Strength gains are predicated on progressive overload and long-term commitment.
Over time our body gets used to the stresses we act upon it and – if not challenged – can stagnate further progress. This is where training “hard” comes in.
To start, we must first measure what training hard means. We could simply ask the lifter “Hey, was that set hard?” or “On a scale from 1-10, how hard was that last set?”. However, it is not that simple.
There was a recent 2017 study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research that covered this topic. The study consisted of 160 trained men, each participant was asked: “What weight do you usually lift for 10 repetitions on free-weight bench press exercise?”.
The results were, sad. Individuals performed a median of 15 repetitions with the majority within the 13-15 range (31%) and only 22% were within the 10-12 range. So, what does this all mean?
The majority of participants underestimated their own strength. They could lift more weight than they thought they could to reach the 10-repetition goal. This study is evidence that people don’t train hard enough. It also shows that our own thoughts and estimations of our strength are not good indicators of our actual capabilities.
With the truth of the study in mind, it was also found in a different study published in The Journal of Sports Science that bodybuilder had a better estimate of their own capabilities. The weights they chose to go to failure at 10 repetitions with the selected exercise were only ±1 repetition off their performance.
Unfortunately, not everybody has the experience of a bodybuilder. So, how can we more accurately measure the intensity we exert in our workouts?
This is where Mike Tuchscherer’s modified Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale comes in.
His modified version of the traditional “How hard are you working 1-10?” scale is more practical and measurable. Less focus on the feeling and more focus on the actual work being done.
As you can see in the table this version is based on how many reps could be performed after the completion of the set.
For example, if you have Bulgarian Split Squats programmed for 10 reps at an 8.5 RPE, you know you should be pushing your physical limit to near failure with 1, maybe 2 reps left in the tank. If that isn’t true, then you aren’t working hard enough. That simple.
Intensity should absolutely be programmed into every fitness plan to ensure people are working hard enough.
This is especially important for beginners. Without the right amount of experience in training, one can’t estimate what is actually hard enough – as proven by the study above. This scale should be a constant reference to give you a more reasonable way to measure the effort you put into each set.
We can’t allow ourselves to coast through our workouts anymore.
Yes, there will be the days when we feel fatigued and lack focus. But that’s where good programming comes in. Sticking to a well thought out program and trusting the process is required of everybody, especially on these days. And it is these days that we grow the most.
As you grow stronger, the weights you use will change but the intensity needs to stay the same. Hard.
Hackett, D. A., Johnson, N. A., Halaki, M., & Chow, C. M. (n.d.). A novel scale to assess resistance-exercise effort. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22873691
Helms, E., Says, J., Says, G. N., Says, B. L., & Says, A. F. (2017, August 30). The Science of Autoregulation • Stronger by Science. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.strongerbyscience.com/autoregulation/#drip
Barbosa-Netto, S., DʼAcelino-E-Porto, O. S., & Almeida, M. B. (n.d.). Self-Selected Resistance Exercise Load: Implications for Research and Prescription. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29112055
Born in South Florida and initially exposed to fitness training through the bodybuilding scene, Connor found his interest in fitness was less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. This led him to study exercise science and sports nutrition at Eastern Connecticut State University and thereafter to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
Over the past few years, Connor has made training a necessity in his life. His workouts are taken as a time to reflect and test his mental and physical limits that continue to give him an edge to carry throughout his day.
Connor is currently the Head Trainer and Strength Coach at a private gym in Hartford, CT where he trains and educates his clients on the importance of fitness and nutrition for overall health. "
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