Double progression for those who don’t tolerate volume
A progression model that I like, that’s straight forward is the double progression model. The version I normally use uses 4-6 work sets per exercise. The goal of that method is to complete all of these work sets doing the maximum number of reps in the prescribed zone with the same weight. For example if I tell you to do 4 sets of 4-6 reps and you decide to use 300lbs, if you can do set 1: 300 x 6, set 2: 300 x 6, set 3: 300 x 6, set 4: 300 x 4 that’s fine… but it means that for your next workout you’ll keep using 300.
However not everybody has the physical capacity to handle a high amount of lifting work.And sometimes doing 4-6 heavy work sets per exercise can be too much work. I personally believe that the more you do without going past your recovery capacities, the more you’ll progress. But the fact is that, due to several factors, some people simply cannot grow from doing a lot of strength work. Those people will quickly stagnate when trying to do more and more. If that’s the case here’s how you should plane your program.
First, the reps
It’s easier to add reps within a training zone than to add weight. For that reason we should make sure that we progress in reps before attempting to add weight to the bar.
We don’t do it haphazardly either; we work within a defined target rep range. My preferred rep ranges are:
Zone 1: 1 to 3 reps
Zone 2: 4 to 6 reps
Zone 3: 7 to 10 reps
Some like higher rep ranges, but these are the ones I use.
You cannot add weight until you can reach the top of the zone. For example if you are in zone 2 and you are able to get 4 reps with 200lbs in the bench press, you stay with that weight in your next bench pressing session and your goal is to get more reps than the 4 you got.
Let;s say that you get 5 reps with 200lbs in that second session, you are still short of the top of the zone and so you stay with 200lbs in your third workout. You progressed, but not enough to bump the weight up.
If in that third session you are able to get 6 reps with the 200lbs then you are allowed to increase the weight to 205lbs in the fourth workout.
During that fourth workout chances are that you will not get 6 reps with 205lbs. You’ll likely get 4 or 5 reps. If that’s the case you will stay with that weight for one more week. If you are able to progress enough to do your 6 reps with 205, then you can go up to 210 in the next workout.
You get the basic idea.
Do not add weight before you reach the top of the zone otherwise you will kill your progress before it even starts!
Do not cheat to be able to reach the top of the zone (e.g. lifting your butt off of the bench during a bench press, cut your squat depth short, use leg drive during a military press, etc.). This will have the same effect as going up in weight before the body is ready: you will stagnate.
If you get a very rapid progression and you are actually capable of getting more reps than the top of the zone, by all means do those reps. For example if you are bench pressing with 200lbs and after completing 6 reps you know that you have 1 or 2 more in you, do not stop the set, try to get those reps! For each rep above the end of the zone you add 5lbs more in the next session. For example if you get 8 reps with 200lbs, in the next workout you go up to 215lbs (5lbs for reaching the top of the zone, 5lbs for each of the additional reps performed).
If after going up in weight you cannot reach the bottom of your training zone, keep the same weight for the next session. It might just be an “off” workout or worst case scenario it will take you longer to reach the top of the zone. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Low volume/High frequency
I’ve always been a high frequency guy. I like to train everyday, or at least 6 days a week and I like to perform my main lifts often during the week. I find that for normal human beings, best results with this approach when using the double progression model is to use a very low volume of work.
Your objective should be to progress either by doing 1 more rep or using more weight that the week prior. All your efforts should be invested toward that goal. This means focusing on going all out on one single set. If you have several work sets where you have to achieve the overload, you will not make it.
So after warming up correctly (more on that later) you will do one all-out set. Understand what I mean by all-out: I do not mean going to total muscle failure. I mean getting as many complete reps as you can. In trying to do that you might occasionally hit failure but that is not a goal nor is it advisable. Only attempt a rep if you are at least 80% sure of making it. But focus hard on doing more than in your preceding session.
Only one set?
Sounds pretty much like HIT/Heavy Duty! Not so fast. Despite claims to the contrary, the fact is that it’s been proven that several work sets work better than a single one.
So we will do three work sets. But only the first one (where we want to achieve the overload) is all out. The next two sets are there to get the benefit of more mechanical work on the release of local growth factors, increase in anabolic hormones, increased nutrients transport to the muscle and activation of the cell signaling leading to the start of protein synthesis.
Work set number two will use 10% less weight then set no.1. For example if you used 200lbs in set no.1, you’ll use 180lbs for set no.2. With that new weight you will do one more rep than you reached in set no.1. For example if you got 5 reps in set no.1, you do 6 in set number two. That second set shouldn’t be an all out effort.
For work set no.3 you will once again decrease the weight by 10%. And you will do one more rep than in set no.2. For example if you got 5 reps in set no.1, 6 reps in set no.2 then you’ll do 7 reps in set no.3. This also shouldn’t be an all-out set.
So to recap:
Work set 1: all-out effort
Work set 2: not an all-out effort, use 10% less weight than set 1 and do one rep more (no more than that)
Work set 3: not an all-out effort, use 10% less weight than set 2 and do one rep more (no more than that)
With this system I like to perform every exercise 2 or 3 times a week and I normally do four main movements.
How do I put it together?
Select your training zone
Zone 1: 1-3 target reps
Zone 2: 4-6 target reps
Zone 3: 7-10 target reps
Chose your starting weights for the first session. The weight for all subsequent sessions will be decided based on the previous workout’s performance.
If you picked zone 1, for the first workout start with 90% of your max
If you picked zone 2, for the first workout start with 85% of your max
If you picked zone 3, for the first workout start with 80% of your max
- Chose the weight for the other two work sets. Set no.2 uses 10% less than set no.1 (10% less compared to the weight used, NOT 10% less relative to the 1RM); set no.3 uses 10% less than set no.2.
For example let’s say that your 1RM on a lift is 300lbs and that you picked zone 2 (so a starting weight of 85%):
Set 1 = 85% of 300 = 255lbs
Set 2 = 255lbs - 10%… 10% of 255 is 25lbs so the weight for set no.2 is 255 - 25 = 230lbs
Set 3 = 230lbs - 10%… 10% of 230 is 23lbs (we’ll round it up to 25lbs) so the weight for set no.3 is 230 Ã?Â¢?? 25 = 205lbs
- Perform the warm-up preparation. It goes as follow:
Warm-up set no.1 empty bar x 10-15 reps
Warm-up set no.2 50% of your first work set x 5 (from our example 125lbs)
Warm-up set no.3 weight of the 3rd work set x 2 (from our example 205lbs)
Warm-up set no.4 weight of the 2nd work set x 2 (from our example 230lbs)
Note 1, the warm-up sets use a slow eccentric tempo (4-5 seconds) and a normal concentric tempo.
Note 2, if someone is using a very high amount of weight (i.e. 500lbs or more) then we would do another warm-up set between the 50% and the 3rd work set weight, it would be in the middle of both (e.g. if we use 500lbs for the first work set the 50% warm-up would be 250lbs, the 3rd work set weight would be 450lbs so the warm-up set between both would be 350lbs for 2 reps)
Do the first work set. The first set is an all out set and the goal is to get as many completed reps as possible. For example if you picked zone 2, you should get 4, 5 or 6 reps on your first set. ItÃ?Â¢??s possible that you could get more if you are in good form that day. If that is the case, do more! The first set (only the first set) is an all-out set: get as many completed reps as possible.
Do the second work set. The second work set has you do one more rep than the first set. If you did 5 reps on set no.1, you do 6 reps in set no.2 (with 10% less weight). This is not an all out set, you only do 1 more rep than set no.1 even if you are capable of doing more.
Do the third work set. The third work set has you do one more rep than the second set (thus 2 more than the first set). So if you did 6 reps in set no.2 you’ll do 7 reps in set no.3 (with 10% less). This is not an all-out set either.
Analyze the performance to decide what to do on your next workout. You use the result of your first set to do so.
(a) If you didn’t reach the top of the zone, you stay with the same weight at your next session and the goal will then be to reach the top of the zone. For example if you picked zone no.2 (4-6 reps) and your got 5 reps on the first set, you stay with the same weight at your next session.
(b) If you reached the top of the zone you add 5lbs more on your work sets at the next session.
© If you exceeded the top of the zone, you add an additional 5lbs per rep you exceeded the zone with. For example if the zone is 4-6 reps, the top of the zone is 6. If you got 8 reps, you add 15lb to your sets the next session (5lbs for reaching the top, 5lbs for every additional rep).
So bullet points:
Only the first work set is an all-out effort
Except for the first workout where the weight is based on a percentage of your max, you pick the weight of the first work set based on the performance of the first work set of the week prior.
You pick the weight for the other two sets based on the weight of the first set
You select the reps to do on sets no.2 and 3 based on how many reps you did on your first set (respectively 1 and 2 more reps than the first set). And ideally none of these two sets are maximal efforts.