Are the Weights You’re Using Heavy Enough? Too Heavy?

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Today’s post is more or less an addendum or brief update to THIS article I wrote a few months ago answering the question “how much weight should I be using?

Copyright: maximkostenko / 123RF Stock Photo


For many lifters – rookies in particular – it’s a perplexing task to figure out what’s an appropriate load to be using on any given lift or exercise. Is it too little, too much, just right? It’s a Goldilocks paradox to say the least.

Some people have an innate sense of intuition that kicks in and are able to figure things out over the course of a few weeks or months. They’re able to adopt the concept of consistent progressive overload (making the effort to do more work over time) and make continued improvements and progress towards their goal(s).

[NOTE: keeping a daily training log helps tremendously here. If you’re not doing this 1) please smack your forehead 2) do it again and 3) no, really, do it.]

Others, however, lack the Spidey-sense. I mean, I get it: walking into a weight room is daunting enough. You have some guys grunting louder than an elephant passing a kidney stone, and the fume of AXE body spray you have to walk through is enough to give you a contact high. Those two things alone are super intimidating for some people.1

What’s more, there are a bevy of other factors to consider: optimal # of sets/reps, rest periods, tempo, exercise order, and, of course, how much weight to use? And then, most important of all, is technique on point? It’s no wonder some people end up feeling like this:



To no fault of their own many fall into the trap of “winging it” and haphazardly choosing a weight to use for any particular exercise and stay there; week in and week out, month after month, and in worse case scenarios, even years, and often end up frustrated due to lackluster results.

How many times have you heard this from a friend, family member, or colleague:

Can you please put some pants on? I’ve been working out for [insert “x” number of weeks/months/years here] and I never seem to get results.”

My suspicion is that 9/10 times the culprit is the fact most people are UNDERestimating their ability and not challenging themselves enough.

This is where AMRAP (As Many Reps as Possible) sets can be handy. If I program an exercise for 8-10 reps, I’ll sometimes have the last set be for AMRAP. If, on the last set, they hit 10, maybe 11 reps I know they’re using a weight that’s challenging enough. If they end up hitting 23 reps I know they’re low-balling themselves and we need to up the load.

I’m fortunate in that I live in this pretty baller strength & conditioning bubble where I can control most – if not all – the variables when it comes to the clients and athletes I train.2

Especially for those I work with in-person.

I’m there to observe how they’re feeling on any given day, to watch technique and bar speed, and I can serve a judge and jury when it comes to weight selection during any given session.

Where things become suspect is when I’m not there to offer advice in person or when I’m working with a distance-based client and am unable to provide instant feedback.

How do I help them gauge whether or not they’re using enough weight? Or maybe too much? What happens then?

In recent years I’ve grown to be more of a fan of using percentage-based training with the programs I write, particularly for those whom I do not work with in a one-on-one fashion. I’m a firm believer in programming out workouts with specific weight and rep guidelines – if for nothing else to give them a sense of purpose or “goal” for the day. Hit “this” number then do “that.”

That said, lifters don’t always feel the same everyday. Some days they feel like a rockstar and end up deadlifting a bulldozer for reps. Other days the feel like they got run over by a bulldozer, and what was planned for that day just isn’t going to happen.

35136856 - view of tired girl after weight lifting

Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

This is where the concept of AUTOREGULATION enters the conversation. Coaches like David Dellanave and Jen Sinkler have done a fantastic job of speaking to this phenomenon (more specifically referred to as BIOFEEDBACK) in recent years and how it behooves trainees to use ROM testing to figure out what variation of a particular lift is the best fit for that day.

Here’s an example (say it’s deadlift day…yay):

  • Perform a toe touch screen, and note where you begin to feel tension.
  • Set up as if you were going to do a conventional deadlift and perform a few reps.
  • Re-test your toe touch. Is it better or worse?
  • If the former, you know you’re good to go with conventional deadlift that day. If it’s latter, maybe perform the same sequence, albeit with a sumo stance or Jefferson stance?

  • Re-test and see if there’s an improvement. If so, roll with that variation for the day.
  • Travis Pollen wrote an excellent review on the concept HERE.

We can take the idea of autoregulation and use it to dictate our loads on a daily basis too. More to the point: we can start to introduce the concept of Auto-regulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (or APRE).

To quote the great Tim Henriques:

“A beginner gets stronger just by lifting. Any program works for a beginner. An intermediate powerlifter needs strength specific programming to get stronger. An advanced lifter with many years of competitive experience, lifting very heavy weights, needs to program recovery into his work outs. The beauty of the APRE (Auto-regulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise) programs is that all categories of lifters from novices to experts can benefit with this type of program.”

It’s by no means a new concept. Many coaches have written about it in the past (and I have linked to their respective articles in this post).

In short, APRE is a great way to introduce flexible training and to better match loads you use to how you feel on a daily basis.

It’s not so much a workout as it is a guideline.

Here’s an easy breakdown taken from

3RM Protocol 6RM Protocol 10RM Protocol
50% of 3RM – 6 reps 50% of 6RM – 10 reps 50% of 10RM – 12 reps
75% of 3RM – 3 reps 75% of 6RM – 6 reps 75% of 10RM – 10 reps
Reps to failure with 3RM Reps to failure with 6RM Reps to failure with 10RM
Adjusted reps to failure Adjusted reps to failure Adjusted reps to failure

And to adjust after the test set:

Reps in third set (6RM protocol) Adjustment for fourth set (kg)
0-2 -2.5 to -5
3-4 0 to -2.5
5-7 No change
8-12 +2.5 to +5
> 13 +5 to +7.5

I’ll explain in a second, but the cool thing about this approach – and as Eric Helms noted in THIS review via the NSCA – is that it proved very successful in one study compared to traditional linear progression with regards to strength gains.

“The APRE group improved by an average of 21 lb more in the 1RM bench press test, 35 lb more in the 1RM squat test, and three repetitions more in the bench press to fatigue test than the LP group.”

Granted it’s only one study – and a relatively short-lived one (6 weeks) at that – but holy shit.

APRE is a four set system. The first two are build-up sets with the second two involving two sets to failure. The third set is a “test” set where you perform as many reps as possible with your 3RM, 6RM, or 10RM. From there, depending on how many repetitions you get, you adjust the weight on your fourth (and last set).

This is a brilliant system, and one that can be implemented to help people better ascertain their weight selection on any given day depending on how they feel.

Lets use an example (squat – 6 RM protocol): 315 lbs

Set #1 = 50% of 6RM x 10 reps (155 lbs)

Set #2 = 75% of 6RM x 6 reps (235 lbs)

Set #3 (Test Set) = AMAP with 6RM (315)

Here is where day-to-day shenanigans come into play. How much sleep someone got the night before, hydration levels, stress at work, stress at home, and any number of other factors can affect performance on any given day. The TEST SET serves as a form or AUTOREGULATION.

Depending on the number of reps completed in the test set will dictate the load on the LAST set. See chart above.

Set #4 = ???

Can you see the value in this approach? Especially when it comes to weight selection with main lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press?

I hope so, because it’s very effective and simple to implement. And I know what some of you may be wondering: “what about the 3RM and 10RM protocols?” Well, as it happens, Tim Henriques constructed a BOMB spreadsheet that you can download for free – HERE – which allows you to pluck in numbers at your discretion for each protocol. Holla!

Now you have no excuses not to push yourself harder in the gym. Go get it.

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. Much like how I felt the other week when I accompanied my wife to an Ultrasound appointment and check-in with her Obstetrician. I didn’t know what the eff to do. Where do I sit? Where do I put my hands? Do I hold my breath? Dear god, what the hell are those stirrups for? WHAT ARE YOU DOI……….(sprints out the door).

  2. The only time I ever get vetoed is when I train my ladies and they take over the stereo. Deadlifts, hip thrusts, and Beyonce radio on Spotify.

Comments for This Entry

  • Neal

    Tony, great post. I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying for a large portion of people. How about with competitive bodybuilders? What "metrics" would you to gauge progress in this situation. To be more clear, I just had a show April 6th. For many reasons my weight went up (the post show rebound), and my strength, shot up. It's hard for bodybuilders to find an equilibrium point. What would you say would be the best way to gauge progress and program without "going by feel?"

    September 9, 2016 at 1:48 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hmmm, that's a good question. Understandably the post-show rebound is going to be come into effect. After that, I don't see why this metric can't be used by bodybuilders as well. It takes into account more of an undulated approach (3RM protocol, 6RM protocol, and a 10 RM protocol) you're still hitting all your rep-range bases so-to-speak. Something else to consider is that progress doesn't always have to be based off total tonnage or sets/reps. Sometimes "feel" of a set or "feel" of an exercise counts. Bar speed and confidence with an exercise can be a way of gauging progress. At the end of the day, however, bodybuilder or not, numbers don't lie. The old school approach of writing shit down and keeping track that way never gets old.

      September 12, 2016 at 9:02 am | Reply to this comment

  • Obitim

    Morning Tony, This looks a bit like the Greyskull LP system, however, I love the look of the test set to see how you do on the day (Greyskull pretty much states that if you fail any reps then you drop the weight by 10% and work from there). I'm also liking the fact it's 4 sets, as I tend to hammer out 3 warm up sets, then onto 3 work sets...and it takes an age! I've been doing greyskull for a number of months but I think I may give this system a go for the next 3 months and see how it works out! Cheers for the article and congrats!

    September 9, 2016 at 1:48 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh, I'm not familiar with that system. I'll have to check it out. Anything that references Skeletor is cool in my book.

      September 12, 2016 at 9:02 am | Reply to this comment

      • Obitim

        That's why I liked it! One question about the APRE system that i can;t find an answer to is how I should schedule in the different RM amounts? Should I do a different one per workout or a month of each?

        September 12, 2016 at 10:45 am | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          I think the answer to that comes down to YOUR goals. For the average person I'd take a more undulated approach and stick with switching it up each session, or each week. Hit all three.....they're ALL worthwhile.

          September 15, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Reply to this comment

          • Obitim

            Cheers! I'll give that a go, maybe 4 weeks on each protocol and see how that works for me in the first instance... Cheers Tony, great article and has gotten me to researching programs! Gonna try my first one tomorrow night!

            September 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

  • Nasos Psarrakos

    Hey Tony great article. :D :D I downloaded the excel and I will definetely use it. A small correction that you need in the excel is in the hypertrophy tab: If you put 12 reps in the cell "Number of reps on set 3", it returns 0. That's only on the squat column

    September 11, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Are the Weights You’re Using Heavy Enough? Too Heavy? | Don Kellough

    […] post Are the Weights You’re Using Heavy Enough? Too Heavy? appeared first on Tony […]

    September 15, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Emma

    Great content! What do you think about APRE to explosive strength and power?

    September 22, 2018 at 1:13 am | Reply to this comment

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