We all know most people make things more complicated than they need to be. This is just as true for strength training as it is for any other aspect of life.
When it comes to increasing strength, I don’t believe beginning to intermediate lifters need complicated programs. Strength gains should be consistent during your first several years, and don’t require much other than consistent effort and patience.
Because of this, you won’t find me advocating:
- Elaborate periodization
- Complicated set and rep schemes
- Frequent deloading
My approach is simple: maximize every set.
Get Strong: Maximize Every Set
Here’s how you maximize every set:
Push each set for as many reps as possible. Stop a set when you feel like your form is starting to deteriorate, or if you think you might fail on the next rep.
This approach will not only help you maximize every workout, but also your strength gains. It’s simple, but effective.
By maximizing every set you never waste an opportunity to make progress. By stopping sets when your form starts to slip, you decrease the chance of injury.
How effective is this approach? Let’s look at some numbers.
One Rep At A Time
We all have bad workouts or off days. With this in mind, I often tell lifters to expect a bad workout 25% of the time for no apparent reason.
This leaves us with a 75% success rate; we are making progress 75% of the time. This might be an addition of one rep per set, or maybe more on really good days.
For the sake of example, let’s pretend we are working the bench press in the 6-10 rep range and add “only” 3 total reps per month. This includes one bad workout every 4 weeks, and a one rep increase on the good weeks.
In this example, our lifter – Bob McPlateau – starts with a 150 pound bench press for 6 reps. If he increases at a rate of 3 additional reps per month, and adds 5 pounds to the bar each time he reaches 10 reps per set, after 3 years Bob will be benching:
350 pounds x 6 reps
This assumes that every time Bob McPlateau adds 5 pounds to the bar, his reps per set drops by 2.5. There is nothing magical about this number. It might even be a little on the high side initially, but over a 3 year period I imagine it’s a fairly normal average.
This is a best case scenario, but it does illustrate the power of a single rep. Far too many of you are expecting crazy gains each workout, when all you need is to focus on maximizing every set.
Gains will slow down over time. Bob might only reach 305 x 6 reps. I use the word only in a facetious manner.
I am surely not using this example or this method as a guarantee that you’ll bench press 305 for reps. With that said, I believe it to be the simplest and most effective way for beginning to early intermediate lifters to improve their strength as rapidly as possible.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this…no matter what system you use, if you maximize every set of every workout, you’re going to get strong – and quickly. The method is not as important as the effort.
Over time you may feel fatigued, and need a deload week. That’s certainly fine. I would rather have you deload when you need to rather than forcing a deload when you don’t.
Always listen to your body.
Also remember that there is no need to push sets when your form is slipping. Better to get the extra rep today and get out of the gym, than to risk injuring yourself.
Do you maximize every set? Have you been pushing sets after your form has started to slip? Let me know your thoughts on this article and approach.