When it comes to strength training for beginners and advanced lifters alike, there is always an element of the unknown when deciding which weights to grab for any given drill. You want to challenge yourself but not at the expense of getting hurt.
So how do you know when to de-load, maintain, or progress when it comes to your strength training program? Read on for a breakdown on how you can estimate what weights to grab during your strength training workouts, and when to progress.
First Things First
When you start getting serious about your strength training program, you have to let go of the expectation that every workout will be your BEST ONE EVER. There is a learning curve to lifting, and depending on who you are, it can take up to two or three weeks to figure out – per program!
Below assumes a 6-week program, which I believe is the perfect amount of time to realize progress without getting boring. That’s just me, I know of trainers who will program three weeks, four weeks, maybe even twelve. There’s no one right or wrong answer.
The Holistic Program Overview
If your program is six weeks, look at it this way, week-by-week.
Six: Go all fahking out; this is it.
*There is more than one way to progress than loading up your bar or going up in dumbbells. If everyone progressed with every workout, we’d all be squatting 1,000’s of pounds. An understanding of how to advance your rep without going up in weight is absolutely crucial. LUCKILY I’VE ALREADY OUTLINED HOW!
Breaking Down Your Strength Training Program Week-by-Week
You’ll see the first week isn’t about PR’s, running yourself into the ground, or having the BEST workout ever. The first week should be spent understanding the technicality of your drills and the recovery time needed between sets, but also between workouts. Grab a set of dumbbells or start with an empty bar and play around with a few loads and reps until you feel like you’re in the right spot.
You know the drills and how they play together intraworkout and from day-to-day. Focus on some form of progressive overload. Not sure what that is? Check it out HERE.
GO ALL OUT THIS IS YOUR LAST WEEK GIVE IT ALL YOU GOT. Go for a PR, an extra rep, isolation, or two. Relish in your progress and acquired strength. Way to go, bish.
How to Manage Weight Throughout Your Strength Training Program
Your form is everything. It has to be perfect, and it’s the number one priority. Reps and weight don’t mean shit if you’re at risk of an injury, not performing the drill properly or the proper muscles aren’t firing when they’re supposed to.
I track my workouts using a simple tracker template in Google Sheets, so I have a running log not only of what I’m doing in my current program week to week but what I’ve done in the PAST. You won’t do every drill in every program, and you won’t remember what you did 6-weeks ago if exercises don’t carry over. Tracking is the FIRST step to staying organized and holding yourself accountable for progress.
For example, if my current program calls for 3×8 sets of low bar squats, but it’s been a minute since I’ve done them, I’ll look back in my tracker and be like, “Okey, I did 3×12 sets of low bar squats at 135lbs back in December. It’s been a second since I’ve done them, but I’ve had some solid training since then so…I’ll warm up with about 60% of that, and then take one set at 135 to acclimate.”
Assuming the warm-up and the first set at 135 goes well I’ll add 5-10lbs to the bar and continue. If the warm-up and the first set were rusty, I’ll maintain, or reload by 5-10lbs and prioritize form and range of motion.
My Strength Training Tracker Looks Like This:
Notes: For video links to demos, coaching or form call outs
In each weekly column, I will track the dumbbell weight or load on a bar (including the bar). You can track any way you want, but make it consistent for the whole program. I’ll make notes to myself from week to week to guide the choices I make the following week. Example any time there is a (P) I know I’m ready to PROGRESS. Any time I use (M) I know I need to maintain to keep proper form. You have to develop your system, so find something that works for you.
My Preference for Strength Training Progression:
My preference, as a trainer, and fitness enthusiast, is super conservative. Therefore my strength training workouts and progressions are too.
- Drop Down: If your form goes to shit or you’re sore for more than three days after the workout
- Maintain: If your form was near its breaking point, you felt mildly out of control, or you reached failure
- Progress: If you were able to complete each rep of every set without reaching a burn or exhaustion. If I can maintain my form, but struggle through the last few reps, I’ll progress SLOWLY as well.
I use this guide intraset or week-to-week. If I’ve never done a drill, I’ll start with just the bar, and add on weight EACH SET. Or, I’ll go up in dumbbells each set. Remember, it’s not a perfect science, and you’re not going to go up in weight EVERY workout. Play around with it.
YOU ARE NOT BREAKING THE LAW IF YOUR WORKOUT CALLS FOR 3 SETS OF 12 SQUATS AND YOU DO FOUR INSTEAD OF THREE BECAUSE YOUR FIRST SET WAS WAY TOO LIGHT OR TOO HEAVY AND IT TOOK YOU A SECOND TO FIGURE THAT OUT. REPEAT, IT IS OKAY!
I LOVE tracking my strength training workouts not only to keep myself accountable but to have HARD DATA of what I’m able to achieve. I RARELY go into a workout with no clue on how or what to lift because I’ve been in this practice for so long. Start today and get whatever it is you want. Your goals can become your reality if you do your part.
Do you want this tracker template?! Download it HERE! YOU ARE WELCOME!!!