If you have exhausted the gains from your beginner program and are looking for what to do to push your physique to the next level then this guest article by Greg Nuckols, one of the top drug-free powerlifters in the world, could be for you.

Friendly, smart, and humble we got along well when I first met him at a conference in May, and I became a fan of his blog, Stronger by Science. When I asked him to write this I didn’t realize quite how special his gift of making difficult concepts appear simple was. It is our sincere hope that this article will help to teach you to be independent with your strength training programming for the intermediate phase.

Enter Greg Nuckols… 

Preface by Greg

I’ve made this conceptually simple purposefully. To this day, I sometimes feel my eyes starting to glaze over when I read periodization jargon like “preparedness” and “accommodation” – and besides, what’s the point of using proper terms if you’re going to either have to take 1000 words explaining them, or risk being thoroughly misunderstood?  I understand the need in an academic setting, but there doesn’t seem to be a good resource to lay the foundation for people to understand periodization and programming in the first place.  The discourse jumps directly from “do these sets and these reps and add weight to the bar?” to “mesocycles, specific physical preparedness, conjugate sequence system?” and the rest.  I hope this article will be a conceptual bridge between A and B.

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a while.  People think programming is so mystical because they’re asking the wrong questions.  It’s less about “what sets and reps should I do?” or “do I need to try *insert complicated periodization paradigm here*?” and more about simply training your body to be able to handle and adapt to more stress so you can train harder and see better results.

Force your body to be able to handle more work, reap the benefits of higher training volume, then when you go back to doing less work for a time you’ll adapt with ease and get a ton stronger.  Then repeat the process.  Easy peasy.  But it took a long time of wading through jargon-laced programming articles before it actually became clear.

Is there more to it than that?  Sure.  But once you understand these basic concepts, the rest is easy enough to pick up without getting overwhelmed.


What To Do When You’re Done With Your Linear Progression Strength Training Program

Most people who initially get into picking up heavy things because of the internet seemingly start on one of three programs: Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, or Reverse Pyramid Training.

The standard advice for these programs – do them until you can no longer consistently add weight to the bar each session, and then find something else. There seems to be a pretty standard list of “something elses” that get suggested, such as 5/3/1, PHAT, Madcow, and Texas Method.

Rather than talk about any specific program in depth, I want to talk more generally about where you and your body are when you plateau on a beginner strength routine, what you need, and how to go from there. That way you’ll have a better conceptual understanding of what you need so you can make more informed choices about your training moving forward.

An aside before we dive in…

This article will not attempt to pin down strength standards concerning what you *should* be able to lift before you move on from beginner routines. Such conversations completely ignore the reality of genetic variability. Terms like “novice,” and “intermediate,” and “advanced,” when referring to training routines appropriate for a group of lifters, should refer to experience, knowledge, and time spent under the bar – not arbitrary strength attainments.

Why do I say that? From my own personal experience, I was sitting right on top of some of the “advanced” strength numbers *literally* the first time I touched a barbell. I could bench press 275 and deadlift 425 at a bodyweight under 170 because of a lucky genetic draw and a childhood of sports, manual labor, and lots and lots of pushups. That had absolutely nothing to do with my skill as a lifter or my knowledge about training. I was still a complete novice when it came to lifting and certainly didn’t need any “advanced” training methods to get stronger.

Conversely, some of the most knowledgeable coaches and some lifters who have spent their life under the bar never move beyond “intermediate” strength standards. Calling them an intermediate is bogus, though. They’ve almost certainly learned a lot more than a stronger, more naturally gifted lifter from having to scrap for every little PR their low genetic ceiling would allow. They also almost certainly don’t need a “novice” strength training routine.

I know people who have made linear progress straight to a 500+ squat, and others who have deloaded multiple times and still top out not much above their own bodyweight. Both are ready to move onto a different training program.

So, all of that’s to say, arbitrary strength standards certainly have something to say about how you’d stack up against other lifters in a powerlifting competition, but very little to say about how you need to train or how much you know about lifting.


Where You’re At

Most beginner strength training routines have a few things in common: relatively low total volume, relatively high intensity (80%+ of 1rm), and very little variety.

Low Total Volume

This is, in my opinion, the biggest problem with most beginner routines.

Briefly, when you train, you disrupt homeostasis. Your body perceives this disruption as a threat and responds by making your muscles bigger and stronger to better handle this stressor the next time you face it. To elicit a similar adaptive response the next time you train, you have to increase the stressor – mainly by increasing weight or volume (for beginner routines, this is almost always “add 5 pounds to the bar.”). But, keep in mind, your body has to be able to recover from the stress it’s put under. Eventually, you reach a point where the amount of stress you put on your body each session to try to force adaptation is roughly equivalent to the amount of stress your body can recover from – at that point, if you increase the stress further, your body cannot respond adequately by getting bigger and stronger – it can merely return to baseline (or, if you push further yet, it will start regressing as fatigue accumulates). That’s the point when you plateau on most beginner routines.

The thing bottlenecking your progress is work capacity. Work capacity is, roughly, the amount of stress your body can recover from and adapt to each session. As your work capacity increases, your ability to handle more work and recover from harder workouts increases, so you can begin to increase the stress you’re putting on your body to the point that you once again start adapting and getting bigger and stronger. You can handle more work, so you can do more work, so you can reap the benefits (more size and strength) from more work. But it is all predicated on your body’s ability to actually handle more work.
So, after you finish a beginner training program, your work capacity is probably your limiting factor, and it’s probably relatively low (due to the low training volume of most beginner programs). If you look around at how the top lifters are training, whether it be Eastern Bloc powerlifters with straight volume-driven programs (how does 400-500 heavy reps between squat, bench, and deadlift sound to you… in one training week?), top weightlifting teams training at least daily (usually 2-3 times per day), or the lifters at Westside Barbell doing 14+ high volume workouts per week, training volume is almost uniformly extremely high. And for good reason – training volume is the primary driver of strength and hypertrophy progress. But before you can benefit from insanely high volume, you have to have an insanely high work capacity.

Here’s an illustration of this concept that I really like, comparing a sink to the process of adaptation to strength training; I think I heard it first from Mike Tuchscherer.

The amount of stress you’re subjecting yourself to is like a running faucet. The amount of stress you can recover from is like the sink’s drain. To keep making progress, you have to turn the faucet up higher and higher. If that exceeds the drain’s ability to remove water from the sink, eventually the sink fills up and overflows – that’s when you stop making progress and start regressing. But by increasing work capacity, you’re increasing the size of the drain (how quickly you can respond and adapt to increased training stress) and you’re increasing the size of the sink (how much accumulated stress you can manage before overtraining).

So, how do you increase work capacity? Instead of trying to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting, try to increase the amount of volume you handle each week or each session.

Let’s say your workout looks like this currently:

  • Squat 200 3×5
  • Bench 150 3×5
  • Deadlift 250 1×5

Total training volume by lift (weight x sets x reps):

  • Squat: 3000 pounds
  • Bench: 2250 pounds
  • Deadlift: 1250 pounds

Take a little weight off the bar, and try to increase your total training volume each week, taking a break from just pushing more weight up each session.

So maybe start here:

  • Squat 175 3×8 (4200 pounds)
  • Bench 135 3×8 (3240 pounds)
  • Deadlift 200 3×3 (1800 pounds)

Then, over the span of a couple months trying to increase volume (sets or reps) each training session, you may be doing something more like:

  • Squat 175 5×10 (8750 pounds)
  • Bench 135 5×10 (6750 pounds)
  • Deadlift 200 5×5 (5000 pounds)

At that point, you’ve dramatically increased your body’s ability to recover from a huge increase in workload – something that’s pretty easy to do with lower, moderately heavy loads (60-75% 1rm) but much more difficult with heavier loads (80%+: where you live on beginner routines).

Once you’ve increased your work capacity, you can start tapering volume and adding more weight to the bar. As you decrease volume, your body will have no problems recovering – even with heavier loads each week – because you’ve made it accustomed to recovering from a much higher total workload.

You’ll blow past your old plateaus and start making progress again. And once you hit a new plateau, just repeat the process. Drop back in weight, build your training volume up even higher than you did previously over the span of a few months, and then start adding weight to the bar again.

The focus of your training is still the same: making measurable progress each week. Only now, that measurable progress is split into two phases. In phase one, you progress by increasing how many total reps you’re doing each week, and in phase two you progress by increasing weight on the bar, just like you’re used to.

Relatively High Intensity

This is a good thing. If you want to lift the heaviest weights possible, you need to have practice lifting weights that are heavy to you. With programs like SS, SL, and RPT, you’re constantly handling loads between 80-85% of your 1rm – certainly heavy enough to count it toward practice handling heavy weight.

Motor learning is typified by specificity. There’s a big difference between learning how to move your body through a given motor pattern unweighted (a bodyweight squat, for example) and learning how to move your body through that same pattern with a heavy weight in your hands or on your shoulders. After most beginner routines, you’ve had practice moving fairly heavy relative loads week in and week out, so heavier loads (90%+) will not be as big of a shock to you as they would be to someone who trained with lower relative intensity from the time they started lifting.

Now, when you drop back in weight and start increasing training volume, you will likely lose some efficiency with heavier weights. However, that’s why you don’t jump from 70% one week to a new 1rm attempt the next week. By building back up over the span of (depending on your strength level) 4-12 weeks, you re-acclimate your body to heavier loading, and that efficiency with heavier weights that you previously built will come back. It takes longer to build a specific motor pattern initially than it is to recover it when it gets a little bit rusty.

Very Little Variety

I understand the reasoning for this in beginner routines. Heavy compound lifts *should* be the bedrock of your program, they’ll give the most bang for your buck, and a lot of new lifters will take a mile if you give them an inch when it comes to isolation accessory work (“sure, do some curls at the end of your workout” turns into “well, I didn’t have time to get all my sets of squats in, but I DID try out 37 new curl variations, brah.”).

But doing the exact same variations of the exact same lifts all the time will almost inevitably cause some strength imbalances eventually. Once you’ve plateaued on your beginner routine, it’s time to start adding in some more variety rather than continuing to pound your head against the wall and exacerbating those imbalances.

Also, it’s worth noting, you don’t HAVE to do isolation work if it feels silly after continually lifting heavy week in and week out for the past several months. Some people love it and some hate it. If you’re one of the latter, then choose compound variations that will address your weaknesses by emphasizing your weak muscles. If your quads are weak, then switch to high bar squats or front squats rather than low bar squats. If your triceps are weak, then switch from regular bench to close grip bench. If your upper back is weak, switch from regular deadlifts to snatch grip deadlifts.

Of course, I just want to make it clear that while heavy compounds should be at the heart of your workout, there is no shame in doing more isolation-style accessories. Are your hips weak? Well, sumo deadlifts are great, but if you want to keep pulling conventional you could toss in some hip thrusts to address your deficiency. Weak quads but want to keep squatting low bar? There are quality compound, non-squat options like step ups, lunges, split squats, hack squats, and leg press, but keep in mind that many huge squatters of yesteryear liked plain old leg extensions.

There is a lot to be said about becoming efficient in the motor patterns you want to master, but at the end of the day, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, all other things being equal. Identify your weak muscles and hit them with accessories or variations of compounds that will target them.


Putting It All Together – One Example

Someone stalled at the numbers in the prior example (Low bar squat 200 3×5, Bench 150 3×5, Deadlift 250 1×5)

Their squat is limited by weak quads (their butt instantly shoots up, shifting weight away from their quads and toward their stronger posterior musculature), their bench is limited by weak triceps (missing and lockout), and their deadlift is limited by a weak upper back (rounds coming off the floor, and can’t get it fully extended at lockout).

Week 1:

  • High bar squat 150 3×8
  • Close grip bench press 120 3×8
  • Snatch grip deadlift 175 3×3
  • Lunges and knee extensions
  • Bodyweight dips and triceps extensions
  • Yates rows

Week 2-5: increasing reps or sets each week, adding to total training volume.

Week 6:

  • High bar squat 150 5×10
  • Close grip bench press 120 5×10
  • Snatch grip deadlift 175 5×5
  • Lunges and knee extensions
  • Bodyweight dips and triceps extensions
  • Yates rows

Switching back to primary variations of each lift to realize the strength gains you just got done laying the groundwork for.

Week 7:

  • Low bar squat 180 5×10
  • Bench press 140 5×10
  • Deadlift 210 5×5
  • Leg press and hack squat
  • Weighted dips and cable pushdowns
  • Shrugs

(change in accessories, just for some variety)

Weeks 8-11: adding weight to the bar each week, decreasing sets or reps so the body can easily adapt and recover. These workouts should be a challenge but should stop short of grinding reps.

Week 12:

  • Low bar squat 230 3×5
  • Bench press 170 3×5
  • Deadlift 300 3×3
  • Leg press and hack squat
  • Weighted dips and cable pushdowns
  • Shrugs

Beyond

Keep working up to a max over the next 2-3 weeks, or start back over increasing volume, and then working back to lifting heavy weights.

Or, of course, you could just jump on one of the routines floating around on the interweb for people who have exhausted their gains on a beginner’s program. But, it’s my opinion that the sooner you can learn how to write your own programming, the better. None of the programs floating around out there were written specifically for you – they’re just cookie cutter routines that should work decent enough for a broad swath of people. You know you strengths and weaknesses, you know how well you’re recovering and how your body is feeling, and – most importantly – you’ll never reach your full strength potential without eventually either hiring a competent coach long-term or learning how to listen to your body and make the necessary adjustments to your training. If you want to see how far you can truly go, the sooner you start learning how to understand programming, the better.

This article should have equipped you with enough conceptual knowledge to start tinkering with your own training once you plateau on a beginner’s routine. You’ve been under the bar long enough to start being able to listen to your body, but you’re likely not closing in on your full potential or any long-term goals. Now is the perfect time to start experimenting with your own training, applying some trial and error, learning how to troubleshoot, and getting the frustrations and setbacks of the inevitable learning curve out of the way. You’ll come out much more knowledgeable – and much stronger – on the other side.


Questions

Greg, how many days per week do you suggest people train?

The important thing is total weekly volume. If you were training 3 times per week, you can slowly add volume to those three sessions, and then increase weight and decrease volume over those same three sessions, just to take some of the guesswork out of it. Or, if you find yourself spending too much time in the gym, you could split it into more sessions so each of them is a more manageable length. That’s not going to make a huge difference either way, as long as you’re managing total weekly training volume appropriately.

You say that people should target any weak muscles and hit them with accessories or variations of compounds that will target them. Can you explain how people would identify weak points or imbalances?

This is definitely another article for another time.

Understandably. I wanted to add the caveat that this style of training isn’t suited for those that are cutting (in a calorie deficit). Can you share your thoughts on that?

Sure. I’d say that it depends on the circumstances. A person that has higher body fat percentage, has a high-quality diet, sleeps well, and lives/works in a low-stress environment is far more suited than a leaner guy or someone without those key points in place.

However, I agree with your inclusion of that caveat at the end because someone could easily misapply that. Besides, you’re writing a follow-up article on that right?

That’s right, “Which Training Routine is for Me?“. Greg, thank you for your time.

Questions on this guide? Greg’s got you covered in the comments.

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Shane
Shane

Loved the article, guys!

I’ve got a bit of a funny question. You know how 1RM (or 5RM or whatever) can be used to gauge someone’s strength? Is there an equivalent way to gauge someone’s work capacity? Some sort of metric that can be tracked over time?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hmm, I hadn’t thought about quantifying it before. But, I guess you could take the number of working sets per week, perhaps broadly split for the upper and lower body, then gauge how that is changing over time.

You can also track loads, because a higher load for the same number of working sets = a higher work capacity. You could also gauge how gassed you are between sets by heart rate between two time points for the same working sets. But this kinda borders on overkill.

Shane
Shane

Awesome, thanks Andy 🙂

So with your first two points, would it make sense to make a workout spreadsheet that tracks, say, total squat volume (sets × reps × load) per week and then use that along with the volume for the other big lifts to quantify work capacity progress?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Tracking total sets per body part is a better way of gauging volume.

Shane
Shane

Hrm, okay, now I’m confused. I’m familiar with the research showing similar muscle growth between various rep ranges, meaning that number of challenging sets per week is a good proxy for volume in terms of stimulating hypertrophy (at least in the 6–20 rep range, or as Greg Nuckols prefers, the 4–40 rep range). But isn’t this article making the point that adding extra sets OR reps (more total poundage lifted per set) is a good way of improving work capacity?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Yes. I’m saying if you’re using the method above, you’d be fine just tracking sets as a proxy, and there’s no real need to log more detail.

Shane
Shane

Great, thank you 🙂

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Most welcome. I should have explained that better in the first place so thank you for hitting me back.

Ethan Goggin
Ethan Goggin

Can this apply to the novice bodybuilding program on your site?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

A novice won’t be running into these issues. If you’ve hit a plateau, the answer is probably to just do a little more. The simplest way to do that is to add a set to the exercises you’re struggling with.

This is assuming you’re sleeping well, eating well, and not in a large caloric deficit. If you are, take care of those things first.

Evan
Evan

Awesome content. What are your thoughts on people that throw around the classic “you’re still a novice until you can squat/bench/deadlift 225/315/405 lb?” I’m following a linear progression program (Alphadestiny’s novice program) and it’s a great program; but I’ve been stalling at around a 335 trap bar deadlift, 185 bench press, and 265lb box squat for almost a year. The last several months I’ve been tracking my surplus (3800 cal/ day roughly, which is forcefeeding for me at this point) and it seems that although I’m 15 pounds heavier, the only thing that has slightly increased is my bench.

I’m 6 ft 183 lb and probably around the 18% bodyfat range, but still dont feel like I’ve gained a considerable amount of muscle, except for my posterior chain. I’m wondering if I would make better lean gains if I hopped on an intermediate program now? Thanks!

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

“What are your thoughts on people that throw around the classic “you’re still a novice until you can squat/bench/deadlift 225/315/405 lb?”
– Oversimplistic. It ignores genetic pre-disposition, relative body weight, and doesn’t serve as a useful guide for programming as some people will recover better than others, meaning that some people need to introduce periodization to their programming earlier than others.

I/we like to define training status by the ability to progress. Someone who can progress with most lifts, session to session, is a novice. More on this here: How to Keep Progressing as a Novice and Intermediate Trainee

“I’m wondering if I would make better lean gains if I hopped on an intermediate program now?”
– I don’t know that program, so I cannot speak for it. But when cutting it’s hard to tell if you are gaining muscle because fat is being stripped of all areas of the body (including the limbs, and there is even fat inside of the muscles). Therefore, the best way to gauge a program is whether you are progressing. If yes, perhaps don’t fuck with it. If no and you’re recovering sufficiently well, doing more is usually the solution.

Ben B
Ben B

Hi,

Could you explain how increasing volume leads to an increase in work capacity when increasing intensity (weight on the bar) dosnt? If the person cannot add 5lbs to the bar because it will exceed their work capacity and therefore result in lack of recovery and accumulation of fatigue, then why dosnt adding more volume have the same negative affect? Wouldn’t adding more volume and more total work have the same affect of exceeding work capacity and accumulating fatigue?

I think my confusion comes from how this is all explained.

Greg Nuckols
Greg Nuckols

This is probably a pretty rough way to conceptualize it, but basically, you have intensity-based stress and volume-based stress. If either in isolation or a combination of both gets too high, you run the risk of overreaching/overtraining. So, when you’re already pushing your ability to recover from an intensity-based stimulus, adding volume can make matters worse. However, you can drop intensity and then increase volume. In general, the adaptations from volume-based stimuli help you recover better from intensity-based stimuli (but it doesn’t generally work quite as well in reverse). So, after using a volume-based program for a while, you’ll be able to better recover from a slightly larger intensity-based stimulus.

Eddy
Eddy

Really good article. Two thumbs up Greg 👍🏼👍🏼

Elton
Elton

Great article thanks Andy – now to go back and read AGAIN the books 🙂

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Haha, enjoy Elton! 🙂

Rod
Rod

Hey, is this the reason why people who usualy have sports background or even people who are more active in general, can make longer progress on linear progression? Due to increased work capacity?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Sure, possibly.

Daniel
Daniel

Just to understand this better: “recovery” and “the amount of stress your body can recover from and adapt to each session” don’t necessarily mean the level of soreness between workouts and how “recovered” one might feel physically, but rather how much/whether the body is able to make positive adaptions and get stronger still?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Absolutely right.

Maciej
Maciej

Hi Andy,

I was cutting and doing powerlifting trainings for last 4 months. Now I’d like to do a reverse diet/very slow bulk for next 3-4 months just to reverse all metabolic adaptations and maybe gain some muscle mass. I’m going to change my training style so it’s more focused on hypertrophy. Because of that I have to add few accessory exercises. For powerlifting I’ve been using linear periodization. Now I’m wondering if I should continue that on bodybuilding plan or maybe I can switch to linear progression. Or I should use periodization for my main compound movements and linear progression for the accessory ones? Is it fine to mix progression patterns between different exercises on different training days?

Thanks,
Maciej

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Maciej… BOOM. New article. Perfect timing, eh? 🙂
A Detailed Guide to Training Progression

Maciej
Maciej

Haha indeed! That article is like being written for me.

Thanks Andy!

Ps. I regret I don’t live in Tokyo to buy you an overpriced craft beer 😉

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Haha, the spirit is what counts. 🙂

Kristiyan
Kristiyan

Hi Andy,

I bought and read the books THE MUSCLE & STRENGTH PYRAMIDS and I am now struggling to design my workout plan. I tried to find an answer to my question on the FAQ page but I did not find exactly what I was looking for.

Problem: I designed my workout using the template of the Intermediate Bodybuilding Program.
But I can only go to the gym 4 times per week (rarely 5 times).

Question: Is it okay if I just combine 2 of the training days into 1 and if yes – which ones would it be best to combine? If no – what should I do to make it a 4 day workout plan?

Thanks in advance!

Kind Regards,

Krsistiyan Atanasov

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Kristiyan. Yes absolutely. Though rather than trying to fit two into one, perhaps try to arrange things so that you can fit five into four. Otherwise that one day may be too hard to get the work in.

David
David

Excellent article, much appreciated! Are there books that either of you can recommend that deal with schemes/guidelines for increasing volume over time? The general idea is nicely presented in this article, but I would like to read more about the exact way(s) to accomplish this.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi David, sure. Your best bet is The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid, which is a shameless plug for my book, but there are free video lectures on the site from my co-author Eric if you’d prefer. 🙂

David
David

Thanks, looks like quality material. I will definitely consider purchasing them!

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

They’re among the best out there and are only going to get better. You’ll see that there are free updates forever for those that get the set and that’s something we take seriously.

Dave
Dave

I stalled @ 132 lbs for 4 on OHP doing RPT for a while. I’m sure my work capacity is what’s holding me back. I just switched today to 100 lbs and started at 6 sets of 5 reps. Now this was very easy and I was trying to stay completely away from failure. My question is how close to failure should I get? Should my last set of the day be somewhat of a struggle to finish the prescribed reps? Should I leave a couple reps in the tank? Should my last rep of the day be balls to the wall just barely get it and not be able to get one more rep?

Being so used to training to failure on every set (RPT for 18 months) it’s hard for me to adjust to training this way. I’m afraid I’m not training hard enough. But if I know that I can give it my all on my last set and it will help and not hurt me in improving work capacity then I’m all for it. I did 6 sets of 5 today 100 lbs OHP and I could’ve easily gotten 2 more sets in my opinion but I’m afraid of pushing too close to failure now. Any advice on what to do when it comes to failure?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Are you familiar with RPE Dave? That might be a useful concept here.

Dave
Dave

I am somewhat familiar with the concept. Do you recommend getting close to failure? 10 is 1 shy of failure?

Dave
Dave

I’m going to start trying any rep scheme where I can add more volume. Probably keep it 6 x 5 and make it so the last rep of my last set is challenging but leave around 2 reps left in the tank. Just have to judge that and don’t have to be perfect. Then from there just add one or two reps per session until I get to around 50 reps with that weight (10 x 5) and then either progress with adding 10 pounds and starting over or just going back to a lower volume RPT style of training reap the benefits and then back to increasing volume….just keep going back and forth between the two. Does this sound like a decent plan? I would probably get some decent hypertrophy from this. Of course my 1rm wouldn’t change but at least I’d get some decent hypertrophy and the most important thing would be the increase in work capacity for my long term strength success…

I don’t want to stay away from lifting heavy and progressing with heavy weights for too long. I want to get the best of both worlds and progress with heavy weights until I start to stall and then get back on the high volume train and progress with my work capacity…So I’m thinking maybe 2 months of work capacity work followed by 2 months of low volume strength progression work where I go to failure on all 3 working sets….

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

I think you’d benefit greatly from getting a broader understanding of the theory behind all of this. A couple of options:
1. Get my training book.
2. Watch the free video lecture series that the book is based on. (You’ll see it in the menu.)

I’m going to have to bow out of answering further. Honestly I find it too frustrating to continue, and when I find myself unable to respond in a professional manner publicly it’s just better to not respond. I asked a single question yesterday but woke up to 3 replies (one short, two long) each containing multiple further questions instead of the yes/no answer I needed to explain further, so I’m out.

I hope however that the resources I have given prove to be useful for you.

Dave
Dave

Thank you for the reply Andy….one more quick question…

Do you still go back to RPT when you are training higher intensity after a period of working on total volume or do you stay with straight sets and just add weight?

My plan is to work these straight sets as long as I van continue to at least add a rep and then when I plateau I will drop the volume and ramp up the intensity again with RPT….

on a side note after increasing my volume (I have been doing RPT for about 18 months) I slept like a baby….I think this is just exactly what my body needed…thank you for the brilliant website…

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

You could do that, but it might cripple your ability to keep up the higher volume which is necessity to drive progress. Try it and see how you go. If you’re interested in a much more thorough coverage of the different variables, check out he videos (or book) here:
The Muscle and Strength Pyramids

Dave
Dave

If I’m used to handling a total workout volume of 2500 with RPT and I can’t progress than how can I expect to progress with a workout volume that is higher? Is it the fact that the intensity is lower?

Not questioning this…I believe in this but just like to know the science behind that aspect of it….how can I expect to recover from 4000 total workout volume when I am plateau in 2500 total workout volume…I hope you understand my question…thank you

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

It’s likely that the intensity is so high right now that you’re struggling to recover from those sets.

If you were to do 3 sets of bench with your 5 RM load, and on your first set you maxed out and went to failure, you would probably drop down to 3 and then possibly 2 reps on your next 2 sets depending on your rest period. This will be 10 reps total. However, if you were to stop and just do 4 reps on the first set, you may be able to maintain 4 reps for all 3 sets. This will be 12 reps total.

In this way it’s easy to see that we can hurt the amount of volume that we can do by going to failure too frequently. Thinking even bigger picture, going past just the single exercise, and thinking about subsequent training sessions, there are further negative implications from training to failure all the time.

As volume is a key driver of training progress, and training to failure can hurt the amount of volume we can perform, if you’re struggling to progress it’s sensible to cut down on the intensity and avoid training to failure.

Dave
Dave

so I can probably milk out some more strength gains by switching to straight sets with a challenging weight as I will be getting more volume in and not training to failure. Maybe 3×5 @ 80% 1rm and keep trying to improve that number until I get 3×6…keep mastering this weight until I can work up to say 3×8 with it…I will simultaneously be gaining strength and work capacity then I can dial back the volume a little but increase intensity again to maybe 10 pounds heavier weight and start over at 3×5?

Or is this a pipe dream?

Dave
Dave

If I do 3 sets of 8 and feel like I can do another set for maybe 5 should I try to attempt it? Or is it better to leave all that in the tank, make a note for next workout that the total volume can be higher….in this case closer to around 29 reps vs 24 reps? And then proceed to try for 5 sets of 6?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Sure you could do that if it helps you bridge the gap between increasing the weight or doing another full set Dave.

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Making Your Novice Strength Training Routine More Effective – Two Quick Tips • Strengtheory

[…] This will also help you circumvent a typical problem people run into when they move on to another program once they’re done with the novice phase of their training.  Many people find themselves unable to handle the training volume necessary to continue making progress, because low-volume novice programs make them stronger without sufficiently increasing their work capacity, which is the cornerstone of long-term strength development.  They end up having to take one step back (building their work capacity) in order to take another step forward (actually getting stronger).  If you DO find yourself in that situation, I’ve written about how you can start moving forward again here. […]

Filip
Filip

Thanks for the article. This is exactly what I was looking for. I have a two questions though (sorry, if they were already answeared).
Let’s suppose I hit a plateau in OHP at 5x5x40kg. According to the article, I should deload and work on adding more reps now (doing more sets than 5 sounds like overkill to me). So my following workouts would be like this: 5x6x35, 5x7x35, 5x8x35, 5x9x35… Do I add the reps until I hit another plateau?
So let’s suppose I hit 5x10x35 after a few weeks and want to go back to adding weight… From what I understand, my following workouts should be like this: 5x8x37,5, 5x6x40, 5x5x42,5, right? When should I consider reducing the number of sets to 3 if I was previously doing 5×5 and strugling with the fourth and fifth sets usually?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Filip, thanks for the question.
Let’s be exceptionally clear with our terminology here:
If you find that you’ve hit a plateau, it could be some residual fatigue masking progress, so a deload for a week (~10% reduction in weight lifted), followed by a resumption of the same weigh you were stuck on, is often sufficient.

– When it is not, if you’re not well recovered, a lack of calories can be the issue, or too much volume could be the issue. So you increase calories or make a reduction to volume.

– If you are well recovered, then work capacity could be the issue, in which case the load needs to be reduced, volume increased and built up over time, to increase work capacity. In the case of the latter, you’ll decrease load (weight on the bar) and but increase the number of sets and reps so that their combination results in an increase in volume over time.

Volume = sets x reps x load.

Remember, you don’t have to do the same number of reps for each set in a session. Four of your sets could have 5 reps, one set could have 4. The key is to gradually increase the volume to build up the work capacity.

Filip
Filip

Hi Andy. Thanks for the answear. I’ll try deloading and going back to the weight I plateaued at previously, before tampering with the number of reps. I suspect the problem might be in not eating enough, since I’m returning from a cut and adding calories gradually.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Most welcome Filip.

Sergio TL
Sergio TL

Hi Greg and Andy! Excellent stuff, just what I was needing. I know the important thing with this article is not the sets/resp schemes and examples but the underlying concepts. The thing is I am trying to dessign a new program and I’d like to know your opinion about it, if it’s not too muck asking. This is the template:

Accumulation:
WEEK 1 70%-80% Total volume: 60 reps – Example: 2 sessions of 3×10
WEEK 2 70%-80% Total volume: 72 reps – Example: 1 session of 4×10, 1 session of 4×8
WEEK 3 70%-80% Total volume: 80 reps – Example: 2 sessions of 5×8

Intensification:
WEEK 4 85% Total volume: 50 reps – Example: 2 sessions of 5×5
WEEK 5 90% Total volume: 40 reps – Example: 2 sesisons of 5×4
WEEK 6 95% Total volume: 24 reps – Example: 2 sessions of 4×3

WEEK 7 — DELOAD — 65% Total volume: 48 reps – Example: 2 sessions of 3×8

WEEK 8 — TEST 1 RM

WEEK 9 — PARTY (if any PRs last week)

Do you think it’s reasonable? Thank you for your time.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Sergio, thanks for the comment. Personally I think what you’re asking me to look at and critique is beyond scope of the comment feature and into the realm of asking for a consultation.
Now, please know that it’s not cause I don’t want to be helpful, but because I believe in treating everyone fairly, and if I were to do so for you, it could open the floodgates with other comments.

If Greg wishes to chime in then I’m happy for him to do so of course.

Sergio TL
Sergio TL

No problem, man. I understand. Thanks for your time.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Cheers for being cool Sergio. 🙂

Ioseba
Ioseba

Great article Greg! Not sure If you keep reading this comments, though. My question is:
– Is there any difference between doing one long cycle of 8 weeks of “accumulation phase” followed by 8 weeks of “intensification” phase or doing 2 shorter cycles of 4 weeks of “accumulation” followed by 4 weeks of “intensification” and then repeat?
Which one would be better for hypertrophy and strength gains?
Thanks in advance!

Anatoly
Anatoly

It looks very like Poliquin’s accumulation/intensification phases

I phase(accumulation)
progressing in volume while weight is the same
3×10 60% -> 5×10 60%

II phase(intensification)
progressing in weight and keeping volume the same
5×5 70% -> 5×5 80%

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Sure, I imagine it does. This is ‘linear periodisation’, many programs will use this style.