Understanding Percentages and Autoregulation

By Luke Duross

If you’ve been at CFM for a while you have probably noticed that we sometimes work off percentages of a one rep maximum when doing strength work in each lift. You may have also noticed that recently, we are using percentages less and less. In this article I will explain why we are moving away from percentages, and what you can expect to see in the future.

Here’s a rundown of percentages as it pertains to the 1 RM and some potential misconceptions some of you may have.

Hypothetical scenario. You and I are maxing out on back squat. If I max out at 300 lb and you max out at 350 lb and it is a true maximum test of absolute strength…we both pushed ourselves to our absolute maximal limit, you and I are both working just as hard relatively speaking because we both are lifting 100% of what we are physically capable of. There is no way you can elevate the effort of someone’s 100% effort over another. The weight may be different but the intensity of effort is the same. This is true.

Still you and me…another hypothetical scenario. We are both doing a set of 8 reps on back squats at 80%. A traditional rep max calculator you find online would tell you that the maximum amount of reps you should be able to perform in a movement at 80% is about 8. So if you and I are both doing 80% of our one rep max for 8 reps, you would think we are both working just as hard, right? Furthermore, this should mean that if you put 80% of your one rep max on the bar and pump out 11 reps, you are stronger than your one rep max indicates.


WRONG(most likely, you usually are)

At least not necessarily.

If we both take 80% of what we just hit for our 1 RM and perform the same number of reps, I can guarantee you one of us is working harder than the other person. I can also guarantee you that if we both hit as many reps as we possibly can at 80%, those numbers are going to be different.

There are a couple reasons for this. When it comes to calculating your one rep max based on maximum repetitions, the farther away you get from 100%, your ability to lift the bar becomes less about your absolute strength and more about your muscular endurance, neuromuscular efficiency, and movement efficiency. And there is A LOT of variance between people when it comes to those physical characteristics.

One of my favorite research studies to refer people to on this topic is this one
This study took a group of weightlifters and a group of track athletes. They found each participant’s one rep max. Then, over the course of 2 weeks, they tested each athlete’s maximum number of repetitions at 70, 80, and 90% of their achieved 1 RM. They then compared the two groups’ results. They also included the test results from two other similar studies.

First off, GROSS, I cannot imagine doing a max out at 70%. But more importantly, the results were pretty crazy.

One of the participants was able to do 70% forty times; another participant, only 12. One dude hit 80% for 20 reps and one dude petered out at 8. I won’t go into more detail; you can check it out for yourself, which I encourage. But you can clearly see just how much difference there is from person to person; and why trying to use absolute percentages, especially when prescribing it in a group setting, will generally miss the mark regarding the intended intensity. People come in all shapes and sizes, strengths and weaknesses, and genetic variances.

Another scenario where percentage-based training can be problematic is the days where you walk into the gym and pick up and empty bar and wonder who turned up the gravity. Some days 80% feels like 90% and visa versa. Strength and other physical components fluctuate from day to day. So on days when your 80% isn’t your 80%, why would I have you do 80%. In order to adjust to how you feel on a given day, you must do just that: feel.

Telling someone to build to a heavy but not maximal set of 5 and then do 4 sets of 5 at that weight, rather than giving them 5 x 5 @ 82% allows that person to adjust to how they feel that day, and not feel like they have to stick to the 82% of their all-time PR that they hit two and a half years ago before they had 9 kids, 2 c-sections, a hip replacement and filed bankruptcy.

Programming options that allow you to work within a moderate, moderately-heavy, heavy range for given set provide lenience, as well as room to push yourself if you are capable beyond what your percentage would indicate. Learning how feel what your capacities are on a given day and being able to autoregulate your training is a skill, and on well worth developing.

If you have any questions about this topic, come see me in the gym.

CFM News

Why On Earth Would I Buy A CrossFit Gym?

Why On Earth Would I Buy A CrossFit Gym?

My name is Mary and I own CrossFit Murfreesboro with my husband, Jason.  We’ve been married for 14 years and have two children, ages 11 and 9.  Both of our kids are super active in sports and we do the typical practice/game shuffle most every day of the week.  Jason works a full-time job outside of the gym.  I work one day a week as a nurse in the hospital and spend the other six days working on the gym. We lived most of our young lives in northwest Indiana, moved to rural Minnesota for 4 years, and then moved again to middle Tennessee. We lead the typical busy family life as most of our peers do.

Jason has been an athlete all his life. From baseball at a high collegiate level, to World Champion Racquetball player. You name it, he’s done it (and has been pretty good at it all). Me on the other hand, I’ve tried being some sort of an athlete all my life but have zero coordination and haven’t really been great at anything. Sure, I did a lot of things including cheerleading, color guard, track…but I have never really excelled at any of them.   

 I’ve been chasing fitness for a while. It is important to me as a mom that I exhibit healthy behaviors for my kids to observe and practice as well. However, it’s not been the journey of a CrossFit Game’s athlete. I gained 75 pounds with my first pregnancy and never lost it all before the second baby.  I added another 35 pounds with the second pregnancy. Both times, I had gestational diabetes.  I’ve tried it all. Personal training, big box gym, videos, long distance running, dance classes, aerial arts classes. I loved aerial classes and dance. That’s when I started understanding that it wasn’t all a race.  It was a flow. It was you against you. You were the only thing that could hold yourself back from what you wanted to do. During that time, I also loved running.  Training long runs every weekend, getting out and running to the cow field and home again.  That’s where I could think.  That’s where my biggest and best choices were made.  Then I broke my foot and landed myself in a boot for several weeks.  I got way out of the running habit, and just never started back. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this happens to other people.

We moved from Indiana to a small rural town in Minnesota.  I continued working out, and never seeing the results I thought I should have.  I did the 24/7 gym thing.  I found myself trying to search out routines on-line, but never really being consistent enough to make true changes. I stopped going to the gym and tried videos at home.  I saw more success with them.  I remember training pull ups at home in the doorway of our utility room.  I remember the day that I didn’t use the band anymore! 

In that small town, through a charity silent auction, I won a month membership to a new CrossFit gym in town. I didn’t even know what CrossFit was really.  I heard that it was intense, and I thought that most of the time was spent lifting tires! Boy was I wrong! Meeting Jeff and Brandy at New Ulm CrossFit forever changed the trajectory of our life. Not only did I see what it was like to be coached and start seeing the changes that I had worked for with no success, but we found so much more. We found a community, lifelong friends, strength, endurance, mental clarity… things that I had never imagined I would find walking into a gym. I wasn’t the best athlete there. I couldn’t lift the most weight there.  Its been several years and I still don’t have my Snatch technique right. I learned that I could push myself harder than I thought was possible.  I learned that every time I walked into the gym, it was me against me.  Most of all, I learned that I had set my family up for a lifestyle change that has more health benefits than I ever imagined. We all know that we should work out. We all know that it helps with long term health.  I never imagined what it would do for us. 

As life goes, Jason had a great job offer in middle Tennessee, and we took the plunge and planned our move. Our house was for sale in Minnesota for nearly a year. Jason commuted back and forth from Minnesota to Tennessee. I stayed with the children and house in Minnesota.  That near year, my CrossFit family was everything.  They helped when I need it at the house, with the kids, and just lending an ear. When tragedy hit our family, they were right there with me. My father died in 2017 of complications after a long fight against an aortic and double cardioid dissection. I flew back to Chicago the day of his dissection.  It was the day after Christmas.  We were supposed to be out of our house January 2nd. My CrossFit family knew it.  They knew I wasn’t ever going to be able to pack the entire house myself while traveling to be with my Dad.  When I got back, they had planned a huge New Year’s party at my house.  They all spent the night and then the day after they all packed my house for me.  The entire house!!!  These people!  They are why I knew when we got to TN, we had to find ourselves a CrossFit Family!

Within days of moving to Tennessee, we entered CrossFit Murfreesboro, became members, and got to work developing relationships that we could call our “Tennessee CrossFit Family”. Again, I wasn’t the best athlete. I still had a lot to learn from some amazing coaches.  Our fitness increased, and so did our health.  I remember one day shortly after we moved, Jason had come home from a “check-up” at his new doctor’s office.  They had gathered blood work and he had been told that he had high cholesterol.  He knew he didn’t want to go on medications for high cholesterol and had asked the nurse practitioner to give him a chance to see what he could do on his own. We knew enough that we could buckle down on our nutrition plan and work at the gym, and make a change.  Three months later, after adhering to the “eat meat and vegetables, mostly vegetables…” CrossFit Journal article 21 plan and upping days at the gym, Jason’s cholesterol was back to a normal level. We had seen the health benefits from CrossFit affect others, but now, in even just a small way, it affected us personally. 

One day, a few short years later after moving to Murfreesboro, a spontaneous conversation that I didn’t even know was serious, and here we are thinking of buying the gym! What? Why on Earth would we buy a CrossFit gym?  We had stable careers. We loved sports and fitness, but enough to make it our business? It sure is not to get rich quick.  It isn’t exactly an easy business to be in.  The fitness world is harsh sometimes for sure as a business owner. We saw a community of people and we knew we could make a difference in their lives just by being good “friends” and helping, but what if we could do more? We started to write down our “why” to clarify if we were wanting to buy the gym for only emotional reasons, or if there was a purpose behind our actions.

Remember in the beginning when I said I was a nurse. Well, I have been a nurse for 17 years. I spent nearly 12 of those years working as an ER nurse and the last several years I have been in Critical Care.  I am grateful for my nursing career. It has allowed us to do a lot of things. Moving states has never been a worry for me because I know they need nurses everywhere. I will probably never step away from beside nursing completely.  I have seen a lot. I spent a year in NICU and knew almost immediately that sick babies were way more than my heart could handle. I have spent several years in a Level 1 Trauma Center dealing with every single sort of trauma you could imagine.  I worked a year doing colonoscopies with a Surgeon in a Rural hospital ER. Some were routine. Some came with a cancer diagnosis. I have held the hand of patients and family members as they took their last breaths in the CCU. I have comforted families that have been through the tragedy of losing their closest loved ones.  It is a great privilege to walk into a room and care for a person in their most vulnerable state.  I have spent years giving people medications to treat chronic diseases. However, after years of treating chronic disease on the back end… the losing end… I got brave, took a leap of faith, and decided it was time for Jason and me to help our community fight back against chronic disease on the front end! Primary prevention before anything else is key. I remember I was washing dishes and Jason and I were talking about buying the gym for what felt like the 4,000th time. We had been back and forth on if this was the right decision for our family several times. He asked me what my why was.  I turned to him and said, “I would much rather help people fight chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease through fitness and nutrition, than see them laying in my hospital bed when it might be too late.”

That’s it.  That’s why we bought a CrossFit gym.  Greg Glassman has been quoted endlessly on the subject.  He stated that CrossFit Affiliates are the “lifeboats in the tsunami of chronic disease”. I truly believe that.  If I can help one person get off their blood pressure medications, one person drop their A1C, one person not have to take statins for their cholesterol anymore, one person stay out of the nursing home… then my goal has been met.

Its not easy, but as the adage goes, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” Our motto is “progress not perfection!” I’ve been there. I am still there.  Everyone struggles, but your health is worth it.  You are worth it. 

CFM News



The #800gChallenge was designed by OptimizeMe Nutrition. Eat 800 grams (g) of fruits and/or vegetables, by weight, per day.

No foods are eliminated, but only fruits and veggies count toward the 800g. Eat the fruits and veggies or your choice. Hit the macros you want.

Raw, cooked, canned, frozen; doesn’t matter!  If you can weigh it as a standalone and unprocessed fruit or vegetable, you can count it. Yep, that’s it! Here’s a one-sheet with all the rules.

So why 800g? It’s associated with increased health and is a simplified way to hit those recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Read more here.



August 5 through September 1, 2019


You can register


We will host a meeting at the gym to go over all the challenge rules and answer your questions. Be sure to be there!

  • Saturday August 3, 2019 at 11am following the WOD.


$25 (plus a small fee for Wodify)


We will be using Wodify Rise to log scores and leaderboard throughout the challenge. More info on scoring can be found here.


Weekly winners will be drawn for top scores of the week to win a gift card for a smoothie, Munch meal, Juice Bar.  Grand Prize will be awarded at the end of the challenge and will include a gift card to Float Alchemy and a prize pack of goodies!

CFM News