The Art of Indicator Sets

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I know, I know.  I’ve been MIA this week from a blogging standpoint, and I apologize.  I could just lie and say I was out rescuing puppies and otherwise saving the world, but I’ve used that joke before.  In actuality, a few things have come to fruition this week that have prevented me from gracing you with my presence this week:

1.  SPAM (<==== and not the good kind1).  Lately, the site has been getting inundated with spam, and my web guy has assured me that he’s on it.  In fact, he’s informed me that he’ll be switching the back-end of my site to WordPress which is awesome.  My original site was through WordPress, and I really loved the simplicity and convenience of it.  So, with that said, you should start seeing some slight aesthetic differences with the site moving forward.

Most importantly, though, I’m hoping that the WordPress format will help with the spam comments.  Yeah, I’m talking to you whoever the jaghole is who keeps posting as Ugg Boots Uggy 2000.

2.  As I noted earlier this week, Lisa and I adopted a cat, which has certainly been a change of pace for me.  I grew up with dogs, and always envisioned myself as an adult with a dog, too.  But living in the city kind of throws a monkey wrench into things when you have to deal with landlords.  What’s more, both Lisa and I are gone for the majority of the day, and it wouldn’t be fair to leave a dog in the apartment all day alone.

Anyhoo:  Dagny has been slowly coming of out of her shell, and she’s starting to warm-up to the two of us.

Who’s my little Dagny-poo?  Yeah, that’s my beautful lovey!  Er, uhhh, I mean, KILL Dagny, KILL!!!!

What the Heck Is An Indicator Set?

In light of EC hitting a 700 lb (trap bar) deadlift earlier this week, and with my little experiment kicking into high gear with my quest to a 600 lb pull, I wanted to share something that happened to me yesterday that should serve as a nice talking point.

I’m not going to lie, after watching EC pull 700 the other day, I was fired up to get after it as well, and had every intention of attempting to break my own personal best yesterday.  Two weeks ago, I dominated 550 lbs (conventional).  Last week, I crushed 560 lbs.

So, as I was driving to work yesterday, the plan was to show up at the facility, warm-up, crank a little Mobb Deep over the stereo, get angry enough to want to fight a tornado, and hit a new PR of 575 lbs (previous best of 570).

On paper it looked like a done deal.  But once I started training, things didn’t go quite as planned.

135 x 5

225 x 3

315 x 3

405 x 1 (didn’t feel horrible, but didn’t feel great)


An indicator set basically lets me know whether or not I have “it” that day.  For instance, in the previous two weeks, 455 lbs literally flew up.  Based on how my bar speed was, and how effortless the set felt, I knew I could make a run for a high 500s pull.  Put another way, I gave myself the green light to go for it, and I did.

Conversely, yesterday, 455 felt like absolute garbage.  It felt slow off the ground.  And it felt even slower at lockout, which I normally never have any issues with.  The only indication I got was that if I even attempted to go any higher, I’d run the risk of shitting my spine.

So, I did the smart thing and called it.  I re-racked the plates, and went on and did my accessory work:  DB reverse lunges, a little pouting in the corner, and some pull-throughs.

While it’s not a perfect system; nor anything remotely scientific, I do feel that having the ability to “feel” whether or not you’ve got the juice on any given day is something that can be learned, and something that many trainees should pay more attention to.

Muscle fatigue is one thing, but when your CNS is fried, that’s something else entirely.  In a way, it’s kind of like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.  It ain’t gonna happen.

When you think about it, what I’m describing is cybernetic training at it’s finest.

To that end, moving forward, I encourage all of you to start utilizing indicator sets as part of your warm-up.  Pick a weight during your warm-up that you can use to “gauge” where you’re at that particular day.  You’re not going to have your A-game every single time, and it’s perfectly okay to take a step away from the stupid, call a spade a spade, and just get some quality work in rather than run the risk of hurting yourself.

Trust me.  The whole mindset of lift heavy or go home – while admirable – isn’t always the best approach.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. This is a joke. I’d rather eat live bees than SPAM

Comments for This Entry

  • Stephane

    You've given me an AH-HA moment! In the past, even if a load which usually felt light ended up feeling heavy on a particular day, I would continue on in hopes that something would change (which typically didn't). So obvious, I never even thought of it. Thanks big guy!

    October 14, 2011 at 6:15 am | Reply to this comment

  • David

    Is Dagny going to be joining Tank on twitter too?

    October 14, 2011 at 7:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brandon Richey

    Tony, I've been experiencing the same problems from said "jaghole" Ugg Boots Uggy 2000! Nonetheless, you hit the mark again on the deadlift. I have been using the indicator set lately to evaluate my move forward. Glad to see you back my friend. Btw, I really do enjoy reading your blog. I know we share a lot of the same sentiments when it comes to training and just being all around smart asses! :-) Thanks again for the post!

    October 14, 2011 at 7:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Craig

    I've never thought to affix a specific weight to the idea until I read this. I hadn't thought about actually making it a fixed component of a program, which is a great idea. Usually for me as I progress through the 300's into the low 400's and the weight already feels "grindey" I know that it's just not going to happen that day. The best lifting days are when the weight still feels light and fast and then I actually count it and it's much heavier than I thought. I've accidentally pulled PR's that way. Have you ever had days in which the first few pulls felt slow and "off" but you ended up pulling well towards the end of the workout? I'm wondering if there's something short term that could be done to counteract that initial sluggishness or if it's a global CNS thing that requires more time. Also, if you want a sweet deal on some North Face jackets I've got about forty different websites that are apparently loaded with them. They go well with Ugg boots.

    October 14, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply to this comment

  • Scott

    Recently, given my necessity to essentially make workouts up on the fly. Indicator sets have been my best friend. I didn't know what I was doing, but what you described is exactly what I do. I typically pick one of the big lifts, start out with a light warm-up and start working my way up to a solid set of 3 reps. But usually my 2 or 3 set lets me know just how far I can. Its been working really well for my "on the fly" workouts.

    October 14, 2011 at 8:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Stephane: Glad I was able to help. I don't know if it's my old age, but it seems I just have to be more aware of how beat up my body feels on a week to week basis. Adding in the "indicator sets", seems to do the trick quite well. @ David: I think we have a Twitter name in mind: Dagnasty!

    October 14, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tasha

    Interesting timing for this post. Had an off day at the gym this morning, and knew from the first rep of the first exercise that today would be tough. I wanted to go home and get back in bed and whine a little bit, but instead I lowered the weights on most of the rest of the exercises and kept on keeping on.

    October 14, 2011 at 10:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Chaz

    *455 not 460...y the hell did I type that

    October 14, 2011 at 11:21 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Brandon: As always, I appreciate the kind words. @ Craig: Glad to see that we're on the same page! I have had days where I felt like "poo" going in, and actually ended up with an awesome training session, but it's rare. I can tell when my CNS is fried, and more often than not, I just revert to getting quality reps in and calling it a day.

    October 15, 2011 at 5:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Scott: Nice! @ Tasha: Nah. I NEVER skip workouts, so I'm glad to see that you didn't either.

    October 15, 2011 at 5:12 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steve

    Great insight for the day Tony! Even more important than my own training is that with my clients. There have been many times that warm up sets in either deads or squats just don't look right and I have canned the heavy lifts for the day and went on to other things. Diet, sleep, and lifestyle usually come into play. 9 times out of 10, they come back stronger the following session. Side question: What are your thoughts on Sheiko programming for powerlifting? I've played around with a ton of Eric's stuff as well as 5/3/1. Just curious. Thanks for a great blog sir

    October 15, 2011 at 9:28 am | Reply to this comment

  • R Smith

    Discovered this by accident with the squat and deadlift. Now I have a term for it. Actually, two terms. RS

    October 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply to this comment

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