The 85% Rule
Written by Michele Vieux
(Originally published September 28, 2015)
I find myself giving frequent pep talks to athletes who think they weren’t able to lift as heavy as they thought they were capable of in a training session. Sometimes the numbers can be deceiving – my advice? Check your percentages before you get bummed about lifting forty pounds less than your personal record (PR). If you are consistently hitting 85% or higher on 1-rep attempts, then you are right where you should be.
Nobody can hit a PR every time they train, which is one of the reasons why we don’t program max effort every day and typically only ask you to test your PR every six to twelve weeks. Lifting heavy uses a lot of power from your muscle that requires recovery of that muscle. But lifting heavy also uses a lot of energy from your central nervous system (CNS) which also needs time to recover. Being able to consistently hit that 85 percent mark on a lift is a good indicator that your CNS is firing properly.
If you are consistently missing singles at less than 85 percent of your 1RM then there is cause for concern and you should probably consider backing off for a bit. You are either not giving your muscles enough time to recover or your CNS. Improper recovery, especially of the CNS, will not only negatively affect your lifts and ability to make the most out of your training, but it can ruin other parts of your life as well.
Don’t be deceived by the amount of weight you are using, do a simple calculation (weight lifted/PR weight = percentage of PR lifted) to decide if you’re recovered and running properly or if you’re due for a rest or recovery day.