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We all want to be making progress in the gym, but unfortunately, many lifters remain stagnant. In general, you want to make sure you’re getting stronger over time. Getting stronger means using more load or achieving more repetitions with the same weight. This is the essence of progressive overload, which I discussed in great detail HERE. While there are a million ways to progressively overload, I’m going to outline a very simple system I use in my own training and with my clients.
3 Set Total Reps
When I prescribe an exercise, quite often I will use the same load with all 3 sets, and I’ll simply note the total number of reps they achieve (this is in contrast to pyramids, which I wrote about HERE). Once they reach a particular total, I’ll increase the load. I first learned about this method from a Joe DeFranco DVD that I purchased many years ago, and it’s something that I’ve consistently sprinkled into my training since then. With this method, you want to keep the rest periods fairly consistent, say around 90-120 seconds. Let me give a specific example.
Kenny Rogers sang The Gambler in 1978. On the surface, the song appears to be about gambling, but there’s a much deeper meaning pertaining to life in general. The song is very appropriate for the field of strength & conditioning, and the lessons contained within take most lifters two decades to fully comprehend. Here’s the video:
And here’s the chorus:
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em Know when to fold ‘em Know when to walk away Know when to run You never count your money When you’re sittin’ at the table There’ll be time enough for countin’ When the dealin’s done
Your Own Personal World Records Are The Only Thing That Matter By Charles Staley
When I was still relatively new to lifting, I can remember thinking how incredible it must be to break a World record in sport. I remember in particular watching former Soviet weightlifter Leonid Taranenko break the clean & jerk World record in the late ‘80’s with a monstrous 586-pound effort.
Fast forward to today, and despite decades in the gym, I’ve come nowhere close to breaking any kind of World (or even National) record in any sport, but I can tell you that I have achieved things that I never would have thought possible for myself, and these achievements have brought me tremendous satisfaction, as well as continued motivation to continue my favorite pastime. A big part of why I’ve done as well as I have is that I’ve always been laser-focused on bettering my own “PR’s” (personal records) in the gym.
Change the Tune: Accommodation & Stagnation By Will Vatcher
Here’s what you need to know:
There is a delicate balance between the correct blend of specificity and the correct amount of variation to progress
You can continue to progress if you change your exercises regularly
A process of elimination is useful to discover where you are stuck
During the late 1960’s, a Soviet scientist named U. I. Ivanov performed and published results from an interesting experiment. Ivanov used three similar groups of people and had them perform strength training exercises twice a week for a period of three months.
Group 1 performed (concentric) dynamic weight exercises
Group 2 performed static strength exercises (isometric) with maximal tension
Group 3 performed yielding (eccentric) exercises using weights exceeding 10-40% of what they were capable of lifting in an ordinary (concentric) manner.
After the period was concluded, the results were very interesting. Compared to their previous personal performances:
Group 1 managed to lift on average 8.5 kg more in the squat and 5.5 kg more in the clean. They also managed to jump 3.7 cm higher and could pull with 14.6 kg more force in a back strength test.
Group 2 managed to lift on average 9.2 kg more in the squat and 12.7 kg more in the clean. They also managed to jump 5.4 cm lower than before the training period and pulled with 30.0 kg of increased force in a back strength test.
Group 3 managed to lift on average 15.0 kg more in the squat and 9.7 kg more in the clean. They also managed to jump 1.6 cm lower than before the training period and pulled with 19.1 kg more force in a back strength test.
What did and does this experiment reveal? The athletes tested strongest in the motor skills and tasks that were the most similar to the exercises they did in the experiment.