate to your training? It's a percentage, normally between 0-12% that you take off your top set of the day, based on how much you took off, determines how many sets you do in the rest of your workout. The total sets should also fit within your goals for the relative mesocycle. To expand a little more on the numbers, you essentially want to take off a larger percentage if you want more volume, and a smaller one if you want less. This is because you are going to be aiming to reach the same RPE as your top set, but with the new weight you dropped down to. For example, if your top set of the day is 3 reps @9RPE you work up to 100kgs for your 3 reps. Then you drop 4% which moves you to 96kg or for rounding in plates 95kg (I tend to round to the closest number rather than always up or always down). You then repeat your 3 reps at 95kg until 3 reps at 95kgs gets to a 9RPE at which point you stop.
The auto regulation is quite clever in that, dropping a lower percentage will mean you're closer to your top set weight, and will then get less total sets in before the RPE is equal to your top set. Whereas dropping more weight, allows for more sets before the difficulty increases.
Let's plan another example workout:
Competition Squat x7@8RPE, 6% fatigue drop.
Let's say you work up to 125kg for your top set of 7. We then take 6% of 125kg, which is 7.5kg, drop the weight to 117.5kg and then repeat sets of 7 until it feels like an 8RPE.
Bar x 10
Bar x 10
60kg x 5
100kg x 5
115kg x 7 7RPE
125kg x 7 8RPE Top set
117.5kg x 7 7RPE
117.5kg x 7 7RPE
117.5kg x 7 8RPE We stop here.
As in my previous article I'll go through the pros and cons of this method and then I'll share my opinion on it.
Let's start with the cons, one problem a lot of people have with this approach is that, given enough rest time between sets you could possibly never get to the same RPE as your top set. While that is possible, I'll say that unless you have all day to train for example if you're a pro athlete, then yes this does present a problem. There is however a set of rough guidelines for how long each bracket of fatigue drop should take.
So, the pattern being, the bigger a percentage drop you do, the more subsequent sets you'll be doing and hence the longer it should take, but the top end shouldn't really take more than 35 minutes. I If you are taking longer than that, you probably need to shorten your rest periods.
Another major point we have yet to cover is how do we decide how much lifting to do throughout the week? Again, there are some rough guidelines to work with in terms of total weekly fatigue percentage.
These are good guidelines for how much your total fatigue percent drops should add up to over the week, based on what kind of training stimulus you're looking for. Five percent over three sessions in the week for example, would add up to 15% total fatigue, putting you in the recovery/low stress bracket. These are not perfect and as with the intensity guidelines, I encourage you to make your own tweaks along the way. You might even be one of the few who may need to venture into the very high volume bracket to create sufficient stimulus, equally you may find that the 18% is still too high for you to have an easy time and recover so you might tweak the percentages slightly to suit you. All this information is to try and help you make better training decisions.
I'm going to wrap up with the positives. Similarly, to the intensity guidelines, I think these are great for self-coached lifters and people looking to dial in their own training, past doing cookie cutter programmes (any programme with a totally fixed set/rep scheme and no flexibility). Most people have heard of 5x5 and 5/3/1, these are good examples. Especially if you find yourself either not feeling much training through many cookie cutter programmes or if you find yourself consistently struggling to complete them, or just getting injured (there are many variables that can contribute to injury, but for now I'm just referencing inappropriate training volume as the cause).
In summary, the concept of individualising volumes in training is nothing new, however hopefully I've presented it in a way that is both easy to assimilate and apply to your own training. As always if you have any questions, comments, or feedback please leave here or contact me @atsapproved.