T Nation

Micro Loading for Consistant Gains

Hello Everyone,

I have seen this recommendation before by the various coaches on T-Nation, but now I can’t find it.

What is the recommended loading increase once a particular weight has been acclimated to?

For example, if a person is lifting X number of pounds for a particular number of sets and rep range and finally is able to accomplish this, is it a 2% increase in weight or 5% or something different?

I remember there being a recommendation for consistent gains as opposed to tying to jump 5 or 10 pounds at a time which can be VERY difficult depending on the exercise and weight used.

Thanks

Depends what you have at the gym, and the exercise you’re doing. Adding 5lbs onto lifts like bench, deadlift, shrugs, squat, etc is very doable every 1-2 weeks. Especially if you have smaller weights like 1.25lbs. (On most lifts over 100lbs this equates to anywhere from 2-5% increase every week)

But if you are trying to progress on something like DB presses, tricep extensions, lat pulldowns, isolation exercises, or any machine exercises you might just have to increase the reps week to week, work on form, then up the weight. (Because most of the time they only have 5lb jumps on exercises where you are using lighter weight)

I like to just up the weight by 10-15lbs and give it a shot, even if I can only do it for a few reps

i wasnt aware they made dumb bells in 2 pound incriments.

just lift the damn weight dude.

if you only get 3 reps instead of 5 lift it til you get to 5 then move on again. why do you want to make it so complicated?

[quote]ab_power wrote:
Depends what you have at the gym, and the exercise you’re doing. Adding 5lbs onto lifts like bench, deadlift, shrugs, squat, etc is very doable every 1-2 weeks. Especially if you have smaller weights like 1.25lbs. (On most lifts over 100lbs this equates to anywhere from 2-5% increase every week)

But if you are trying to progress on something like DB presses, tricep extensions, lat pulldowns, isolation exercises, or any machine exercises you might just have to increase the reps week to week, work on form, then up the weight. (Because most of the time they only have 5lb jumps on exercises where you are using lighter weight)

I like to just up the weight by 10-15lbs and give it a shot, even if I can only do it for a few reps[/quote]

I agree. In fact, adding 5-10 (or more on occasion) lbs to a lift every weak/session is quite doable if you have your diet and rest right and follow a routine which does not hinder progression through idiotic volume, frequency or work-set parameters.

And if you are in the beginner or intermediate stage, then you can probably get away with a not-so-great routine too and still get add 10 lbs almost every week…

I go for a 5% increase on my big lifts and 2% on my isolation work but it isnt written in stone. As pointed out by the previous posters, most dumbells increment at 5 pounds and that can be a big jump.

For dumbell movements I have worked to increase the reps by one or two beyond the target before increasing the weight. This normally gets me within one or two reps if it is a five pound jump. I would do as many full reps as I can at this point and then finish the set with cheat reps, negative reps or rest pause to get all the reps in. I have been wanting a set of micro-plates for a while now. I never bothered to order them because the above method seems to work for me.

I appreciate the responses! Thanks.

[quote]Cephalic_Carnage wrote:
I agree. In fact, adding 5-10 (or more on occasion) lbs to a lift every weak/session is quite doable if you have your diet and rest right and follow a routine which does not hinder progression through idiotic volume, frequency or work-set parameters.
[/quote]

I wonder how many experienced lifters – let’s say who have been at it long enough to have been called experienced for at least the last 5 years rather than just getting there – who say bench 400, really were benching only 140 last year (52 times 5 is 260 lb, so 260 lb less) and will be benching 660 next year and 920 the year after that?

Or do you mean in the context of dropping a rep every week? In that case depending on the exercise dropping a rep can mean a lot more than 10 lb difference. But that would not seem to be answering a question about microloading, so – in addition to the value specified being so often much too small for that context – it wasn’t clear that you meant that either?

its common sense you cant add 5 pounds to a lift every week year after year. you cant bench 900 pounds in a year, or ever.

however when youre first getting into it yes, you can do that. well i dont know if youll add 10 pounds every week but when you arent adding weight youre adding reps and not just on 1 set but on all of them. this can last you a long time and when you stall out on an exercise you can switch to another which you probaly wont be using as much weight in but youll still be adding a new stimulus thus adding more growth.

basically if you arent adding weight you need to be adding reps or even an additional set.

bodybuilding isnt complex. it just takes commitment and a couple loose screws.

As you say 5 lb a week isn’t sustainable long term.

Even for a beginner, in many exercises it’s not possible. For example no one will be strict curling 260 lb more after 1 year than they started with, yet that is 5 lb per week.

One way of approaching this general problem (a way that’s been around a long time and in no way is being presented as new, and certainly isn’t new to this forum either but is relevant to the current discussion) is to have an increase such as that, or a larger increase, occur at time intervals much longer than a week and with other sorts of variation occurring inbetween.

One example is, let’s say presently one can do some lift with the following results:

3 reps for 2 work sets: 265 lb
9 reps for 2 work sets: 180 lb

One plan could be:

Week 1: 180/9x2
Week 2: 195/8x2
Week 3: 210/7x2
Week 4: 225/6x2
Week 5: 240/5x2
Week 6: 255/4x2
Week 7: 270/3x2

The cycle might repeat but next time working from 185 to 275, or if seeming doable on both ends, maybe 190 to 280 though longer term, adding 5 lb per 7 weeks ain’t bad. (Works out to 35 lb per year which if one has been lifting a long time is not a bad year and is probably better than most have been lately. But a second time around on this might well be 10 lb heavier not five.)

Alternately rather than jumping right back to 9 reps, if the body doesn’t feel beat up from the low rep work the progression could go the other direction next, but this time not dropping the weight as increasing reps quite as much as what it went up by while decreasing reps.

For example, for the next phase, the program could be:

Week 1: 257.5 (use collars for the 2.5 lb) for 4 reps times 2 sets
Week 2: 245/5x2
Week 3: Depending on how week 2 felt, 230/6x2 or 232.5/6x2
Week 4: Perhaps 217.5/7x2
Week 5: Say 202.5/8x2
Week 6: 190/9x2.

Basically, going down no more than 15 lb in weight and trying to be only down 12.5 lb if from the previous week if that feels possible.

Of course another method is adding sets while keeping the weight the same for a period of time, then dropping sets after making a small weight increase such as 5 lb.

I know I am stating what is largely “the obvious” but it’s relevant to the discussion, and does answer the question of “Well if you’re supposed to increase performance every time but ‘even’ 5 lb per week is in fact unsustainable over time, then whaddya able to do?”

your example looks like a giant word problem from a statistics course.

heres what i do, its easy and it works.

take a weight, say its 80 pounds.

lift it in the 6-8 range for 4 sets then move up.

so for week 1 it might go like this

7/6/4/3

week 2

7/7/4/4

week 3

8/7/5/4

week 4

8/8/6/5

week 5

8/8/8/6

then you move up.

C_C knows a thing or two about training. i think when he’s talking about 5-10 pounds a week hes talking A) about certain lifts, probaly compounds and B) during growth spurts

i dont think theres anyone who believes you can add 5 pounds a week to every lift, while keeping it the same lift, in a linear fashion.

[quote]LiveFromThe781 wrote:
your example looks like a giant word problem from a statistics course.[/quote]

Wow, I guess it does not work then.

[quote]heres what i do, its easy and it works.

take a weight, say its 80 pounds.

lift it in the 6-8 range for 4 sets then move up.

so for week 1 it might go like this

7/6/4/3

week 2

7/7/4/4

week 3

8/7/5/4

week 4

8/8/6/5

week 5

8/8/8/6

then you move up.[/quote]

An important difference is that this sort of program much more often winds up being undoable, not getting the increase in reps hoped for. Unless deliberately started underperforming so that there’s enough margin that no actual gains are required to get the increases.

A one rep increase represents, ordinarily, at least a 2% increase in strength. It may be as high as 5%.

It isn’t the case that one can assume being able to gain 2% strength after 2 weeks. That’s a 1% per week increase. Again, how many experienced lifters, who have been experienced for some years now, who let’s say are now benching 400, were benching only 265 a year ago and will be benching over 600 a year from now and over 900 a year from that?

Second thing, overall you’re assuming in your example being able to increase from 80 lb for 7 reps to 85 lb for 7 reps, if that’s what you mean by going up, in 6 weeks.

Actually that’s the same problem but just manifesting itself in a different aspect of the program: assuming that continued 1% per week strength gains are sustainable.

While you may consider what I described to be more complex than you prefer or can handle or I don’t know what – at any rate you object – what I described in fact addresses the microloading concern and is achievable long term.

But people that I know know better, if they stopped and thought about it, say it all the time though, or make statements that are of the equivalent sort.

E.g., providing a program that assumes being able to maintain 1% per week rate of increase, in the context of an experienced lifter.

As I said, not many 400 lb benchers that have been at it some time were benching 265 a year ago and will be benching 600 next year and the year after that. But if the rate of increase you propose as “it works” were doable long term, that sort of thing would be happening all the time.

I believe what happens is that people look at periods in which they did a program that seemed to them to give such gains, and don’t actually stop and look at the results for the whole year, nor actually work things out (I guess that would be “a giant word problem for a statistics course” and heaven forbid we should figure out what the consequences would be of what we are considering) and thus wind up with vast overestimations of what is doable on an ongoing basis.

And now what about microloading? Anybody got experience with microloading? It is just more satisfying to make gains from workout to workout, even if they are minuscule, than to drop weight and start the cycle again.

I am currently struggling on my 5x5 program. My bench has now been stuck at 210 pounds for 4 reps for three weeks. Currently, I am trying out set progression but I am really thinking about buying fractional plates.

Thanks for chiming in Mr. Roberts. I have been lifting for a looong time and am finding myself at a point where I need to train a bit smarter to make long consistent positive gains while minimizing joint strain.

When I saw “just lift the weight” or “go up 5 pounds a week is do-able”, I realized I had not reached my target audience and figured I would cut my losses and move on. No disrespect to those that have answered the post, but we are in two different places in out lifting careers. It was partially my fault as I did not state my lifting experience, although I don’t think it should make much difference.

Mr. Roberts appears to understand where I am coming from and the reasons for the original post. I will take into consideration his examples as they make a lot of sense. For those interested, they have fractional plates down to 1/4 pound per plate for Olympic and standard bars.

Thanks again Mr. Roberts.

I am in the same boat as you. I dont make increases weekly in my lifts either. I have to keep at a weight for quite a while before I get to add a rep. It just doesnt progress like it did when I first started out. Once I get that extra rep or two then I will step up to the next weight.

At this point I am lucky to add 20# to a compound a year and 5# to an isolation. That is just how it is once you get far enough along. I like the idea of micro-plates. It may well be a better approach than working to add reps before upping the weight.

Hopefully the micro-plates will work out for you. Let us guys on the fence know if it is worth messing with.

When you are tsuck at 5x5, start using lower reps: 4x4, 3x3, 3x2 etc. When you are done with weight progression, go back to volume. Now probably you are to long at 5x5, so you might not see such results as you would like, but at the new cycle it should be better.

Just think about it like this: first you bring up the volume, then you lower it and increase weights…

[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
Cephalic_Carnage wrote:
I agree. In fact, adding 5-10 (or more on occasion) lbs to a lift every weak/session is quite doable if you have your diet and rest right and follow a routine which does not hinder progression through idiotic volume, frequency or work-set parameters.

I wonder how many experienced lifters – let’s say who have been at it long enough to have been called experienced for at least the last 5 years rather than just getting there – who say bench 400, really were benching only 140 last year (52 times 5 is 260 lb, so 260 lb less) and will be benching 660 next year and 920 the year after that?

Or do you mean in the context of dropping a rep every week? In that case depending on the exercise dropping a rep can mean a lot more than 10 lb difference. But that would not seem to be answering a question about microloading, so – in addition to the value specified being so often much too small for that context – it wasn’t clear that you meant that either?

[/quote]

No, I mean’t in the context of “take the exercise to it’s strength limit and switch to another when you stall”. Of course I can’t keep doing this forever with one exercise, I have to switch to alternatives and at some point switch back, etc.

And yes, as a very advanced guy that progression slows down in general and you’ll end up working on reps in-between… I did have quite the surge when I started DC though, and I still get the occasional “hey, I put 20 lbs more on the bar and beat my previous reps, cool”-experience

At some point you have to switch out exercises more and more often, and if you train an exercise once a week or more often than that, then the weight-jumps probably won’t be 10-20 lbs anymore. I hit an exercise again after 2 weeks via a rotation, and have no problem making bigger jumps.

If my reps fall too drastically, then I work to bring them back up… But a beginner should be quite able to add 5-20 lbs to the bar every time if he trains with a once-week/muscle group frequency, with the occasional exception. (small exercises like DB curls and laterals obviously make this impossible and need more working on reps in-between due to the increments at which the DB’s go up in weight).

Also, I doubt that the OP is an advanced lifter (no offense OP), since he asked this question.


Btw Bill, I’ll let you know when I hit that 3500 lb*8 bench… Should be within the next two months :wink:

[quote]Wilderman wrote:
I am in the same boat as you. I dont make increases weekly in my lifts either. I have to keep at a weight for quite a while before I get to add a rep. It just doesnt progress like it did when I first started out. Once I get that extra rep or two then I will step up to the next weight.

At this point I am lucky to add 20# to a compound a year and 5# to an isolation. That is just how it is once you get far enough along. I like the idea of micro-plates. It may well be a better approach than working to add reps before upping the weight.

Hopefully the micro-plates will work out for you. Let us guys on the fence know if it is worth messing with.[/quote]

Yeah well, with your stats that’s no surprise (congrats!) :wink:

[quote]chris666 wrote:
And now what about microloading? Anybody got experience with microloading? It is just more satisfying to make gains from workout to workout, even if they are minuscule, than to drop weight and start the cycle again.

I am currently struggling on my 5x5 program. My bench has now been stuck at 210 pounds for 4 reps for three weeks. Currently, I am trying out set progression but I am really thinking about buying fractional plates.[/quote]

Buy them, just dont get too involved with trying to use them on ‘big’ exercises like squats.
Use them on bench, or curls O/H press.
BTW they’re great for rotator cuff work too, I have a few light plates (not a fractional weight’set’) i.e. a couple of 0.5kg and a 0.25kg std hole plate that I hold for rotators, this means I can increses the weight by 0.25kg which is about 5% (on 5kg).
An alternative that is good for DB use is to use a 1.25kg (or2.5lb) plate with a lifting strap looped through it and grip the strap and DB handle together, voila a 2.5lb increase in the DB weight!

[quote]Cephalic_Carnage wrote:
No, I mean’t in the context of “take the exercise to it’s strength limit and switch to another when you stall”. Of course I can’t keep doing this forever with one exercise, I have to switch to alternatives and at some point switch back, etc. [/quote]

By no means am I saying the following is so in your case – I quite doubt that it is so in your case – but this general approach is one that has a common outcome of producing a guy that insists he’s “gaining all the time” and has been doing so for years, yet somehow his lifts and physique are quite hard to tell from where they were 3 years ago. Somehow, gaining 5 lb per week every week winds up adding to nothing over the year.

By dropping an exercise and switching to another, it becomes possible to completely hide the fact that strength is in fact not being gained. Just start the next exercise at what in fact is only 90% performance, but since it hasn’t been done for a while it feels like near 100% so it’s not consciously obvious what is happening, and it can “gain all the time” till it quits gaining; then switch to the next execise and “gain all the time” on it too but in fact not gain anything.

This is what happens “all the time,” not those who follow this approach gaining all the time at anything remotely like the rates they think they are.

You personally I’m sure are doing better, but as a prescription for others, I see the above-described problems with it.

In contrast, the type of programs I described above, it’s an objective fact that performance is increasing.

This is also true of the simplest approach to the general question of microloading, of using fractional plates to increase the weight very slightly while reps are aimed at staying the same, in the same manner of performance.

I just wanted to provide other methods of achieving extremely small but importantly, doable, percentage increases per week, as I was pretty sure that adding the microplates was already known to the OP.

I took it oppositely: nothing to me sounded like he wasn’t, and it seems to me that microloading is not a question a beginner would concern himself with. So I addressed it on the assumption he was asking because he was in the situation where “just add weight every time, or just add a rep” wasn’t working anymore, as it will not upon sufficient advancement.

[quote]-------------
Btw Bill, I’ll let you know when I hit that 3500 lb*8 bench… Should be within the next two months :wink:

[/quote]

:slight_smile:

[quote]chris666 wrote:
And now what about microloading? Anybody got experience with microloading? It is just more satisfying to make gains from workout to workout, even if they are minuscule, than to drop weight and start the cycle again.

I am currently struggling on my 5x5 program. My bench has now been stuck at 210 pounds for 4 reps for three weeks. Currently, I am trying out set progression but I am really thinking about buying fractional plates.[/quote]

I dunno man, a bench of only 210 and microloading? I’d honestly switch to low-incline bench or any other variation for a while (until you stall out on that one, too) and then switch back or so… Maybe go from 5*5 to something which is a little more flexible in general.

Even with micro plates you’ll end up stalling on the bench (and probably sooner rather than later… And your progress in general will be very slow anyway…).