T Nation

Progressive Overload for Bench, Squat, Press, Deadlift, Chin Up

Coach I’m looking to use basic progressive overload to bring up these 5 lifts as I feel getting strong at these will give me good overall size.

  1. If using 3 or 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps for these would you recommend the double progression model? (Only increase weight when I can get 6 reps on all sets)

  2. Or would you recommend if you can reach top end or exceed rep range on a set, increase weight for next set…


             Set 1 - 225x6 (achieved 6 so increase weight)
             Set 2 - 230x6 (achieved 6 so increase weight)
             Set 3 - 235x5 (keep same weight)
             Set 4 - 235x4 (start next workout with 235)

Thank you for your time and information!

1 Like

I’ve always wondered about this also and I decided to wait until I could hit 6 on all sets. It seems your muscles, tendons, ligaments could all benefit from the steadier progression.

Yea I think I may try the same. I hope CT can give a quick overview and give his advice as well!

Why not alternate between the two? The second seems to have you working with slighter intensities, so after whatever number of successive improvements with the double progression model you could switch to the other.

Another option, if you are dead-set on 3-4 work sets would be
Week 1-2: 8/8/6/6
Week 3-4: 8/6/6/6
Week 4-6: 6/4/6/4

And then, maybe after, a shorter, 4 week stint, of slightly more intensive work but more sets. So, 7/5/3 (2 waves) for two weeks, and then 5/4/3 (2 waves) or 5/4/3/2/1. 6/4/2 would also be an option.

I don’t know if this is only an example or its actually what you are doing, but the weights going 5 lbs up per set seem a little tight to me, the only time I would go up so little is if in trying to hit a near max single or maybe double and I feel like I’m nearing it but im not quite there.

About the progression, if you want to make sure you hit the reps before increasing the weight, IMO it would be better to do something like a JM Blakely type progression model of 6x6, or 4x6 in your case. I don’t know if you are familiar with it, it basically goes by a certain number of reps you must hit, so say you decide you gonna hit 36 reps in 6 sets. You work up to your 6RM according to the program, then do the same weight 5 more sets and you repeat it weak after week until you hit 6 on sets then move up. Keep in mind overall volume must be low if you are hammering 6RMs on multiple lifts each week, as well as only doing it once a week at that intensity per lift, and keeping workout density low (i.e longer rest periods).
Or if you insist on changing the weights per set, as Allberg said, a wave loading type progression model would work but even then you probably want slightly larger difference per set than 5lbs except for smaller movements like curls or triceps extensions, maybe military presses depending on your strength level, otherwise you either start too heavy and that’s why you can’t finish the rest of your sets properly, or too light and you won’t get the desired stimulation. To me it seems that way anyway.

Both work. The first one refers to the double progression model: you use the same weight for all of your work sets and add weight once you can complete all of your work sets with a specific weight at the top of the selected rep range.

Option 2 is closer to the RM system where your goal is to reach the top weight you can do for the selected number of reps in one set.

From experience, option 2 can lead to faster gains BUT. you will hit a plateau much sooner. Option 1 is slower but can be sustained for longer and likely yield larger overall gains.

But it all boils down to your personality. Personally I’m not patient enough for the double progression model, even though I know how effective it is. So I normally use the RM system (option 2) but have to change exercises or methods more often.

1 Like

Thank you for your response. When you use the RM method, do you just work up to 1 all out set or do you do three or four like my example?

I’m just really trying to find best way to get big and strong on these lifts.

I normally do a mini-ramp over the planned work sets. For example, if I have 5 sets of 5, I gradually increase weight until I reach my top weight. If I reach my top weight early (due to fatigue or bad load planning) I’ll drop it down for the remaining sets by around 10%.

If the reps are higher than 8, I normally want to have the heaviest set as the second work set, because higher reps lead to more fatigue than activation.

So it would go like either:

Option 1:

Set 1: 100lbs x 8
Set 2: 120lbs x 8
Set 3: 110lbs x 8
Set 4: 100lbs x 8


Option 2
Set 1: 100lbs x 8
Set 2: 120lbs x 8
Set 3: 120lbs x 6
Set 4: 120lbs x 6

With sets of 6 reps or less I like to ramp up to the heaviest set, which I try to be the last set. With 6 to 8 it will vary based on the day.


With this approach, do you have a specific percentage in relation to your estimated 1RM from which you pre-plan what your work sets ought to be or do you keep “plugging away” and then count your sets backwards from when you “fail” to hit your target reps?


I rarely use percentages because strength can fluctuate a lot from day to day. What is 85% ‘on paper’ could be 90-95% on a bad day or 75-80% on a good day.

I was thinking more like a ballpark. Using a percentage, or two, to establish a baseline or range in relation to which any performance (be it a good day or a bad day) within said range would be considered adequate.

I’m thinking about this graphic you’ve shared previously,

Then if someone wanted to do four sets of eight 70% would be a good ballpark.

But, maybe it’d be better to phrase the question differently.

Rephrased: if you have a trainee that sees their poor performance as “I probably just need to push harder” rather than “that’s fatigue/bad load planning” what advice would you give them so they don’t hit those red reps far too often?