Friday, January 18, 2013

How to Design Strength Training Programs using Prilepin’s Table


Hristo Hristov2005.02.10

During the sixties and seventies of the 20th century, Soviet sports scientist A.S.Prilepin col-lected data from the training logs of more than 1000 World, Olympic, National and Europeanweightlifting champions. Prilepin synthesized his findings in a very simple table named after him-self. Prilepin’s table gives time tested workout guidelines as to how did elite weightlifters train.Now, I am talking about training guidelines for pure maximal strength. Here’s the table:

Have in mind, that this table is based on a study of weightlifters. However, it is quite applica-ble to powerlifting and strength training. Prilepin’s guidelines are widely used in the powerliftingcircles, and that’s simply because they work. If you are looking for ways to refine your strengthtraining workouts, Prilepin’s table is the answer. Let’s first define intensity. Intensity is defined asthe % of the maximal weight one can do for one rep (1RM). If you can lift 100 pounds one time for agiven exercise, then lifting 70 pounds is defined as 70% intensity. Upon initial examination of the ta-ble, you will notice, that sets of more than 6 reps are not performed. They induce too much fatigue,and obviously are counter-productive for strength gains, especially in super technical lifts such asthe Olympic lifts. To understand the table, consider designing a workout, where you will lift 75% ofyour 1RM. The table suggests that when training with 75% of your 1RM (Intensity Zone 70%-80%):

1.You perform sets of 3 to 6 reps2.The total reps should be in the range of 12-243.The optimal total is 18 reps4.If you do less than 12 total reps, the training stimulus would be too weak to elicit positive strength adaptation

5.If you perform more than 24 reps, you are going to slow down, and fatigue too much

There is one major problem with the table. It gives guidelines for a specific intensity zone. Ifyou want to use 65%, 70%, 75%, and 80% of your 1RM in one workout, these weights fall into threedifferent intensity zones. The rep ranges still rule, but what about the total number of lifts? If youadd the guidelines for each intensity zone, you will end up with a grossly overestimated numberof lifts (in this case, the optimal number of lifts will be 24+18+15=57 lifts!). You will either tireyourself out, or more probably, won’t be able to finish the workout at all.

In this article, I propose a way to get over this shortcoming. I’ll give you a strategy to findthe optimal number of lifts when designing strength training routines using weights from differentintensity zones. My first idea is to introduce, what I will call the Prilepin Number of Lifts Score(PNLS). PNLS is a measure of how the performed repetitions in a given intensity zone, relate torepetitions performed in the other intensity zones. Let’s assign a PNLS of 1, to the upper range ofnumber of lifts for each intensity zone. Look at this table:

Intensity %1RM

Rep Range

Reps Total

Optimal Reps

















When you perform the upper limit of reps in a given intensity zone, this yields a PNLS of 1.

The PNLS for a given zone, will be calculated as Number Of Performed Lifts in Zone . If you doUpper Total Limit

2 sets of 6 reps = 12 total reps with 60%1RM, the PNLS for these two sets is 12 = 0.4 (12 reps30over 30 upper limit reps). Now if you target a PNLS of 1 for the whole workout, you can add moresets in a different intensity zone. If you add 5 sets of 3 reps = 15 total with 75% 1RM, the PNLSof these 5 sets will be 15 = 0.625 So if your workout is like this: Bench Press - 2x6x60%, 5x3x75%

24 12 15The total PNLS for the Bench Press will be 30 + 24 = 1.025. A PNLS of 1 is the upper limit according to Prilepin’s table. For most intensity zones, the optimal PNLS falls between 0.7 and 0.8.Remember, that PNLS is exercise specific, so if your workout consists of 5 different exercises, eachexercise will have its own PNLS. This was my first idea of measuring the relation between intensityand the number of lifts. I quickly discovered a problem in this scheme. Consider these two workouts:

6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps at 72%1RM (ZONE 70-80%)6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps at 77%1RM (ZONE 70-80%)

Both workouts have a PNLS of 24 = 1, but workout #2 is harder. Now we need to devise a24

formula that further refines the correlation between the number of lifts and intensity. The formulashould also fall within Prilepin’s table guidelines.

I created a table that includes for each intensity of 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, the upper limit numberof lifts (NOL) according to the Prilepin’s table and the sum of the two. Here’s what I came up with:

Now you see that if we sum the intensity and the number of lifts (the upper NOL limit fromPrilepin’s table), we end with a number of around 100.

Here’s how I created my modified PNLS formula. Because the formula gives a relation betweenthe Intensity(weight) and the number of lifts(NOL), I will call it INOL.

INOL of a set = Number of Lifts(NOL) at a given intensity100 - intensity

If we run the formula with the previous examples we get:



Upper NOL

Intensity + NOL













1.Bench Press - 2x6x60%, 5x3x75%2.INOL(Bench Press) = 2x6 +

5x3 = 12 + 15 = 0.3 +(100-60) (100-75) 40 25

0.6 = 0.91.Workout #1: 6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps at 72%1RM

2.INOL(#1) = 24 = 0.86(100-72)

3.Workout #2: 6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps at 77%1RM

4.INOL(#2) = 24 = 1.04(100-77

The INOL formula favors a greater number of lifts at a lower intensity, and a smaller number of lifts at a higher intensity. This is good, because, very heavy lifts (above 90%1RM) fry the CentralNervous System and induce a lot of fatigue. At the same time trainees are able to perform moretotal lifts than the Prilepin’s table guidelines at lower intensities. Prilepin’s guidelines for Reps perSet remain rock-solid. INOL will only influence the total number of lifts.

Now, what is the difference between 5x2x80% and 2x5x80%? They both have INOL of 10 =20

0.5. But if you calculate the INOL as the sum of the INOLs for each set, you will get an idea ofwhich is tougher:5setsx2repsx80%INOL=5x 2 =0.1+0.1+0.1+0.1+0.1

2setsx5repsx80%INOL=2x 5 =0.25+0.2520

In the first case, each set gave a 0.1 INOL (fatigue), while in the second case each set added a0.25 INOL (fatigue). In the first example, the workout was easier because the total fatigue(INOL)was fragmented into smaller parts. Now you can design your workouts, by both looking at thetotal INOL, and the INOL distribution among the sets. INOL is a good measure of fatigue, thattakes into account the weight(intensity) and the number of reps performed. When you designstrength training workouts, using mixed intensity zones, you can calculate the INOL for eachexercise and follow these guidelines. You can track and modify them to suit your body for bestresults. By spreading the INOL among more weekly sessions you will be less fatigued, comparedto concentrating all work sets in less sessions. It is my view, that very frequent workouts, withworkout INOLs of 0.6-1 work best for most people. The only problem is that for most people it istoo impractical to lift very frequently.

Total WEEKLY INOL of a single exercise:

Weekly INOL Guidelines:

Single Workout INOL of a single exercise:

Workout INOL Guidelines

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easy, doable, good to do after more tiring weeks and prepeaking


tough but doable, good for loading phases between


brutal, lots of fatigue, good for a limited time and shock microcycles


Are you out of your mind?


too few reps, not enough stimulus?


fresh, quite doable and optimal if you are not accumulating fatigue


tough, but good for loading phases





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