Sometimes, it's hard to know if you're making any progress in the gym. Visually, you may notice a new vein pop up in your forearms, or there may be a little more shadow framing your six-pack. But these can be very subjective measures. A more telling way to track gains is in the sheer total pounds you have lifted this week. By insisting on a 20% increase in poundage on key lifts from week to week, you basically idiot-proof your strength gains and end up putting on more size as a result.
"Research has yet to really analyze this protocol but anecdotally it has worked for many athletes for a long time," says Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, co-director of Taylored Fitness in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. "I use this for strength gaining phases and although I don't see its efficacy as much for size phases, you will always get a little bit - or a lot - of both."
So how do you boil strength down to a mathematical certainty? Using the deadlift as an example, Simon suggests that you first discover your single-rep max (1RM). This helps you determine where to begin and where you're going over the course of the next four weeks. Simon likes to have clients work toward strength gains in the six-rep range for six sets, going at about 75% of their 1RM.
"Let's go light and say that your 1RM is 135 pounds," he says. "So 75% of that is approximately 100 pounds. At six sets of six reps, you'll be lifting 600 total pounds in a single set. Over six sets, that is 3,600 pounds. That is your baseline volume."
Five to seven days later, you'd get back after it again, aiming to lift 20% more weight than in your previous session. "Using the 3,600-pound baseline, that's a goal of 4,320 pounds."
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How do you get to that total? "Add sets, not weight," Simon says. In other words, don't strive to make that number by adding plates to the bar. Rather, you should just surrender to the fact that it'll take a few more sets to achieve it.
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In the third week of the program, you'll set a target that's 40% higher than your Week 1 baseline, or about 5,040 pounds in this case. In Week 4, you'll go up to 60%, or 5,760 total pounds lifted in your deadlift routine.
That finishing weight can then be used as your new baseline weight load should you choose to add another four week cycle. "Do this four times and you end up with a 16-week, volume-based strength training program that will blow your gains out of the water," Simon says.
The ideal lifts for this type of program are compound lifts that allow you to target the greatest amount of muscle. The fallout from using that type of lift is a host of peripheral benefits including a greater overall hormonal response, more calories burned, higher resting metabolism - and the strength to go with it all.