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How to know if you are making progress in the gym

Posted by: PFB

Q: How do I know if I'm making progress in the gym? I've been training in the 8-10 rep range with barbell squats to build up my thighs and I haven't been able to increase the weight of my exercises.

A: The number one factor to consider is your performance. Is it increasing with each workout? Based on your question, it sounds like you've stagnated. It's time for a change.

When clients hire me to train them, one of the first variables I look at is what repetition bracket they've been emphasizing. Since you've been training in the 8-10 rep range, I'd immediately switch your rep scheme to anything but 8-10 in order to provide a new stimulus to your muscles and nervous system.

Your body will adapt to a repetition scheme quickest. Yep, it's true. For example, you could train the same movement for 2-3 months without stagnating if you constantly manipulate reps and load (but I don't recommend such an approach). Furthermore, each workout throughout the week for the same movement or body parts should consist of different reps.

Since you want to build up your thighs, and since you've been training in the 8-10 rep range, here's one way I'd approach the issue.

First, I'd have you train your thighs for three workouts per week. Second, I'd use a rep range that's different than your body is accustomed to. Third, I'd choose a new set of movements for your thighs. It could look something like this:

Monday: front squat for 8x3
Wednesday: pistols (single leg squat) for 4x6
Friday: Romanian deadlift for 3x15

Of course, the above example is just ~ well, an example. The key points are that I avoided the 8-10 rep range and I chose new movements for your thighs. So the same theory can be applied to the upper body.

Now, it's important to note that there are many ways to measure progress. Furthermore, there are many ways to set up your workouts to measure an increase in performance. It's not just about adding more weight to the bar. You could increase the number of sets with each workout:

Week 1: 8x3
Week 2: 9x3
Week 3: 10x3

You could add a rep to each set:

Week 1: 8x3
Week 2: 8x4
Week 3: 8x5

You could decrease the rest periods:

Week 1: 60s rest
Week 2: 55s rest
Week 3: 50s rest

What's cool about these progression examples is that they force you to do more work without increasing the load. Sure, adding load is great, but it's not always possible to constantly slap more iron on the bar.

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