Why you can't maintain your PRs
In this article I want to give you a quick training insight. It may be the answer to why you’re stuck with the same weight for weeks on a certain exercise.
How most people get stuck
Most people train with a double progression model where you first increase the number of reps you’re doing and only then you increase the weight. If you’re training with something like 5 x 5 or 4 sets of 4-6 or Reverse Pyramid Training chances are you’re using this type of progression model.
Now, the way most people get stuck is that they can no longer get the required number of reps with a given weight. For example let’s say your program asks for 3 sets of 6 before you can increase the weight, and you consistently fail to get the required reps in your last set. One week you may be able to do 4 reps, then next week you may be able to do 5 reps, and finally when you think you’ll hit 6, you get 3 reps. And you’re like “What the hell is going on?!”
Or if you’re doing reverse pyramid training, maybe in your first set you’re working in the 4-6 rep range and you consistently fail to get more than 5 reps. Your strength seems to fluctuate between being able to get 3 reps and 5 reps, but never 6. This can be incredibly frustrating.
Why does that happen?
I believe it’s because you estimate your current strength level based on a PR that you hit in the past, instead of your average performance.
In other words you’re consistently trying to replicate a workout when you were unusually strong. In still other words, you are now using weights that you can lift properly only on “great workout days”.
What if the last time you hit the top of the rep range, you had an awesome workout day? And you assumed that is now your normal everyday strength level.
You say “Yes!! Oh yeah, I’ve finally broken through that sticking point!!” and what do you do?
You increase the weight next time because you’ve hit the top of the rep range. And next time, you have an average workout day and naturally you are only able to get maybe 2 reps with the new weight.
What happened is not that you were unusually weak on this workout, you were unusually strong on the day you set the PR.
In the book Never Let Go, Dan John talks about a little formula concerning workouts that he calls the Rule of Five. Let me quote him:
In a group of five workouts, I tend to have one great
workout, the kind of workout that makes me think in just a
few weeks I could be an Olympic champion, plus maybe
Then, I have one workout that’s so awful the
mere fact I continue to exist as a somewhat higher form of
life is a miracle.
Finally, the other three workouts are the
punch-the-clock workouts: I go in, work out, and walk out.
So what’s the lesson here?
If you consistently fail to get the required reps, maybe you’re trying to replicate one of those outstanding workouts, in each of your average everyday workouts. You are actually using weights that you can handle properly only on those great days.
So how do you fix that? The 3 steps below is what worked for me:
- If you consistently fail to get the required reps for an exercise, you’re using weights that are too heavy for your average workouts.
Decrease the weight until you can easily get the required reps.
- Stop grinding reps.
By not pushing your sets to absolute failure, you’re always leaving some strength in the tank. This will give you the confidence that you’ll be stronger next time. If you push your sets to the absolute limit this workout, you’ll start to fear that you won’t be able to replicate that on your next workout.
On the other hand, if you always leave some strength in the tank you expect to be stronger next time.
So my advice would be to always stop your set at the required reps or when you are not sure you’ll be able to get the next rep. You’ll find that your strength progression is much more predictable this way.
- Use micro loading when possible.
In my opinion adding reps to an exercise is much harder than adding a little weight. So whenever possible, try to increase the weight while keeping the reps the same. I explain how to do this in this video.
As always if you have questions, leave a comment below! any other form of feedback is also appreciated.
The Program that built my physique
If you’re looking for a muscle building program I recommend you check out The Greek God Program. Greg designed it to help you build proportionate mass and incredible strength while staying lean.
It is the program I used to build my physique and I’m still making gains on it.
Dat fiind ca sunteti inca in perioada de crestere, un program de antrenament prea dur, poate compromite reactiile care se intampla in corp. Multi au auzit ca daca te apuci de tras de fiare de la o varsta mica, cresterea este oprita. Ceea ce este in mare parte adevarat. Trebuie inteles ca nu antrenamentul cu greutati in sine opreste cresterea; dar un antrenament prea intens, lasa corpul fara energie, si astfel cresterea naturala nu mai se poate sustine, si de aceea inaltimea va fii sacrificata in detrimentul muschilor.
Principalul mesaj care incer sa il tarnsmit, este sa aveti grija la intensitatea antrenamentelor, sa fie undeva intre mica si medie, si de asemenea, mancati destule calorii incat corpul sa aibe destula energie pentru a creste si a functiona normal.
Este o idee buna sa cresteti intensitatea antrenamentului treptat, cu cate 10% de fiecare data, pentru ca organismul sa se adapteze.
De cand am citit infortmatiile astea mi s a facut frica sa fiu sincer. Fac sala de 1 an si am avansat mult dar nu prea am mai crescut in inaltime si am si o structura osoasa mica. Ma intreb daca metodele de piramida inversa imi fac rau adica pers mai in varsta se uita ciudat la mine cum ca ar fi prea greu sau ca tremur. Ma gandesc sa pun greutati ceva mai moderate cum eram inainte sa sa mentin ritmul.
O problema ar mai fi ca imi pocnesc oasele, in zona umerilor si a coatelor. Ce zici Radu?
Antrenamentele cu greutati nu afecteaza cresterea in inaltime. Spre exemplu prietenul meu Greg face sala de la 14 ani. La 18 ani deja ridica 140kg la piept. Nu i-a afectat cresterea in inaltime in nici un fel.
Alte exemple pe care le cunosc sunt Christian Guzman, Matt Ogus, Elliott Hulse, Alberto Nunez.
Daca tremuri in timpul exercitiilor inseamna ca folosesti greutati prea mari ca sa le poti controla corect. Ar fi o idee buna sa reduci putin intensitatea ca sa poti face forma corecta de executie.
Uite un alt exemplu… Jeff seid. Face sala de la 12 ani si a crescut in inaltime. Referitor la tremurat, se poate asa ceva? Nu mi s-a intamplat :))
Da, la mine tremuratul apare cand folosesc greutati pe care nu le pot controla.
I feel this topic is a very important one. You summarised my relationship with the incline bench press completely! I’m on the Greek God program and am constantly monitoring the four key lifts. For weighted chin-ups and bicep curls I am now classed as ‘Godlike’. For the incline bench press I do not even register on the Kinobody Fitness Standards scale. Imagine how frustrating this is for me!
I constantly enter the gym fearing this workout. There’s even been a number of times where guys have had to run over to me to save me from getting crushed by the bar because I couldn’t lift one of the final reps. I genuinely got scared!
I’ve switched to micro-loading now, started off the exercise back to a very low weight, and am very slowly building my way up. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and make believe I can lift a heavier weight than I actually can.
I think this whole problem started when I had a ‘great’ workout one day (as you put it), and I never once managed to lift that weight again during my ‘average’ workouts. My body tricked me! I now know to take the progression model very slow and steady for this exercise.
Great tips Radu 🙂
That’s exactly what I was talking about Andy !!!
Thank you for sharing this man!
Let me know how things go from now on
Just a suggestion for a future article which is (sort-of) related to this one:
I’d love to see your advice on how to start training again after being on vacation for 1-2 weeks. When I go on vacation, I do not work out at all (I know I should probably do bodyweight exercises or something, but I don’t). When I get home, I often try to start back on the same weights I was lifting before I went away. This usually leads to extreme pain (I feel like I’ve been in a car crash or something), and when I come to lift heavier the next workout, I can’t.
It would be great to see your strategy for ‘getting back to the weights ASAP after vacation in a safe and strategic way’.
Usually I recommend starting with 90% of the weights your normally use. This way, even if you’ve lost some strength, you still can get a good workout in. And if you haven’t lost any strength, you can just do 1-2 more reps than usual.
Si inca ceva. O cafea normala fara indulcitor,deci simpla. Este la fel de buna pentru dieta? Are 1 kcal daca nu ma insel…
Da, cafeaua e cafea haha
Mai este valabila “oferta” cu transformarea mea? Cand ajung la un an sa o postez? Vreau sa te recomand pentru ajutorul acordat,bineinteles daca doresti si tu.
mike matthews said something about dietary fat being stored as fat directly, do you believe its possible if you are on a caloric deficit?
Mike was referring only to a calorie surplus.
When you go over your maintenance calories, each macronutrient behaves differently.
Protein cannot be converted to body fat (it can only lead to fat gain indirectly by being burned for energy)
Carbs will first be used to replenish glycogen stores before being turned to body fat (until lipogenesis starts they will contribute to fat gain indirectly by stopping fat oxidation)
But dietary fat has nothing else to do but be stored.
In a calorie deficit it doesn’t matter. You could eat anything and you’d still lose weight.
Great article as always Radu. My question is im doing a cut now with 500 cal deficit. But I keep on progressing in the key lifts every session. Does that mean i am gaining muscle on a cut?
Yes! That’s the best thing ever.
The other day I was reading a facebook forum and someone asked the exact same question as you. And a guy replied: “You’re winning at life”
Hahaha that’s a very accurate answer as well!
Hahaha.. Man thanks a ton ?