Gaining ground: a simple method to ensure long-term progress

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The most successful method of long-term strength gains I’ve come across:  gaining ground. Here’s how it works:  You get a plate&quarter weight that you absolutely own (i.e. 95, 135, 185, 225, 275, etc.).  That’s your weight.  It’s not your PR.  It’s a weight you can hit every time you enter the gym, regardless of circumstances.  As you get stronger, you claim the next increment.  Then the next.  Then the next.  It’s sort of like a psychological placeholder that makes the weight seem like they’re never getting any heavier.  Your PR is never more than 90 pounds away from “your” weight.  For example, last spring, I owned a 455 squat.  My max was just north of 500, but I knew on my worst day I could smoke 455, and I did so a minimum of 3 times per week.  You get VERY used to seeing that weight on the bar. When I went for my first 545, it wasn’t intimidating because it was only a plate per side away from a weight I’d done (literally) 100+ times.  Plates aren’t that heavy.  If I could so thoroughly dominate 455, there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to dig out a single at 545.  When I claimed 495, PRing at 585 wasn’t a big deal.  My placeholder had moved.  Now 495 was my easy weight, which made 585 much more doable. The placeholder is physical as much as it is psychological.  Eventually 365 felt like 315 did.  Then 405 feels like 365 did.  PRs are never more than 90 extra pounds on your back/in your hands.  This is just an idea, but I bet it has to do with bones thickening in response to habitually handling a load.  Whatever the reason, scary weight become boring, and unthinkable weight become targets as you gain more ground.  There’s nothing better than walking out a PR attempt and knowing you’re going to smoke it as soon as you feel the weight on your back. It’s also a buffer against bad days.  You own a specific weight.  So what if you don’t want to go heavier that particular day?  At least that weight is still yours.  As long as you are consistent, progress becomes nearly unavoidable over time. I think it’s a concept that fits into the general paradigm of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-axis-governed set points as well.  You establish a new set point as your base when your body’s systems adapt to it as the new “normal.”  Then you improve again. The reason this was on my mind, I suppose, is that I feel like I’ve finally claimed 585.  Feels good  🙂 p.s. I’d guess this same approach would work for other endeavors as well.  Specifically I’m thinking running.  Maybe you have a 5k time that you want to hit even on your worst days.  You’d make sure you AT LEAST run that pace, and then PR on days you’re feeling it.  Over time you bump it down 10-15 seconds at a time.  I’ve never done it though, so I don’t know if it would work.  If I ever tried running, that’s probably the approach I’d take though.


4 thoughts on “Gaining ground: a simple method to ensure long-term progress”

  1. No lie, just this last week i decided to transition to what I’ve been calling “a big plate” program, where I hit at least a single with a 45/25 combo i could do with the flu, then take the 25s off for 5 sets of super explosive 5. my plan is to smoke each lift, turn the top singles into triples and eventually sets of 5, then up the top single to the next 45 increment. The benefit of this progression is that it’s as much psychological as it is physical–it’s easy to be confident when you know you’re going to win.

    1. I like the sound of that. If memory serves, Dan John wrote about a program pretty similar to that on T-Nation a couple years ago. Keeping everything explosive sounds a bit like Sam Byrd as well (although the progression is different). Sounds like a solid program to me. I may do that after my next meet, actually. Make sure you remind me!

  2. Greg i did not quite understand the article. You chose a weight which you are able to crush every time you do it. But are you doing it for one rep ? Like an extremely conservative max every day you squat or should you do the weight for reps?

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