Prilepin’s Chart is a weightlifting-derived chart that provides recommendations for volumes across differing training intensities.
It can be applied to powerlifting, but without understanding its pros and cons, you may not be using it effectively.
So, how do you use Prilepin’s Chart for powerlifting? Prilepin’s Chart should be used as a programming tool rather than a hard set of rules to follow. It can guide you on how to build intensity while decreasing reps or build work capacity during a training block. You should also consider your training history and current training frequency to maximize its effectiveness.
Furthermore, Prilepin’s Chart will typically suit beginner lifters better than those with more experience.
In this article, I will cover:
- The history of Prilepin’s Chart
- The pros and cons of using it for powerlifting
- Whether or not it works for powerlifting
- How to program a powerlifting routine using Prilepin’s Chart
By the end of this article, you will understand the strengths and limitations of using Prilepin’s Chart and how to use it effectively for powerlifting.
Prilepin’s Chart Wasn't Designed For Powerlifting: History
Prilepin’s Chart was created by Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilepin, a highly regarded USSR weightlifting coach.
Prilepin spent 10 years working with the Soviet weightlifting teams. He was head coach of the national junior team between 1975 and 1980 and head coach of the national senior team between 1980 and 1985.
He developed his chart based on training logs from over 1,000 elite weightlifters from the 1960s and 1970s to provide target rep and set ranges for given percentages of a one-repetition maximum (1RM).
However, these percentages are derived from the Olympic lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. These lifts require a high level of technical proficiency and a lot of power and explosiveness.
While technical proficiency is needed for the powerlifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) as well, they are executed very differently than the Olympic lifts. Therefore, we must take the recommendations from Prilepin’s Chart with a grain of salt when applying them to the powerlifts.
Wondering if doing the Olympic lifts is beneficial for powerlifters? Check out Should Powerlifters Do Olympic Lifts? (In Some Cases, Yes).
How To Interpret Prilepin’s Chart: What Does It All Mean
Below is an example of what Prilepin’s Chart looks like:
|Percent of 1RM||Reps Per Set||Optimal Total Reps||Range of Reps|
The first column is the percentage of your 1RM for that exercise. So, the recommendations apply to that percentage range.
The second column is how many reps per set you should perform at that intensity.
The third column is what Prilepin determined to be the optimal number of reps at that given intensity within a session.
The fourth column then provides a range beyond this optimal number of reps. In theory, doing less than this range would be ineffective, and going beyond the top end of this range would impact recovery and future performances too much.
While there is no recommendation for set count, you would simply perform sets to reach the given optimal target or range of repetitions. For example, if you were doing 5 repetitions at 65% 1RM, you would complete 4-6 sets.
To find out more about how to program your sets for powerlifting training, check out Top Sets vs Straight Sets vs Working Sets: How to Use Them?
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
Should You Use Prilepin’s Chart For Powerlifting: 3 Pros, 3 Cons
Prilepin’s Chart, like any programming method or tool, has its pros and cons.
Knowing these positives and negatives will allow you to use it to the best of your ability and apply it to your or your clients’ training.
Three Pros of Prilepin’s Chart for Powerlifting
1. It Provides a Starting Point
Prilepin’s Chart provides a base recommendation of volumes for given intensities.
As a beginner coach or lifter, knowing where to start in terms of overall volumes (reps, sets, and loading) can be difficult.
You can easily look at this chart and take away guidelines on where to start. You can either start at the bottom end of the ranges and build upwards or start at the optimal end of the ranges and adjust up or down as needed.
Getting started and having a base reference point is always going to be useful, and Prilepin’s Chart can provide this.
If you are unsure about when differing rep schemes may suit your training, check out 5×5 vs 3×10: Which Set & Rep Scheme Is Better?
2. The Chart Supports Submaximal Training
The recommendations from Prilepin’s Chart align with the popular principle of submaximal training, or performing multiple sets of lower exertion to improve technique and overall competency rather than pushing sets to failure.
While this principle will still apply beyond the rep and set ranges in the chart, those recommendations still fall within reasonable expectations for many lifters.
RPE and RIR are a great way to gauge how far from failure you are each set. Check out RPE vs RIR: What Are The Difference? How To Use Them? to learn how you can incorporate these yourself.
3. Practical Recommendations on Volume Across Intensities
Simply put, Prilepin’s Chart recommends higher volumes at lower intensities and lower volumes at higher intensities.
While this is not a surprising concept, seeing it laid out with structured recommendations for reps per set and total volumes may be incredibly useful for many.
This also offers insight into how to scale training volume as you move from one intensity range to the next.
Three Cons of Prilepin’s Chart for Powerlifting
1. It Was Not Developed for Powerlifting
The most obvious con is that it was not developed for powerlifting.
While there are clear similarities between weightlifting and powerlifting, it is also clear they are not the same sport and that there are drastic differences between the movements in each sport.
In powerlifting, there are typically notable differences in training volumes and/or intensities between the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Prilepin’s Chart doesn’t account for those variances. Understandably, there are limitations when we start drawing recommendations derived from training logs of weightlifters.
2. It Was Developed Based on Data From Elite Lifters
Elite lifters are often outliers rather than a reflection of the entire population. Given that the chart’s recommendations are derived from the logs of lifters who competed at the highest level, it is hard to believe these are reflective of your average lifter, especially beginners for whom this chart has the most merit.
The main saving point here is the rep ranges. Focusing on utilizing these ranges and starting at the lower end rather than aiming for the optimal range at first is going to make this chart far more effective for powerlifting.
3. Per Session Volume is Not as Important as Total Volume
Volume per session recommendations can be useful. However, an athlete’s ability to recover needs to be considered alongside their training frequency.
A single session does not make or break an athlete’s performance or recovery. A lifter’s total weekly volume will be more reflective of how well they are progressing and recovering.
Lift frequency will also affect how you would use the recommended volumes from the chart. For example, it will have a very different effect for those benching twice per week versus three times.
Wondering what the optimal bench press frequency is for you? Check out How Many Times Per Week Should You Bench Press?
Does Prilepin’s Chart Work for Powerlifting?
Prilepin’s Chart works for powerlifting if you use it as a programming tool rather than an explicit set of rules to follow.
While the general recommendations and ranges provided are a good baseline, the optimal reps, reps per set, and total volumes will vary from lifter to lifter, lift to lift, and block to block.
The further into your lifting career you get, the more you should use your own previous training data, and the less you should refer to tools such as Prilepin’s Chart.
However, it may offer a good initial guideline for how you structure your programming. For beginners, it is helpful for trying to find an indication of how to get started.
Individualizing training to suit yourself or the lifter at hand should always be the primary focus. This may mean striving below or above the recommendations in the chart, and more than likely, utilizing a combination of intensities within a single session.
Programming With Prilepin’s Chart For Powerlifting: How-To
Prilepin’s Chart can be used in a variety of different ways, and how you use it will vary across lifters.
However, there are two primary methods I recommend using it for within your programming:
- Building intensity and dropping total repetitions
- Building volume and work capacity
You could also combine these two methods, as I’ll explain below.
1. Building Intensity and Dropping Total Repetitions
Prilepin’s recommendations can be useful for building intensity within a singular block or even across a training cycle leading up to a powerlifting competition or testing session.
For example, your training block may look like this:
- Week 1 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 70%
- Week 2 – 4 Sets of 5 Repetitions at 75%
- Week 3 – 5 Sets of 4 Repetitions at 77.5%
- Week 4 – 6 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 80%
The block starts with the bottom end of the recommended intensity and the top end of the recommended total repetitions. Week to week, the intensity climbs to the top end as total recommended repetitions are reduced to the bottom of the range.
Increasing the number of sets while reducing the number of reps per set is helpful for maintaining the target volumes while not pushing sets closer to failure by trying to maintain the same reps per set as intensity increases.
This can also be extended across training blocks as you shift from different targeted percentage ranges.
For example, you could extend the above block to:
- Week 5 – 6 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 82.5%
- Week 6 – 5 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 85%
- Week 7 – 5 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 87.5%
- Week 8 – 4 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 90%
- Week 9 – 3 Sets of 2 Repetitions at 92.5%
- Week 10 – 2 Sets of 2 Repetitions at 95%
Even as intensity climbs towards 100%, you still do not want to push to failure. Check out Do Powerlifters Train To Failure? (Not Often, Here’s Why) to understand why training to failure can be detrimental.
2. Building Volume and Work Capacity
Prilepin’s Chart can be useful for increasing volume within a block and also improving the lifter's work capacity.
Volume can be measured in several different ways, but for this article let us define volume as reps x sets x load.
Increasing volume may be done by manipulating the set and/or rep count at a fixed intensity, by increasing intensity at a fixed rep and set count, or by a combination of the two.
For example, increasing volume at a fixed intensity may look like this:
- Week 1 – 3 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 60%
- Week 2 – 4 Sets of 5 Repetitions at 60%
- Week 3 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 60%
- Week 4 – 5 Sets of 5 Repetitions at 60%
- Week 5 – 5 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 60%
Intensity has remained fixed over the course of the 5 weeks, but volume per session and total rep count has increased from the bottom end of the recommended range (18 repetitions) to the top end (30 repetitions).
However, you could also aim to sit at a consistent rep and set scheme with progressing intensities.
For example, increasing volumes with a fixed set and rep count could look like this:
- Week 1 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 55%
- Week 2 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 57.5%
- Week 3 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 60%
- Week 4 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 62.5%
- Week 5 – 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 65%
3. A Combined Approach
In most typical powerlifting programs, you will see some sort of variety between sessions.
Typically, this will come down to one higher intensity, lower volume session and one lower intensity, higher volume session.
Using Prilepin’s chart, you may have a session that falls in the 80-90% 1RM range and one that falls into the 55-65% 1RM range.
This may look like this:
- Session 1: 6 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 80%
- Session 2: 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 55%
- Session 1: 6 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 82.5%
- Session 2: 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 57.5%
- Session 1: 5 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 85%
- Session 2: 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 60%
- Session 1: 5 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 87.5%
- Session 2: 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 62.5%
- Session 1: 4 Sets of 3 Repetitions at 90%
- Session 2: 4 Sets of 6 Repetitions at 65%
You’ll notice that the set and rep scheme for session 1 changes every couple of weeks but stays the same in session 2 throughout the entire 5 weeks. This helps keep training a little more predictable and manages expectations from week to week.
You may, however, see merit in repeating weeks. Instead of progressing load every week on both sessions, you may progress one and keep the second session fixed. Alternatively, you could increase load at a slower rate — for example, every two weeks.
Unsure how to set up your powerlifting training each week? We cover how best to structure your training for two, three, four, or five days in the below guides:
- 2 Day Powerlifting Split: How To Structure It The Right Way
- 3 Day Powerlifting Split: How To Structure It The Right Way
- 4 Day Powerlifting Split: How To Structure It The Right Way
- 5 Day Powerlifting Split: How To Structure It The Right Way
Prilepin’s Chart has its merits as a programming tool for offering baseline guidance for target rep and set counts at a given percentage of your 1RM.
However, it should not be viewed as a fixed set of rules you cannot deviate from. Programming beyond a beginner level should prioritize using previous training data rather than generalized recommendations.
The key limitations to Prilepin’s Chart are that it was derived from an elite weightlifting population, which brings into question its application to a broad range of abilities within powerlifting.
To be used effectively, coaches and lifters should consider factors beyond the chart, such as lifter experience and previous training history, block to block and lift to lift variables, and overall training frequency.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.