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I've been following an online 12-week program for power-lifting and strongman training. The program weights are designed around your 1RM.

Each week the program increases the weight and if the past set felt fairly comfortable to me I've increased it by an additional 2%. Every week so far I've felt very confident with my sets, so I've added that additional 2%.

This week I started week 6 and the workouts have changed slightly. The previous flat bench press has now become inclined bench press and for the life of me I could not complete a single prescribed set. The calculated weight for the incline bench press was lower than flat bench but even with that I couldn't complete 2 reps for the 5 x 5.

So, I'm wondering what I should do now. I could:

  1. Do nothing, continue to next week, power through, it was just a bad day.
  2. Continue to next week without the additional 2% increase but with the program's standard weight increase.
  3. Continue to next week but decrease my bench 1RM so that the program weight is lower.
  4. Re-do week 6 at this weight until I can complete the set.
  5. Re-do week 6 with a decreased bench 1RM.

My question is how should one approach a failed set in a strength-training program?

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This sort of thing is at risk of happening with any non-autoregulated program (i.e. any program that uses fixed percentages of 1RM rather than RPE or RIR), and it's really the responsibility of the program to specify what to do if the trainee fails to complete the prescribed sets and reps. So if the program doesn't say what to do in this scenario, then I'd say your first action should be to contact the author of the program and ask them what to do.

That said, if you'd previously been fine with the program's weight increases but struggled the moment incline bench was introduced, that's a big clue that the cause was either that the weights chosen for incline were inappropriate, or that you're just not as familiar with that particular lift as you are with a regular bench press. So my recommendation would be to experimentally find a weight where you can do the prescribed reps and sets at a similar level of effort to what your previous benching felt like, and just continue from there. This should be easy if the program sets the initial weight as a proportion of 1RM and then tells you to add a specified amount per workout, as you can just replace the initial 1RM calculation with an experimentally chosen weight. To determine this starting weight you can just pick a weight you could quite comfortably do for 5 reps, and increase the weight each set until you hit a weight that feels appropriate. Only start counting your sets once the weight gets heavy enough to be a challenge.

You should also consider that you may inadvertently be using a different incline to what the program's author intended. For example, I find that at a 45° incline, I lift 15% less weight than on a flat bench for the same number of reps. But if I sit on a steeper incline then the weight has to go down even further. So if you're on a particularly steep incline, then reducing the angle would be a good adjustment as well.

  • I do think that being unfamiliar with the lift played a role. I also did not know about the incline and I don't know what I had it set at -- I think above 45°. I'll take that into account. What is your suggestion for the rest of the days for the 'non-autoregulated program'? Since it continues week by week and I've only failed the sets on the one day, do I hold everything else back as well (i.e. repeat the week) or move on to the next week with the weights adjusted for just the bench? – C. Lange Jul 26 at 22:11
  • How are the weights for each week specified? Did you do a 1RM test at the start and then each week is a percentage of that, or if each week specified relative to the previous week? Determine a good weight for one week and then if the former, adjust the 1RM for bench to match your chosen weight, and if the latter, just base the next week off the chosen weight for this week, – David Scarlett Jul 29 at 6:22
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    I.e. If it says week 6 should be incline benching 75% of your week 1 bench 1RM for 10 reps, then you'd find a weight that feels difficult enough for 10 reps, and divide that weight by 0.75 to get your adjusted week 1 bench 1RM, which you'd continue using for all your incline press weight calculations. – David Scarlett Jul 29 at 6:24
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To keep it simple, If its a program based off one rep maxes and you can't do sets on, for example, week 3 then you need to lower the estimated 1 rep max until you can complete the sets. I'd suggest lowering by 2.5% until you can do the perscribed reps.

As a side note for powerlifting/strength sports in general. Any assistance exercises (e.g. anything not done in competition) shouldn't be based off a 1RM of what is essentially another lift. It's not reasonable to base an incline bench set off a % of your normal bench press because they are completely different.

  • I did think that was strange. It is still a bench workout so I didn't argue or think too much but I know my shoulders are much weaker than my chest. I interpreted it as a sign that my shoulders may be lagging too far behind as well. To clarify your first point, do you suggest going to week 4 with the weight lowered 2.5%, if I fail, continue to week 5 with another 2.5% down, etc, or in one workout just keep lowering by 2.5% until I can. – C. Lange Jul 26 at 22:14

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