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My workout is mostly tension-focused with two sets per exercise. I can't perform as well in my second sets so I'm kind of incentivised to cheat, not to do quality reps to the same extent as I do in my first sets. I started to unload weight plates from the dumbells after first sets so that I don't have that excuse to cheat anymore. My suspicion was that my strength gains may be compromised by my inability to keep my performance up to scratch, quality-wise, throughout all sets. Besides, it adds a metabolic component to your training, I guess, which is beneficial if you want endurance gains too. Is it a good idea to reduce resistance with each set?

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Everyone is different. I think it is really important that you log and keep track of your lifts and your progress so that you finds what works for you. Here are some key metrics:

1 RM

One rep max, the max amount of weight you can lift for one rep. Can be calculated from a lift of n repetitions using a 1 RM calculator.

NL/week

Number of lifts per week measured in 1 RM. For instance if your 1 RM benchpress is 100 kg and you lift 80 kg for a total of 25 reps one week your NL/week is 0.8x25 = 20

RIR

Reps in Reserve. If you can lift 80 kg for 10 reps but instead only do 7 reps you have 3 RIR. Can be looked up from your 1RM using the table in the 1 RM calculator linked to above.

AWOL

Average weight of lift. Say your 1RM is 100 kg and you lift 60 kg for 30 reps and 80 kg for 20 reps one week. AWOL = (60 * 30+80 * 20)/(50 * 100) = 68%

Up until some months ago I would train lat pulldowns like this 2x a week:

  • Set 1: 68kg: 6 (RIR:0)
  • Set 2: 68kg: 5 (RIR:0)
  • Set 3: 68kg: 4 (RIR:0)

1 RM = 79 kg, AWOL = 86 %, NL/week = 25.8

I had very slow progress with this approach.

What I do now 2x a week:

  • Set 1: 50 kg: 10 (RIR: > 10)
  • Set 2: 59 kg: 8 (RIR: 6)
  • Set 3: 68 kg: 6 (RIR: 3)
  • Set 4: 77 kg: 6 (RIR: 0)

1 RM = 89 kg, AWOL = 69 %, NL/week: 41.

So a 60 % increase in volume compared to my previous approach, but a reduction in intensity and only going to failure in last set.

For me this seems to work better.

"Volume is the most critical factor for overall gains in strength and size. The most reliable way to get stronger is to do more."(1)

"For most of your training, most of the time, 70-80% of your 1rm is a good intensity range to stay in because it’s sufficient intensity to still have a strong effect on strength, but it’s not so heavy that you compromise the amount of volume you can handle."(1)

Here is a week of the popular 5/3/1 program (Boring But Big):

Monday

  • Set 1: 65% x 5 (RIR:11)
  • Set 2: 75% x 5 (RIR:5)
  • Set 3: 85% x 5+(RIR:0)

Thursday

5 sets x 10 reps @ 60 % (RIR:10)

From my calculations: AWOL = 60%, NL/week = 38.8

So this is quite similar to what I am myself doing but the AWOL is a bit lower.

For me as in the 5/3/1 program the key seems to be to use some submaximal ("easy", high RIR) sets as a mean to accumulate volume without a lot of fatigue. This principle seems to be taken even further in Sheiko programs. This is a good description of the logic behind Sheiko programs from which some of the metrics above are taken.

BTW a similar principle seems to apply to running. Many of the fastest runners spend a lot of time running slow: "run slow to get fast".

(1) The Art of Lifting

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  • Sorry, but I'm not familiar with this initialism, "1RM". What does it mean? Oct 20, 2022 at 23:21
  • One Rep Max (1 RM), the max amount of weight you can lift for 1 rep.
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 5:50

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