How To Build Success In Your Training

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Ask 99 out 100 people what’s their “marker” for success in the weight room and they’re likely to say something related to how much weight is on the bar.

“If the bar’s not bendin, you’re pretendin.”

Or something to that effect.

Photo Credit: Greg Urquhart

I can’t disagree with that logic.

If someone is lifting more weight on a particular lift this week compared to the previous week, and is following that mantra on a consistent basis, you can bet they’re going to make significant progress in the gym.

This approach is an easy, straight-forward, and fool proof way to “build” success into any program.

Right behind the “lift more weight” mentality – and serving as yet another fool proof way to build success/progress – is the idea of manipulating the total number of sets and reps.

In other words: both scenarios nudge people to do more work.

Lift heavier loads or lift “x number” of weight for more repetitions and you have yourself some progressive overload.

Wash, rinse, repeat…….F.O.R.E.V.E.R

I think both approaches are spot on, and something I’ve discussed in past articles like HERE and HERE.

However, as much as I want to kiss that train of thought on the mouth without buying it dinner first, it does have its limits.

A recent exchange with a female client of mine got me thinking: are those two approaches, truly, the only way(s) to ensure success in a program? Is telling someone “just suck it up and lift more weight” the unequivocal best idea or approach?

How would you answer the following comment?

“So I totally understand why I shouldn’t add more weight if technique isn’t great, but what am I supposed to do if you’ve decreased the overall load?

If I’m doing less reps or less sets of a similar number of reps from the previous week and I don’t increase the weight, I’ve done less work than the week before. How will I see/get gains?”

I can’t say for sure, and my translation could be a little fuzzy, but if I were to open up my client to strength coach dictionary1 I’m pretty sure she’s insinuating that I’m trying to steal her gainz!

I’m not.

Let me explain.

To me, another way to build success into anyone’s training is something not many people take notice of or consider a parameter in the first place.

And that is……

“Feel” of a Set

It’s a concept that’s been mirrored as well from Chad Wesley Smith. I always referred to it as quality of one’s set, but he was the first I heard of who referred to it as feel. I liked it.

To me, technique is paramount. Especially when working with newbies and even intermediate lifters.

The reason why many tend to hit a speed bump or fail to make continued progress in their training is because their (shitty, or less than exemplary) technique doesn’t allow them to express their full strength.

Too many energy leaks due to form breakdown and, subsequently, mis-alignment up and down the kinetic chain, leads to stagnant, sub-par progress.

Most have a hard time making any progress.

With regards to my client I broke it down like this:

1. The reason why you crush 105 lbs. on the front squat and technique breaks down when you increase the weight to 115 lbs. is because you haven’t taken enough reps with 105 (or lower).

You need to build your volume with QUALITY reps, and earn the 115.

2. Also “feel” of a set/rep matters.

Lets say in week #1 I call for five repetitions at “x” weight. I’d rather you stop your set at three repetitions than perform two reps with crappy technique. How are those final two reps going to make you better?

Grinding out some reps here and there is fine – and at times I’d encourage it. But I wouldn’t make a habit of it, because it doesn’t allow you to hone technique.

Another way to think about progression is like this.

Week #1

Rep #1 = solid.

Rep #2 = pretty solid.

Rep #3 = meh, I got it, but that wasn’t solid.

Rep #4 = oh shit.

Rep #5 = I think I just destroyed the back of my pants.

Week #2

Rep #1 = dead sexy.

Rep #2 = dead sexy.

Rep #3 = solid.

Rep #4 = pretty solid

Rep #5 = okay, that wasn’t fun.

The idea here is to judge the feel of a set, and to take into account that that DOES MATTER.

If in week #1, with a certain weight, a few repetitions make you hate life (or are not doable with passable technique), your “progression” is going to be to ensure that ALL repetitions are on point2 before you even think about increasing load.

That’s another way to build success into your training. Don’t discount it.

[Smoke bomb, smoke bomb, exit stage left]

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  1. Not to be confused with my Klingon to English dictionary or my Fiance “goddammit she wants to talk about our feelings” to Tony dictionary.

  2. Or dead sexy, whatever you prefer

  • Asdf

    An issue I (and I presume all others) also face is that if you can do 5X at a given weight (lets say 100lb), you might only be able to do 3 at the next weight up (110lb). My personal way around this is to not increase the weight until I can do extra reps eg until I can to 7X100. Then I move to 110lb and should be able to perhaps 4 or maybe almost 5…
    I would interested to hear your thoughts on whether there is a benefit in jumping up early (eg once you hit 5X100 you go straight to 3X110 and work your way back up to 5X) or taking it slow (eg wait until you can do 7X100 before you try 110). I find, particularly at low reps/heavy weight (eg: I sometimes aim for 10 reps over 3 sets), if I go up in weight as soon as I hit my 10rep target, I end up doing something like 4 reps over 3 sets (2,1,1) and I’m not sure there is much benefit with such low volume. I instead aim for 15 reps/3 sets for the lower weight, then move up and can usually do 7 or 8 reps/3 sets. Another option is 1 set at 110 then drop to 100 for another 2.
    (I’m aware one answer is ‘don’t increase the weight so much’ but I generally work out with dumbells and they go up by 2.5kg at a time. I know there are micro magnetic weights, but again foiled by my gym – it has rubber coated dumbells!)
    I suspect these are all valid ways to achieve the same end, but am interested in whether you think there are benefits to one approach over another.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I spent the first 25% of the post explaining that I agree that progressive overload is the way to go. Increase load or do more sets/reps.

      So yes, I agree with that.

      I just wanted to shed some light that we can’t OMIT other factors as well, such as the quality or “feel” of the set. That’s another way to build success into your training. It’s not ALWAYS about how much weight you’re lifting.

      • Asdf

        thanks Tony

        • TonyGentilcore

          No worries at all. Thanks for reading (and glad we’re on the same page).

  • Nice idea on how to change the thinking about the progresion during the weeks.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Carlos, glad you liked it.

  • Shane Mclean

    I love getting all sensitive will the weights to see how it feels :). In all seriousness this point is lost on a ton people when it comes to strength and conditioning. Nice post Tony.

    • TonyGentilcore


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  • Michelle Kania

    This sounds familiar …

    • TonyGentilcore


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