Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Remember the Goal of Strength Training - By RJ Hicks MS, CSCS

The goal of strength training is to train progressively with the most weight you can in perfect form. The weight must be challenging for you, depending on your specific repetition goal. When the weight is no longer heavy you add a little weight to keep the total weight challenging for you to lift. It is so simple, but misunderstood by many.

The only competition in the gym is between the lifter's past performance and their next performance. Each workout is a competition where the lifter strives to improve how much weight they are able to lift. It doesn’t matter what other lifters in the gym are doing, world records that have been achieved or what is displayed on social media. All that matters in strength training is whether or not a lifter is able to add weight to the barbell or machine they are handling over time.

However, nobody said you add weight every time you train or at all, unless you are physically able to in good form when the goal is reached. You cannot just add five pounds each workout. It is unrealistic for the body to be able to adapt to this long term. If it was possible everyone would be benching over five hundred pounds after a few years of training.

Poundage progression is based off of your individual performance not based off of time. You can only add weight when you earn it, by surpassing the training goal for each specific lift. Training with long cycles doesn’t make sense if you are a natural trainee. You cannot pre-plan when to add weight unless you are starting so light in weight that you waste most of the year training sub maximally. Drug users can pre-plan poundage progress, because the training cycles work in conjunction with the amount and type of anabolic drugs they are taking.

The key for natural trainees is to strive for poundage progression. Do the best you can, handling the heaviest weight you can for the proper repetition range. You may hit seven repetitions two weeks in a row, six the next week and seven the fourth, but it doesn’t matter. Pat yourself on the back if you gave it your best effort and move on to the next set or the next exercise.  As long as you are TRYING to continue to lift more weight you are doing everything you can to get stronger. Eventually you will surpass seven repetitions if you stay with the weight and continue to train hard, eat the proper nutrition and take plenty of rest.

Where many beginners go wrong is they get attached to a certain repetition range or scheme and allow themselves to become negative when they reach a sticking point in their training progression. There is no magic behind any repetition scheme, whether it is straight sets, descending sets, single sets etc. They are all just systems that guide poundage progression in your training. Once you are able to surpass the goal of the repetition scheme you know to add weight. You use the repetition scheme to assist you in the goal of adding weight, but the specific repetition scheme is NOT the overall goal of training.

If you keep missing your goal with the same weight, it has a negative effect on your confidence and mood. You can start to expect to miss your lifts with a certain weight and fall into a sticking point. Strength training requires struggling with weights, but it shouldn’t become negative. Never let yourself get crushed by the same weight more than two or three times in a row without making a change. Most training plateaus are more mental than physical.

If you’re training with higher repetitions to failure, change the poundage and goal for the sets. Instead of training doing twenty repetition squats all the time, switch it up and train in the ten to twelve repetitions range for a few months. If you are training with three sets for a specific exercise, drop one of the sets or only judge your performance on the first set. This will get your mind set on a new goal and let you forget the past failures. Your mind will begin to focus on working to constantly improve instead of focusing on a specific number.

Bob Whelan coined this style of training “Common Sense Periodization” years ago as an alternate method to the popular long periodization training cycles that some of the top certification like to promote. Bob suggests every few months adjusting the equipment type, repetition ranges and or the exercise to keep things fresh. It is all dependent on how you feel and not written in stone. If you are on a roll and not burned out with your current training, continue to ride the wave. If you are stalled out and need a change of pace, switch things up responsibly. There will still be linear progression because the basic exercises and principles of strength training never change.

Poundage progression all comes down to using your own judgement when to move up on weights. If you are straining to meet the goal, stay with that weight until you exceed it. If you have a psychological issue on a specific lift change the repetition goal or repetition speed so you don’t feel negative on your performance. There is no specific rule on what system of poundage progression you use, only that you strive to improve on whatever system you train with. In the end, you are only competing against yourself. Strive to set new PRs for different repetition goals if you are stuck on a specific one.

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