Guest Post by Eric Weinbrenner
You’ve found the gym to be such an an interesting and worthwhile place that you spend more than a little spend time there, despite your busy schedule. But are you really making the best use of your time at the gym? Or are you stuck in a rut that is slowing progress?
Time to shake things up to ensure you get as strong as possible, as quickly as possible. And then get even stronger by making sustained progress.
This article explains how to become your strongest and best self, step-by-step, by using three training secrets that guarantee progress.
Let’s start with my observations over more than ten years at various gyms. I often step back and just watch people.
First: there’s the guy who seems to live in the gym. He walks around with an angry scowl on his face in hopes of intimidating others. (Confession: this used to be me.)
Second: there’s the guy who walks around tentatively. He seems unsure of what the heck he’s doing. He looks like he’d like to be anywhere else. He’s also hoping he doesn’t accidentally do something to piss off the angry guy with the scowl.
Third: there’s the guy who seems to spend more time gazing over towards the ellipticals than he does actually working out.
The one thing I see over and over again that really blows my mind…
People showing up day after day, week after week, doing the exact same thing.
They do the same exercises and use the same weight. And they look the same day after day, week after week, even year after year.
They’ve got the “show up” part of this whole fitness thing down. But they keep lifting the same weight for the same number of reps. They don’t progress because they don’t give the body a reason to change.
They’ve heard the expression “You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect different results.” They agree, but they don’t know how to change.
So they figure as long as they’re showing up, things will somehow still turn work out. But it doesn’t for most guys. (I know it sure didn’t for me.)
Which brings us to…
Progression 101 (Why You Must Force Adaptation)
Every time you step in the gym, your goal must be to either:
- Lift more weight
- Do more reps with the same weight
Weights and reps are the big wins, the two simplest and most effective ways to get better. Your ability to build muscle largely comes down to how well (and often) you progress in those two areas. So you need to find ways/strategies/methods that make lifting more weight or doing more reps possible.
Here are the best ones I’ve found.
Three Foolproof Ways To Get Strong, Stronger and Strongest
Your goal in the weight room is to work hard enough to give your muscles a reason to grow bigger and stronger, without working so hard that recovery is compromised.
Simple, right? Maybe. Yet a lot of people screw this up.
– don’t work hard enough
– or they annihilate themselves to a point where they are constantly in a fatigued state.
Both situations are bad. Both prevent progress.
The key to challenging your muscles enough without overdoing it is picking the right weight.
If your workout says to do “3 sets of 10 reps” for bench press, you need to use a weight that allows you to do 10 clean reps. And on the 10th rep, your muscles should be fatigued enough that they may be able to squeeze out one or two more reps if a spotter was there to help, but no more.
Finding the right weight can often be challenging. It’s tough to guess how much weight is going to allow you to hit this point of “enough, but not too much” for a set of 10 reps.
That’s why the best methods for increasing strength naturally assist you in determining how much weight to use to hit the prescribed amount of reps.
The three methods below have proven time and time again to make it easier to determine the right weight for your sets and are simple to track so that you can see progress over time.
Strength Method #1: Pyramid Training
With pyramid training, instead of doing 3 sets of 10 (or any similar combination), you perform an exercise for a particular rep (or rep range) and then work your way down.
So it may look like this:
Set 1: 8-10 reps
Set 2: 6-8 reps
Set 3: 4-6 reps
You’ll notice that I show rep ranges as opposed to fixed reps in the example above. I prefer rep ranges for 2 reasons:
- It allows some wiggle room on weight selection. Instead of having to pick the perfect weight for a fixed number or reps (10), you just have to get within a 2-3 rep range.
- It naturally builds in room for the second type of strength progression we’re looking for: do more reps with the same weight.
The magic Pyramid Training is that it usually goes something like this…
First set: felt pretty good. Maybe went a little too light (or a bit too heavy) with the weight selected.
Second set: Felt really good. Using feedback from weight used/reps completed in first set, you are able to select just about the perfect weight for the given rep range.
Third set: Perfect. Using feedback from previous sets, you were able to select a weight that allowed you to hit the target rep range perfectly.
How to use Pyramid Training in your workouts: For your “main” compound movements, replace your current rep scheme with a Pyramid style set up. For your upper body, this would be lifts like bench press, overhead presses, pull-ups, rows, etc. For lower body, you’d use Pyramid training for things like deadlifts, squats, lunges, etc.
So instead of doing 3 sets of 10, you would follow the example above and do one set of 8-10, one set of 6-8, and one set of 4-6.
It’s crucially important that you keep a training log. Record how much weight you’ use and how many reps you perform.t.
Your goal each week is to do more reps (work towards the high end of the rep range), or add weight if you are able to hit the top-end of the rep range with perfect form.
Strength Method #2: Reverse Pyramid Training
Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT), is simply the opposite of Pyramid Training. Instead of starting at a higher end of reps and working down, with RPT you start at the lower end and work up.
So it looks like this:
Set 1: 4-6 reps
Set 2: 6-8 reps
Set 3: 8-10 reps
The benefits here are very similar to Pyramid training with one exception. Since you’re starting with low reps, you are able to use the heaviest weight for the day when you are freshest.
A lot of guys like this because they get to feel good about using what they consider a “heavy” weight. Other than that, I personally haven’t found any real benefit over Pyramid Training.
Rotating back and forth between Pyramid and RPT is a great way to ward off boredom and keep things fresh. It’s also a great way to break through plateaus so that you continue progressing.
How to use RPT in your workouts: Just as you did with Pyramid training, you will use RPT with your main compound lifts. And again, make sure you’re keeping a training log of weight/reps to measure progress over time.
Strength Method #3: The “Rep Max” Method
The Rep Max (RM) method is a simple way to determine the most weight you can lift for a given amount of reps that day.
For the purposes of building muscle, you would pick a target amount of reps between 3 and 10. Then, you start with a light weight and “ramp up” to a top end set, which is your “rep max” for that day.
Here’s an example using a 10 rep target:
Set 1: 45 pounds x 10 (intended to be a light, warm up set)
Set 2: 95 x 10
Set 3: 115 x 10
Set 4: 135 x 10
Set 5: 145 x 10
Set 6: 150 x 10 (10 rep max for the day)
Rest 60-75 seconds for the first few sets and 90-120 as it gets heavier and you get closer to your RM.
As you can see, start with a few light warm up sets and then work your way up, adding 5-20 pounds until you reach the most weight you can use for 10 reps on that day.
How to use Rep Max training in your workouts: Because the RM process is a bit more extensive (and time-consuming) than Pyramid or RPT training, I recommend only using this for 1-2 exercises per workout.
Typically, RM training is best suited for upper body compound lifts (vertical/horizontal pressing) and squats and deadlifts.
Application (For the Ordinary, Non-Meathead Who Wants To Look Awesome and Feel Great)
“Lift heavier weights, and you’ll build muscle.” And the three methods outlined above will help you do that most effectively and efficiently.
While lifting more weight may be the “holy grail” of muscle building, it comes with a caveat…
If you do it “wrong” it can end up screwing things up more than will help.
I’ve seen – and experienced – what happens when you become obsessed with how much weight you can lift and DEMANDING that you “add weight to the bar” every time you step into the gym:
- You get injured because you use crappy form to trick yourself into thinking you are able to lift more weight
- You get burnt out from constantly pushing your body past the point of recovery
- You end up placing all of your identity in whether or not you can lift more weight than the guy on the bench press next to you
- You become the guy with the angry scowl, walking around the gym trying to intimidate everyone else
So what we want to do is take the time-tested, fool-proof tactics for gaining strength and apply them in a way so that we get the benefits without the potential downsides.
Step 1: Push yourself, but don’t force it.
Always enter the gym with a competitive mindset. But recognize that you aren’t going to roll in and dominate each workout.
There will be days when you’re feeling off. Maybe you’re not feeling well or work is extra stressful or your kids kept you up half the night. Those things will affect your ability in the gym.
On days you’re feeling great, push yourself.
On days you’re feeling off, just put in the work, do your best, and try to make the next workout go better.
Step 2: Measure Progress Over The Long Term
There may be weeks (even months) where you barely see any measurable change. But over a period of months, you should be able to look back and see some measurable progress in weight lifted and reps performed.
The key is sticking with it consistently enough to get through the weeks (or months) of monotony until you see measurable progress again.
The best way to stay motivated is by keeping a training log. That way you’re not just winging it. You can actually look back and know for certain that you’ve made progress.
Being able to look at how much weight you used or how many reps you performed last week can be incredibly motivating.
Step 3: Pick a few exercises for the main muscle groups and focus on consistent progress.
Trying to focus on adding weight on every set, of every exercise, every workout can seem like a lot. For many, that can seem straight up overwhelming. That’s why you shouldn’t obsess over strength for every exercise.
Instead, pick one or two main compound exercises for each of the movement patterns and focus on getting stronger in those over time.
So you’ll pick one or two exercises for the following movements:
- Upper body horizontal press (bench press, incline press, etc.)
- Upper body vertical press (shoulder press variations)
- Upper body vertical pull (pull-up / lat pulldown variations)
- Upper body horizontal pull (rowing variations)
- Lower body hip dominant (deadlift variations)
- Lower body knee dominant (squat variations)
Use the strength methods discussed in this article for these exercises and aim for progress over time. Remember to keep a log.
- Getting stronger (using more weight or doing more reps with the same weight) is the key to long-term muscle gains. Your goal is to progress as often as possible.
- The three most effective methods for improving strength are Pyramid Training, Reverse Pyramid Training, and Rep Max Training.
- Pick one of the methods covered in this article, and use it to replace the standard “3 sets of 10” set up commonly used. After 3-4 months, switch to one of the other methods and continue to rotate these every few months to avoid plateaus and boredom.
- Pick one or two exercise per movement pattern and using the methods outlined above, track progress over time, aiming for more weight or more reps over the course of months and years.
Eric Weinbrenner helps ordinary guys build extraordinary bodies without killing themselves in the gym, obsessing over calories, or abandoning their families. Learn simple and effective muscle building strategies and grab your free guide 7 Keys To Fitness Mastery at Eric’s Muscle That Matters website. <<<===click here