Effort Determines Outcome

A correctly designed program with all the right exercises and sets and reps is only half the story. The other half is the effort you put in.

Have you been working out with the goal to get bigger?

You have read the latest articles on what the best training program is to meet your goal and after six weeks have little to show for it. Does this sound familiar?

I remember one summer watching the Superman movie “True Man of Steel,” and thinking, “Man, I want to look that jacked.” I found a program for size; most of the exercises had three to four sets and 10-15 reps, which, if you look at any of the research does correlate with hypertrophy.

After two months of working out, I had little to show other than the fact that I hated lifting weights for more than five reps.

What did I do wrong?

I showed up to the gym four days a week consistently, I did the workouts as written, and I did all right, from my perspective, on nutrition. Why didn’t I get better results?

Sets and Reps Are Only Half The Story

We know that a correctly designed program with all the right exercises and sets and reps is only half the story. The other half is the effort you put in.

Hypertrophy can happen in two ways: lifting heavy weights for lower reps and lifting lighter weights for higher reps.

Both ways will trigger a stress response that will create hypertrophy. Where people go wrong is forgetting about the intensity at which you should be performing each set.

Whether you are lifting heavy or light, you need to be lifting at an intensity that will trigger a response.

For example, if you are doing a barbell bench press for 4×5 at 205lbs ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where one is I-could-keep-benching-forever and ten is I-could-not-get-any-more-reps, how hard is this set?”

If every set you lift is at an intensity of 5 or a 6, you will feel like you did work, but your results won’t be amazing. You have to lift at an intensity of 8 or a 9 consistently if you want to add significant muscle mass.

Without the right amount of effort, you are wasting your time.

Measure Your Effort: 1. RPE Scale

Go back to the RPE (rated perceived exertion) scale:

  • 1-5: Too many reps to count. Nice warm up.
  • 6: Could have gotten at least 5 more reps.
  • 7: Could have gotten 3-4 more reps.
  • 8: Could have maybe gotten 2 more reps.
  • 9: Could maybe get 1 more rep.
  • 10: Could not have gotten another rep.

As stated above, your working sets, the ones that count, need to be at that 8 to 9 level.

I find this method to work the best for 90% of my clients.

Measure Your Effort: 2. Lift Based Off Percentage

If you are more analytical and like tracking numbers, then base your working sets of your 1 rep maxes.

  • 100% 1 rep
  • 95% 2 reps
  • 90% 3 reps
  • 85% 5 reps
  • 80% 7 reps
  • 75% 10 reps
  • 70% 12 reps
  • 65% 15 reps

For example, if I am doing 4×5 and my 1RM is 205lbs, I would want my working set weight to be in the 185 to 195lb range.

Measure Your Effort: 3. Volitional Fatigue

Volitional fatigue is the point in a set when you can no longer perform reps with proper form. This means you could maybe do a few more reps but would have to sacrifice form or cheat to complete the reps.

All working sets should be done to or just before volitional fatigue. This method is the one I use the least because it requires such a high level of body awareness.

To see results you have to put in the effort. Showing up and going through the motions is not good enough. Yes, it is better than doing nothing, but if you are looking to see consistent improvement, you have to push yourself to an uncomfortable place.

The best program is only the best if you put in the effort needed to make you the best.

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