119 Comments

    1. 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.

  1. 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!

    1. “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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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

    1. 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 😉

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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?

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

    2. 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….

    3. 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.

  9. 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…

    1. 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

  10. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. Pingback: Making Your Novice Strength Training Routine More Effective – Two Quick Tips • Strengtheory

  13. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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.


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