For strength enthusiasts, the first year of training is usually the most productive: For several months after they pick up their first weight, most people make impressive gains in strength, performance, and muscle mass.
Thereafter, training gets more complicated.
“After a year,” says Alex Viada, CSCS, a North Carolina–based strength and endurance coach, “it’s impossible to predict exactly what weights you should use a month from now, or how much rest you need between workouts or sets, unless you’ve been absolutely meticulous with tracking or have been working consistently with an experienced coach or trainer.”
That’s why intuitive training is particularly valuable after you’ve been exercising for a while: You can ride those alternating waves of progressing and plateauing without having to start a new program every time you go to the gym.
Viada recommends a simple system to accommodate strength training’s inevitable ups and downs: Choose your heaviest weight in any exercise based on a combination of what you’ve lifted in previous workouts and how you feel today.
Let’s say you’re trying to get stronger. On multijoint exercises (deadlifts, squats, rows, presses, pull-ups), use the charts below to determine your heaviest weight for the day.
Your “working weight” is the heaviest weight you used the last time you did that exercise. So if you’re doing rack deadlifts, and the heaviest you lifted last time was 100 pounds, you’d lift 50 pounds for 10 reps on your first set, 75 pounds six times on your second, and 100 pounds for as many good-form reps as possible on your third set. (See table 1.)
Your performance on the third set determines the weight you’ll use on your fourth and final set — and will serve as the “working weight” in your next workout.
If, on your third set of rack deadlifts, you manage eight reps with 100 pounds, your maximum weight from the previous workout, you’d use 105 to 110 pounds on your fourth set, and 105 to 115 pounds next time you perform rack deadlifts. (See table 2.)
This originally appeared in “Body Talk” in the January-February 2018 issue of Experience Life.