Joe Micela's Minimums and Maximums
One of the foremost problems in my own strength training is that my strength work often gets pushed around by other athletic and social endeavors. I frequently find myself in a workout without the capability to hit the numbers as scheduled.
At the moment I've simply reduced total lifting volume, and that’s fine. Another approach would be periodic back-off weeks. Or perhaps I could simply get used to self-directed workout intensities. (There are people who have fancy names for “go as hard as you can, which will vary, in each workout”. That strikes me as putting lipstick on a pig.)
In the free issue of the Performance Menu (email registration required), Joe Micela discusses a middle path I had not considered: minimums and maximums.
My program is based off set goals the athlete must hit for a workout, week, and cycle. We work partly off of set percentages and how the athlete feels. When they feel good, we push it beyond what the program calls for. When they aren’t feeling up to par they still have minimum numbers they need to hit to keep pace for their weekly and cycle goals.
So there are planned workouts, which the lifter tries to stick to. But if one is having an off day, volume or intensity can be reduced, down to a set minimum. Vice-versa for those days with a surfeit of testosterone and glycogen. I very much like this idea.
Something like “add five pounds each workout, but if the first work set is way off, reduce 5% and continue as planned”, or “add five pounds every other workout, but if the first max rep is way off, deload by 10% and add an extra two sets” seem to work quite well. As always, however, being one’s own coach is the hardest part here, particularly when as inexperienced as myself.
The way this would play out in your particular scenario depends on how bad the first set feels. If I feel totally awful in the first set, I'll sometimes go as far as reducing the weight by 15% while maintaining volume in that exercise, then calling it quits for the day. In the next workout I'll give it another shot, without moving forward to the next prescribed jump. On the other hand, if I feel pretty good, sometimes I'll only back off by 5%, or reduce the number of reps per set from 5 to 3, and otherwise complete the workout (and the workouts after) as scheduled.