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I'm a 50 yo man doing general core strengthening exercises with adjustable dumbbells at home. Generally each of the exercises I do at medium weight, 3 sets of 10 reps a few times a week. My dumbbell weight settings go up in 5 pound increments.

This week I re-checked my maximum weight on all my exercises, increasing most of them, and landed at an awkward point with one of them. My overhead shoulder press now maxes out at 44 pounds on each side (88 pounds total). By my calculation, this gives a per-side heavy lift weight (85%) of 37.4 pounds, and a medium lift weight (75%) of 33.0 pounds.

The problem is, both of those numbers are closer to the 35-pound step on my weights than anything else (i.e., my medium and heavy lifts call for the same setting). Trying to do my standard medium exercise at 35 pounds, I can barely complete a single 10-rep set, and fail about halfway through on later ones.

What should I do in this situation?

  • Drop back to the 30-pound setting for 10-rep sets, and wait for some later test to show a higher max weight.
  • Just use the 35-pound setting, try for 10-rep sets, and wait for that to improve.
  • Keep the 35-pound weight but reduce the target repetitions.
  • Something else?

2 Answers 2

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In this scenario, I would look at approaching linear progression with a different metric, perhaps with reps instead of weight. The following is an example of implementing the "Double Progression Method".

You're moving from 30 lb x 10 to 35 lb x 10 but that's too big of a jump, you can try 30 lb x 11. If you compare total volume, you're at 300, wanting to move to 350, but you can try 330 instead. Alternately, 35 lb x 9 is going to be 315 which would still be progress when comparing volume.

So, my suggestion would be to progress with 35x9 or 30x11, and once those are easier move to 35x10 or 30x12. My preference is to 35x9 since I feel there's value in just handling the heavier dumbbells.

This approach doesn't hold true for everything. You can't compare 30x10 to 300x1. In this scenario though, I think it can help to push through.

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    I've heard this schema called the "double progression method" in body building contexts. Progressing sets from 8 up to 12, then resetting to 8 when increasing load. Jan 14 at 21:27
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    @ThomasMarkov -- that's fantastic. I didn't know it had a name but that's exactly what this is.
    – C. Lange
    Jan 14 at 22:46
  • Checked this as the selected answer. Have been doing this for the week, and it seems to work nicely so far to end the set right about failure. Thanks! Jan 20 at 4:00
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When the weights don't come in small enough increments, one good option is to vary the reps. I particularly like this approach with weighted dips, but it works for all sorts of exercises, especially upper body pressing.

A program aiming for "medium weight, 3 sets of 10 reps a few times a week" depends on sets of 10 and changes the weight to progressively challenge the athlete. Ten reps is roughly equivalent to eight or 12, so one way to work around big weight jumps is to start with 3 sets of 8, then the next workout is 3 sets of 9, then 3x10, then 3x11, then 3x12, then add weight and drop back down to 3x8. Adding sets is another way to stretch out the usefulness of the weight on the lighter side of the jump: after 3x12 do 4x12, then 5x12, then add weight and do 3x8.

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