Note: Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions directly to Charles in the comments below this article.

 

The Most Important Training Principle in the Weight Room

How do you know that you’re progressively increasing the challenge in your workouts over time? And what does this even mean? 

 

There are two basic principles at play here. The first is specificity - making sure you’re doing the right things relative to your goals. The second, and of equal importance, is progressive overload.

 

For this short discussion, I’m going to assume that your training specificity is on point (however, for your own purposes you might do well to double-check), so I can focus on the importance of progressive overload for a moment.

 

training logs, progression, strength and conditioning

 

Progressing the Stimulus

When you first start training, you don’t need to worry much about overload, because the very fact that you’re training means you’re experiencing overload. Pretty much anything you do, as long as it doesn’t hurt you, will provide the stimulus you need for growth. This phenomenon is known as “beginner’s gains.”

 

Once you’ve been training for a while, however, your gains will begin to stagnate unless you make sure the stimulus you’re subjecting your body to progresses over time. This might mean:

 

  • Adding more weight
  • Doing more reps
  • Adding sets
  • Reducing rests between sets
  • Some combination of the above four things

 

Then, once your body adapts to that increased challenge, you’ve got to progress the stimulus again. This process is much like tanning. If you lay out in the sun for say, fifteen minutes every other day, you’ll get a bit darker. If you want an even darker tan, you’ll need to lay out for longer periods, or lay out more frequently, or both. In other words, you need to increase the stimulus.

 

Documentation Leads to Progression

All this leads to the focus of this post. Are you relying on memory, or are you documenting your training sessions?

 

The way in which you answer that question tells me if you’re serious about your training, because without documentation, there is no reliable progression. Sure, if you go by memory, you might manage to ensure overload at times, but honestly, it’ll just be a crapshoot. In all serious endeavors, where successful outcomes are seen as critical, documentation plays a key role. Pilots don’t rely on memory when going through their pre-flight checklists. Surgeons don’t rely on memory when considering their patients’ histories. CPAs don’t rely on memory when filing their clients’ tax returns.

 

"Without documentation, there is no reliable progression."

If you’re not particularly serious about your training and you’re not concerned about experiencing great results, that’s fine. I have things that I’m casually interested in (but not particularly serious about), too. But if you are concerned about getting great results, that automatically puts you in the “serious” category, which means you need to document what you’re doing.

 

Document in Detail

There are different levels of detail regarding which data points you should be tracking, but the primary ones include:

 

  • Exercises performed
  • Amount of weight lifted
  • Reps and sets completed
  • Possibly the length of rests between sets

 

Some serious trainees also track other details, including:

 

  • Perceived level of effort on each set (usually on a 1-10 scale)
  • Any pain or discomfort experienced
  • Technical cues that seemed to work well

 

While many people still use old-school paper-based training journals, there are a number of impressive digital options available. My personal favorite, which I’ve been using for about three years now, is called Strong. I find Strong to be powerful, yet intuitive. It allows me to track and document the data that matters without the annoyance of those silly exercises demonstration videos (which are always totally useless). Here are a few screenshots from my own training journal on Strong:

 

training logs, progression, strength and conditioning

 

Whichever method of journaling you use, if you want to get reliable results from your efforts in the gym, I’d strongly urge you to document them. It’s the one thing all those serious about strength have in common.

 

Documention Leads to Impact

More often than you’d think, it’s the simple things, the obvious practices we’re not doing, that can have the most profound impact on your outcomes in life. When it comes to training, documentation is one of those habits. So if you say getting great results from your training matters to you, start tracking and documenting now. I know you’ll be surprised at the impact it’ll have on your results.

 

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 72,382 Pounds (Last Week: 58,121 Pounds)

 

Significant Lifts:

 

Squat: 375x2

Deadlift: 500x1

 

My numbers are coming along nicely this week, particularly on the squat and deadlift, despite some annoying tendinitis in my left knee.

 

From a programming perspective, it becomes apparent that when you move into the 1-3 rep range, your overall exercise menu must be trimmed down. This is because each exercise now takes longer to perform due to the need for more warm-up sets, and also for longer rests between working sets. This means that as you get closer and closer to competition, special care must be taken to make sure that the exercises you do have the highest possible payoff.

 

Injuries, like the tendinitis I’m dealing with, can complicate this decision-making. If you look at my workouts below, you’ll see that I’m not doing much quad-intensive work, even though my quads are a weak link for me. This is due to knee pain. Or to put it more accurately, I’m trying to protect my knee for future workouts.

 

"As you get closer and closer to competition, special care must be taken to make sure that the exercises you do have the highest possible payoff."

I’m nine weeks out from this point, and the goal from here on out is to add weight to the bar whenever and however I can, while staying in the 1-2 rep range. The goal is to make the competition lifts as specific to competition rules as I can make them (good squat depth, paused bench presses, and so on). I also need to keep overall volume as high as possible, as long as possible, to prevent premature peaking.

 

That’s it for this week guys. Thanks for stopping by, and I’d love to hear your questions, feedback, and comments.


Monday, September 14, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 203.6 Pounds

Volume: 18,205 Pounds

 

Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 185 lbs × 3
  • Set 7: 225 lbs × 3
  • Set 8: 275 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 315 lbs × 2
  • Set 10: 335 lbs × 2
  • Set 11: 365 lbs × 2
  • Set 12: 375 lbs × 2 (Video Below)

 

 

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 185 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 275 lbs × 6
  • Set 5: 275 lbs × 6
  • Set 6: 275 lbs × 6

 

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 8

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 203.6 Pounds

Volume: 12,120 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 4
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 3
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 245 lbs × 1
  • Set 8: 255 lbs × 0
  • Set 9: 225 lbs × 3
  • Notes: Paused

 

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 80 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 120 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 160 lbs × 8

 

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 8

 

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8

 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.4 Pounds

Volume: 27, 122 Pounds

 

Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 275 lbs × 3
  • Set 7: 315 lbs × 3
  • Set 8: 365 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 405 lbs × 1
  • Set 10: 455 lbs × 1
  • Set 11: 500 lbs × 1 (Video Below)
  • Set 12: 425 lbs × 2

 

 

Leg Press

  • Set 1: 180 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 230 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 270 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 270 lbs × 6
  • Set 5: 270 lbs × 6

 

Back Extension

  • Set 1: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: +150 lbs × 8

 

Leg Extension

  • Set 1: 130 lbs × 10

 

Friday, September 18, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.2 Pounds

Volume: 14,935 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 4
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 2
  • Set 7: 230 lbs × 2
  • Set 8: 230 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 230 lbs × 2
  • Set 10: 230 lbs × 3

 

Chin Up

  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: 5 reps
  • Set 3: +25 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: +25 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: +25 lbs × 5

 

Lying Tricep Extension

  • Set 1: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 85 lbs × 8

 

EZ Bar Curl

  • Set 1: 65 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8

 

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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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