When I was younger, I was always given some training plan where I had to do, lets say, as an example, 3x8 bench presses. Also, another rule was that if I could only do this with 70kg, I could not do 75kg 3x6 to build up to eventually being able to do 3x8 bench presses with 75kg.

I was never able to get any results from this. In the example above, I would be stuck with 70kg 3x8 bench presses for months, and then just give up because I was not making any progress.

With other heavy lifting, like pull ups, the advice is quite different; If you cannot do one, do a half. In this case, I was able to make progress. I can now do five pull ups.

This makes me suspect that I should have been allowed to build up to lifting more weight. Any time I have made progress have been when I ignored the "lift as much weight as you can lift nxm times".

Most training plans online also involve doing an exercise nxm times. The question I have is, how do you make progress? Are you supposed to lift x kilos until you can lift x+y kilos the same number of times as you could lift x kilos previously?

  • 1
    What do you consider as "progress"? Lifting more weight? Muscle mass?
    – rrirower
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:13
  • Lifting more weight... But, I would like answers about muscle mass as well (unless that makes my question too broad)
    – Avatrin
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:57
  • Usually, the idea in beginner programs is that if you can lift X weight for all your desired reps in a given workout, next time you must increase the weight. This forces your body to adapt and increase in both strength and mass, instead of remaining stuck at a certain weight.
    – erictrigo
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 8:58

3 Answers 3


I do not know where you got it from that you should not increase the weight if you cannot do it, this is simply not true.

You need to achieve some form of progressive overload. The idea of progressive overload is to try just a little more each time. If you keep benching the same weight at the same intensity, your body will adapt to it and you won't see any improvement. No more, no less.

Many tried and true programs incorporate this principle in their programming. For example: Stronglifts,Starting Strength, Wendler 5/3/1, Sheiko, Johnny Candito's programmes, etc.

Normally, a program already instructs on increasing the weight if you can perform the exercise as stated. For example, in the case of Stronglifts, you increase the weight by 2.5 kg the next time you do it if you can do a certain weight 5 x 5.

If your program does not incorporate progressive overload in some form or another, it is a bad program and you will need to introduce progressive overload. So in your example, if you can bench 70 kg for 3 sets and 8 reps, try to do 3 x 8 at 72.5 kg the next time you do it. If you fail at rep 6, that is fine, try it again the following 2 workouts. You should be able to perform it within the following workouts. If you cannot, you simply lower the weight and slowly increase again.

I hope this answers you question a little.

  • 1
    Just to add, another way of achieving overload is if you fail at say 3x8x70kg, you can try a couple weeks of 5x5 at 75-80 for some variety, before going back to conquer the scheme you failed.
    – Alec
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 13:54
  • I agree, and you could think of other ways to achieve the same volume though. I don't want to recommend one over another (6x4 vs 5x5, etc.) because how to achieve overload depends entirely on the program.
    – k88
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 14:04

Making “progress” is a very individual thing. And, contrary to what some on this site will have you believe, there's no “magic” training methodology to making gains/progress. Rather it's the result of synergy among optimum training, nutrition, recovery, and genetics. If one aspect of your training is deficient, it will affect the others.

With the above in mind, I would suggest you take a step back and begin with self inspection. Try to determine what, if anything, is holding you back. To that end, you should consider recording your training sessions and nutrition. It's somewhat difficult to correct a problem if you don't know the cause.

Lastly, as corny as this may sound, I liken training to the stock market. Most of us want short term gains when, in fact, the real gains come long term. The same holds true for a fitness lifestyle. Expecting quick gains is somewhat realistic unless you are genetically gifted. Making gains/progress requires hard work, dedication, and long term commitment. Find out what works for you and stick with it.

  • This does not answer my last question at all. However, it does answer a lot of questions I did not ask.
    – Avatrin
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 12:30

I believe the calculation you're looking for has more to do with 1RM - 1 Repetition Maximum in a given lift. You 1RM will be the way to measure your strength progression and decide on how much to increase your weight. This may go without saying, but never attempt to find your 1RM without a spot. See this article for suggestions on how to calculate your 1RM. And this one for more mathematical theory on the coefficients.

In order to build mass you need to be lifting at a higher weight and set to lower rep ratio. For body building this typically this means lifting weights that are around 85%-95% of your 1RM with a lot of sets resting around 2-3 min between each set and targeting around a maximum of 6 reps (See Table Illustration) in each set. Sets/reps ratio may vary depending on your particular goals. This is the extreme of the bulk/mass building exercise philosophy.

1RM Rep Table

As muscle mass increases so will your 1RM and you likewise adjust your weight lifting resistance using the same formula. You can adjust the percentage if you don't want to do a strength training program at the extreme levels. In fact if you're inexperienced it would be advisable to work up it more slowly until you can safely control the movement. Most of the time this type of workout will require a lifting partner to spot you AKA save you from killing yourself, literally.

For More Information See:

Keep in mind if your about to start a strength training program that rest and nutrition are very important factors. You'll want to research this of you haven't already.

For table illustration credit: see this link.

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