How to read training plans

Published: 2023-01-24

Understanding how to read training plans is crucial if you're going to follow one. Much of it is actually fairly standardized but some are not. In this article I will outline everything you'll need to know to read and write training plans.

Structure of a part

A training plan must depict the intention of one or several days of training. At the bare minimum it might be the lifts used, the number of sets and reps, as well as how much weight to lift. Take the following description.

Squat: 3x10x60%

It means the movement 'squat' is to be made for 3 sets of 10 repetitions each, with 60% weight of what you could do for 1 repetition (1 repetition maximum, or 1RM for short).

Sets are always written first in the western world. So the above should never be written as 10x3 as that would mean you would do 10 sets of 3 repetitions each.

Unless otherwise noted, rest between sets are as long as necessary to complete all the sets. Therefore it's often omitted entirely from training programs. When used, Everlifting utilize the following standard for noting rest.

Squat 3x10x60%:30s

The above means 30 seconds of rest between sets. Naturally you could also write m for minutes, or something similar.

The 'x' in the notation is actually times, so it could also be written as:

Squat: 3*10*60%

The numbers aren't always so precise.

Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Means the movement 'press' is to be done for 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions, with 40 kg of weight. When there's a span of sets or reps (or both), it's up to you to decide based on your strength and energy levels. If 3 sets feel very easy and you're full of energy, then do more. If not, don't.

The above does NOT say "do 5x8 or you failed the plan". It says you should determine within the span given what to do.

This time the weight is prescribed in absolute weight rather than relative. The way you count weight with a barbell is first the barbell itself then the plates, that is the total weight. 40 kg is thus typically a barbell with a 10 kg plate on each side (20 for the bar + 10 + 10 = 40). A 10 on each side is thus NOT 20 kg, nor 10 kg, it's 40 kg because of the total weight with the barbell (assuming the barbell is 20 kg).

If no weight is used at all, such as in a bodyweight movement, it's simply omitted from the notation.

Pullup: 3x6

Tempo prescriptions are rarely used but here's an example of the Everlifting style of writing pullup with a 3s lowering phase and a 3s lifting phase.

Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3

Tempo prescriptions have a fairly deep notation. You can read more about it here and learn why I wasn't satisfied with the traditional ways of writing them.

Structure of a plan

A training plan is read from top to bottom.

Squat: 3x10x60% 
Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Therefore the above means first do 3 sets of squat, then do 3-5 sets of press.

One can also write supersets. In this case you first do 1 set of squat, then 1 set of press, then 1 set of squat, and so on.

A1. Squat: 3x10x60%
A2. Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

This can be extended to giant sets of any size.

A1. Squat: 3x10x60%
A2. Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg
A3. Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3

The letter 'A' signifies it's the first superset. If you make use of more supersets you simply add letters.

A1. Squat: 3x10x60%
A2. Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg
B1. Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3
B2. Dips: 3x6

You can of course separate lifts with letters as well but it serves no real purpose, perhaps apart from a stylistic one, as it should be clear that it's separate lifts anyway.

A1. Squat: 3x10x60%
B1. Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Separation of training sessions are done by number.

Session 1
Squat: 3x10x60%
Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Session 2
A1. Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3
A2. Dips: 3x6

Or by day, date or anything else that makes the most sense for the person at the time.

Monday
Squat: 3x10x60%
Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Tuesday
A1. Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3
A2. Dips: 3x6

For instance, when training twice a day leading up to a competition, it might be best to use exact dates in combination with session type for the day.

2023-01-25
	  
Morning session
Squat: 3x10x60%
Press: 3-5x5-8x40kg

Afternoon session
A1. Pullup: 3x6, 3 -> 3
A2. Dips: 3x6