Articles  >  Weightlifting Program Design
The 80% - 90% Gap Weightlifting Program
Matt Foreman
September 15 2014

I know what you want.
Seriously, I do. I’m using my telepathic powers again. I can see inside your noggin.
You want some new training ideas.
Was I right? (you’re all nodding your heads) Yeah, I knew it.
Okay, I’m gonna give you a program you probably haven’t heard of. Maybe you’ll give it a whirl someday, either using it yourself or with the athletes you coach.
I call this the “80-90% Gap” program. Let me explain how it works.
When people design training programs, they have to figure out the loading schedule. This is where you plan how much weight you’re going to lift in each workout, and it usually happens after you’ve established the weekly structure of the program. You’ve figured out that you’re going to snatch on Monday, rack jerk on Wednesday, etc. But if you’re going to train effectively, you have to know HOW MUCH WEIGHT you’re going to snatch on Monday, rack jerk on Wednesday, etc. And you probably need to have some long-term planning that schedules the weekly loading for a certain period of time (8 weeks, 12 weeks, etc.).
Some people like to use percentage-based programs. The basic approach here would look something like:
-       Week 1 - Snatch up to 80% for three singles on Monday
-       Week 2 - Snatch up to 83% for two singles on Monday
-       And so forth…
The 80-90% Gap program is pretty simple. Basically, it’s a program where the athlete has to lift somewhere between 80% and 90% of their one-rep max (1RM) in each workout. The exact weight is determined by the athlete’s performance state on that day. On the days when the athletes feel good, they’ll probably go up to 90%. On days when they feel crappy, they’ll probably just stick to 80%. Anything between those two points is fair game, but they can’t exceed 90% or go lower than 80%.
For example, let’s say we’ve got an athlete who has a 1RM of 80 kg (176 lbs) in the snatch. If the athlete does a snatch workout using the 80-90% gap program, he has to snatch at least 64 kg (141 lbs) for a single, which is 80% of 80 kg. But he’s not allowed to snatch anything above 72 kg (158 lbs) for a single, which is 90% of 80 kg. In other words, he’s got a range of 64-72 kilos, and his top weight for the day can be anything in that gap.
-       He might feel fantastic enough to hit multiple singles with 72 kg.
-       He might feel good-but-not-great, meaning he hits 72 kg for one single and then stops for the day.
-       He might feel mediocre, meaning he hits 68 kg for one or two singles, but nothing heavier.
-       He might feel terrible, meaning he squeaks out a single with the bottom weight (64 kg/80%) and then stops.
Basically, any combination is okay as long as it’s between 80% and 90% for singles. You can’t say, “Well I feel stupendous, so I’m going to do 90% for a set of five reps.” That’s a no-no. This is a singles-based program. You could do 90% for five singles if you’re red hot, but not a set of five reps.
This is a combination of boundaries and flexibility. It blends firm guidelines with daily intuition. As long as you’re hitting at least 80% in each workout, you’re maintaining a solid working level. And as long as you’re holding yourself to no more than 90%, you should be able to avoid overtraining.
This method is specifically for the competition OLifts and their variants (SN, C&J, Rack Jerk, Clean, etc.) In other words, you’re supposed to use it for lifts that are commonly associated with singles. Exercises like pulls and squats probably need to be programmed differently because they’re usually going to be done in sets of five, three, etc.
Let me address a couple of concerns/doubts about this method:
Concern You can’t really peak for a competition with this program.
Response True, this isn’t an optimal program to use if you’re approaching a major competition because it doesn’t necessarily lead to a big peaking moment. If you want to peak your weights very precisely for a contest, you should probably use a different system. You COULD use this program to peak for a meet, if you planned out the final weeks carefully. But it’s mainly for time periods when you’re not close to a big meet and you’re just trying to keep your lifting in a good effective range. You could probably use it up until 5-6 weeks out from a meet and then transition into a more exact peaking phase. This could lead to some excellent results.
Concern Hard workers will just go up to 90% every single day, and lazy people will always stay at 80%.
Response Yes, that’s a possibility. However, it’s not cause to toss the whole idea into the crapper. The hard workers who want to go up to 90% every day will probably do just that. But they’ll have days when their body stops them, trust me. We all need 80% days sometimes. That’s where some good judgment and maturity is required. If you have low self-control and limited common sense, this method might not be for you. In regards to the lazy people who want to stay at 80% all the time… First of all, 80% is a solid working level. Even if you’re a lazy turd, you’re getting good work done if you can hit 80% of your 1RM in every workout. Second of all, lazy people aren’t going to amount to anything in this sport anyway, so we don’t need to waste much mental energy on them. This is weightlifting, brothers and sisters. Lazy asses don’t get to be a big part of the conversation.  
You might think, “This sounds stupid. I don’t think it’ll work.” If that’s the case, don’t use it. Print it off, roll it up into a tight little ball, and ram it into your cornhole. Just kidding. But seriously, this is obviously a simple idea and it might be too loosey-goosey for some people. However, I can definitely state that some of the best ideas I’ve found in my career have been the simplest ones. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen somebody design a training program that’s overly complicated. You know the ones I’m talking about. They try so hard to re-invent the wheel that they wind up with a jumbled mess.
I’ve used this myself as an athlete, and I’ve used it with people I’ve coached. It’s effective if you do it right. I’m actually coaching some people right now who are doing this and they don’t even know it.
Just a free idea. Give it some thought.   
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Keith Miller
September 15 2014
Love this idea!!
Michael Frazier
September 16 2014
Sounds like a good way to keep it competitive with a group.
Mike M
September 18 2014
Hi Matt,
I have been following basically what you are talking about above, lifting in 80-90 percent range. Do you have a good recommendation of any peak programs, for say 5 weeks out from a competition? Any of the ones on the site here fit that mould? Thanks.
Matt Foreman
September 22 2014
Hey Mike,
I would just make sure the athlete is hitting 90% consistently when you're 4-5 weeks away from a competition, and then plan out exact weights for those remaining weeks. So it would be something like: 5 weeks out- 90%. 4 weeks out- 76 kilos. 3 weeks out- 78 kilos. 2 weeks out- 80 kilos, etc. See what I mean? I would spend the last month hitting exact weights that are pre-planned and lead up to a peak at the meet, instead of fluctuating between 80-90%.
October 3 2014
Thanks Matt, appreciate the response!
Steve D
October 4 2014
Hi Matt, How would you organize the Volume of Lifts in the 80-90% range? Quick work up to and do a Prilepin inspired Range of about 8-15 Lifts per Session if training 5x per week or is that too much for a recreational Lifter? Do you have any Volume-Gap recommendations? Thanks!
Tyler L
March 12 2015
In this program how many sets of singles would you use?
Also could this loading idea be applied to triples or doubles with lower percentages?