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Workout Systems: The Okunyev Method
11/14/2017 12:44:56 PM

Weightlifters and other strength-power athletes often use percentages for exercises to determine how much weight to lift. An alternative is to use intensity brackets. This is a formula for program design that appears to have been introduced 30 years ago by M.S. Okunyev, a former head coach of the USSR National Junior Weightlifting Team.
One issue with percentage systems is that they lock you into specific weights, regardless of what you are capable of lifting that day. If you are not having a good training day, the weight will be too heavy; on a good training day, too light. Further, many individuals get frustrated trying to follow precise percentage-based workouts and thereby may increase their risk of injury. If a weightlifter is told to perform 90 percent of their best clean and jerk for three sets of two reps and they miss both reps on that first set, rather than reducing the weight they may continue trying that same weight for their remaining sets, thus subjecting themselves to a greater risk of injury as their technique becomes compromised.
The bottom line is that with all the variables that can influence performance on a given day, including what time of day the you lift or how much sleep you got the night before, it is nearly impossible to predict the exact weights to use in a given exercise. With the Okunyev Method, you use an intensity bracket that provides a range of specific weights to use based upon a percentage of an athlete’s 1RM (one-repetition maximum). Here are a few examples:
1RM: 100 kilos
Intensity Bracket: 90-95 percent
Weight Range: 90-95 kilos
Set 1: Warm-up: 50 kilos x 5
Set 2: Warm-up: 70 kilos x 4
Set 3: Warm-up: 85 kilos x 3
Working Sets: 90-95 kilos x 5 x 2 – or to use another form of notation: (90-95 x 2)5
Using the above formula, here is what a workout could look like if an athlete is feeling strong:
Strong Training Day
Set 1: 90 x 2
Set 2: 92.5 x 2
Set 3: 95 x 2
Set 4: 95 x 2
Set 5: 95 x 2
As you can see, each set is dependent upon how many reps are performed in the previous set, or how difficult the previous set felt. If you are having an off day, stay at the lowest weight in the intensity bracket, as follows:
Weak Training Day
Set 1: 90 x 2
Set 2: 90 x 2
Set 3: 90 x 2
Set 4: 90 x 2
Set 5: 90 x 2
As a general rule, the intensity bracket depends upon the complexity of the exercise. A complex exercise that requires a high skill level or is especially taxing, such as a snatch or deadlift, would require a wider intensity bracket (such as 5-10 percent); simpler exercises, such as a bench press or biceps curl, a narrower bracket (such as 2.5-5 percent). Further, with the Okunyev Method, you can build in some safety guidelines about what weights to select in an intensity bracket.
For example, using the above exercise prescription, establish a rule that if a rep is missed, for the next set you must drop down to the lightest weight in that intensity bracket. Here are some possible workout scenarios:
Example 1       
Set 1: 90 x 2   
Set 2: 95 x 0   
Set 3: 90 x 2   
Set 4: 92.5 x 1   
Set 5: 90 x 1
Example 2       
Set 1: 90 x 2   
Set 2: 92.5 x 1   
Set 3: 90 x 2   
Set 4: 92.5 x 2   
Set 5: 95 x 2   
Example 3
Set 1: 90 x 2
Set 2: 95 x 2
Set 3: 95 x 2
Set 4: 95 x 1
Set 5: 90 x 2
This system could also be effective with a form of cluster training in which extended rest periods are used between repetitions in a set. If you can front squat 80 kilos for three repetitions, but with a 15-second rest between reps you may be able to use 82.5 or even 85 kilos for three reps. Here is how such an exercise prescription could be written using the Okunyev Method:
A. Front Squat: (80-85 x 1/1/1)5, 15 seconds rest between sets
You can also vary the number of sets, for example:
A. Front Squat: (80-85 x 1/1/1)3-5, 15 seconds rest between sets
And you could experiment with a form of cluster training in which you use short rest intervals between sets, for example:
A. Front Squat
Series 1: (80-85 x 3)2, 1 minute rest between sets
Rest 3-5 minutes
Series 2: (82.5-87.5 x 2)2, 1 minute rest between sets
Rest 3-5 minutes
Series 3: (85-90 x 1)2, 1 minute rest between sets
…or you can proceed in the other direction so you can use heavier weights (as there is less accumulative fatigue before the heaviest sets):
B. Front Squat
Series 1: (85-90 x 1)2, 1 minute rest between sets
Rest 3-5 minutes
Series 2: (82.5-87.5 x 2)2, 1 minute rest between sets
Rest 3-5 minutes
Series 3: (80-85 x 3)2, 1 minute rest between sets
This form of cluster training also helps prepare weightlifters for competitions when they find they are following themselves in the weight progression and consequently only have two minutes to perform their next attempt. If weightlifters train allowing 4-5 minutes of rest between sets, or even longer, often they find themselves experiencing undue stress during competitions when the rest time between sets is shorter.
Online coaching is extremely popular today, and this flexible system works well for them because they do not have direct, daily contact with their clients. Whether you train yourself or train others, the Okunyev Method is a great alternative program-design system to help you fine-tune your workouts for maximum results.
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