T Nation

Speed of Progression


I've struggled with sticking with a program sometimes, usually because I think my progression has plateaud. In hindsight though, maybe it's been more a case of impatience, or naivety in terms of how fast progression should be.

Say I was doing Military Press (3x12) as the third exercise in a full body. If I get 12,10,8 out the first session, then 12,10,8 2 days later, then a week later I manage 12,11,9, does this count as acceptable progression?

Or should it really be faster than that if the program is working? Should I literally be going from 12,12,12 at weight x to 12,12,12 at x + 2.5kg (e.g.) each week?


It depends on a lot of factors.

I noticed the same thing in the past, as I wasn't able to progress very fast if I was trying to add weight to the bar every workout.

What I started doing was keeping the weight the same for a whole cycle, and instead add reps each workout.

I started with 25 reps per exercise, regardless of how many sets it took me. During the first week, it looked like this:


Then on week two, I upped the volume to 33 reps, and week three and four I was going for 40 reps.

Im on week 4 now, and most of my exercises are like this:


But some of them im able to go 15, 12, 8, 5.

I noticed a huge progression in my ability on the first set, but not necessarily on all the sets after the first one. The first set is directly related to strength, while each set after that is more dependant on recovery from fatigue.

I keep the rest periods short though,(around 60 seconds) so im not trying to fully recover between sets.

I noticed you mentioned someting about being able to go for 12,12,12. IMO, unless you are training for performance, you should never be able to do the same number of reps on sets number 2 and 3, as set 1. If you can get the same amount on all sets, you are either resting too long, or not working close enough to failure on the first set.

I know your real question was about rate of progression though. You should be able to do more each workout, or at least each week, not necessarily more weight, but more volume or shorter rest. If you are not able to, you need to do shorter loading perdiods, and greater backoff periods.

Hope this helps.



Also try getting close to your 1RM (let's say 85%) and then do the whole cycle adding more reps every time, then add the remaining 15% to complete your 1RM and you should be able to accomplish that for reps.



I think 3 sets at your working weight makes progressing a lot harder. As you've experienced, you are fatiguing a muscle early (on your first work set) then your performance suffers). Try doing progressively heavier warm ups (you could even do this 12, 10, 8) and then do a final work set with the weight you can get 6-10 reps for with an all out effort.

The first 3 sets are true warm-ups, so you are only really exerting on maybe the last rep of your 3rd warm up. Then, rest for a couple of minutes, find a spotter and do as many reps at your work weight you can. Next time you do that lift, do more weight or more reps just for that set. You don't need to worry about tracking your warm ups carefully- JUST THE WORK SET. This makes things much easier and you will progress a lot faster imho.


First time ever that I agree with something you said man :wink:


Haha, well good because you know your stuff so I'm glad there is SOME overlap in what we think (and I have learned a lot from reading your posts). I like the way Max OT program explains warm ups too...very similar concept (just warming up the muscle and acclimating to weight). So yeah OP could just do 3-5 solid reps at 85-90% of his work weight for his last warmup to acclimate (but not really fatigue).

Just don't read my last post from a few minutes ago regarding a full body program or your positive feelings may go away! (even though I don't say anything negative about splits and I was simply responding to the OP's question).


You should buy and read Practical Programming which answers all those questions, which are basic knowledge you should know. that everyone should know.

but you prob. won't

your rate of progression is an indicator of what level you are at. if you were a beginner you should be able to add 2.5kg every two days. at least. of course you are moving chicken weights as a beginner.

"If I get 12,10,8 out the first session, then 12,10,8 2 days later, then a week later I manage 12,11,9, does this count as acceptable progression?"


Unless you are quite advanced, in which case that is awesome progression. But you are not (or you would NOT be asking these questions)

As others said, 3x12 is 3 sets of 12. Not 12, 10, 8. That is not 3x12. Lower the weight so you get THREE SETS OF 12. If you do not get 12 on the last, that is too much weight. Sure, the first two sets will feel like absolute nothing. But the last 2 reps of the 3rd set should be hard. That means you have done just enough work. And guess what - it will feel like less, and you will grow more, and next week you will be able to add 2.5kg to the weights and still get 3x12.

Otherwise you are buggerising with the program. You are not "overtraining" but you are not doing what you are supposed to. You want to stimulate, just push the muscle to growth.

Now lets say you are using 80kg. But you have to dop it down to 70kg to get the 3x12. So in 4 weeks you are back to 80kg adding 2.5kg each week. So you think "that's crap I am back where I was." but no, that is not true, because what you want is to establish a pattern of increasing load that your body detects and responds to. It takes your body about 2 weeks to think "shit something is happening here". That steady progress is what matters. If you flop about pushing it too much too soon it just thinks it is some out of the ordinary event and doesn't adapt, just makes you tired.

All this is assuming you are following a good program that is suited to you and your current level of development. 3x12 might be no good maybe 5x5 instead, who knows. not me. never met you. but most standard programs work for the novice because everything works for the novice ... the late novice starts running into problems though .. which is why you need knowledge .. which is why i say read that book.


So your saying you go near failure on every single set? I've had the same idea's on the subject in the past as you but now I'm really not too sure that thats the smartest way to go about it, at least not purposely each workout


You do NOT go to failure on every set. Your first set is NOT your 12 rep max.

Are you people even paying attention?

If you were training for performance you wouldn't be using 12 reps in the first place. Except as a supp/accessory move. WHICH WOULDN'T BE DONE FOR PERFORMANCE and wouldn't be at your 12 rep max.


yea no kidding, obviously you couldnt do 3x12 with your 12 rep max. I asked him if he was doing of all of his sets (of 15,12,10, whatever) near failure, having the weight so each set is as hard as he could go.


Yes, i do every set to failure. And no this didn't lead to overtraining, and I haven't hurt myself doing this. Im also using short rest breaks.

As I said, this is not optimal for increasing strength, but is a great method for increasing endurance, mass, and losing fat.

Oh and its important to be clear on what failure is, because there are many different deffinitions. Since im training to failure on every set, I stop each set when I know I cant complete another full repetition. So im actually never really failing, but for my training this works well.

My whole point was that regardless of rep range used, if your are NOT training for performance, and ARE able to complete the same number of repetitions on each set, then you are either not pushing it hard enough or are resting too long. You wont fatigue a singificant number of muscle fibers and will not get results.


one more rep, one more set, less rest... i think these are decent indicators of progression. but if you can do 12 but stay at 10 the first week, and decide to move up to 11 the next week, youre only cheating yourself.


Oh so your stopping your sets one rep short of failure. I don't see a problem with that and I train like that sometimes as well but I don't agree that being able to get the same number of reps in more than one set means you wont work the muscle. That is how you are fatiguing the muscle. There are tons of people who who straight sets like that doing 3x8 for instance where the first set is difficult, the 2nd is harder, and the last one couldn't get another rep or possibly actually failed to get the 8th


Well if your primary goal is size, then you should be training with short rest periods that do not allow full recovery. The goal is to accumulate fatigue. And if you are able to do the same number of repetitions on each set, then you fully recovered from the previous set, and are not accumulating fatigue, or might not have fatigued enough fibers in the first place.

Its not the only way to train for sure, but at least part of the time, your goal should be accumulating fatigue each set, and thus decreasing reps each set.


But you are accumulating fatigue, you just aren't taking each set to failure. If your max for 8 reps is say 200 and you use 180 for 3x8 you can still induce fatigue. For some people taking every set to near failure like that may overtrain them


Well all that matters in the long run is that you progress. So even if this doesn't induce enough fatigue in initial workouts, it will later on.

IMO though, if you are able to do the same weight on all sets for the same number of reps, then you aren't inducing enough fatigue.