e continue the series on the keys to progression. Today a deep dive into why the max set is best..
To understand some of the terms used, read that first article in this current series, Progression Keys – Intensity, Volume, Density, Quality, RPE right here.
As mentioned, strength training is all about progression. Get this right and you will get better. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re not progressing than you’re doing it wrong. The main reasons would be not doing enough work to trigger adaption…or not recovering enough between training sessions. (There are other things that can stop progression such as mental blocks, pain/injuries, etc. but those are the main two things.)
Lately, I’ve been using more and more of the max set. That is the maximum number of reps you can do in a single set. And when I say maximum, I’m not necessarily saying go to failure. You can still progress in a max set even if you keep a rep or two or more in the bank. (For those that have been following, remember that Intensity and Severity are two different things as is discussed in this article.)
If you have enough different progressive intensities, then you can usually progress with just single max sets.
An example is in order.
Inside of The Ultimate Guide to Handstand Pushups I break down the different tweaks you can make as far as positioning is concerned into an easy, medium and hard handstand pushup. This is done without changing the height, or anything else major, just small tweaks to hand and head position.
In my current training I’ve been doing these easy, medium and hard handstand pushups. Plus, to move beyond those I have also used increased ranges of motion with two heights, pushup handles and on chairs making a full-range variation available.
Realize that if you’re working with weights this is easier. All you need is to do max sets with certain weights and don’t have to rely on variations the same way you do in bodyweight exercise. For instance with deadlifts you could be working with 315, 365, 405, 455, and 505 lbs.
Back to the original example, here are the five progressive intensities I’m using.
1. Easy Handstand Pushups
Currently in my current training cycle my max sets in each version are as follows:
1. Easy = 15
2. Medium = 9
3. Hard = 6
4. Handles = 4
5. Full-Range = 2
I have done more than these previously, but I’m working back up to my life-time PR’s, and very soon will be surpassing them all.
Now, I am also tracking volume and density on these exercises too, but increasing the max set is the main thing I’m going for.
What I’ve found is that if you have five or so progressive intensities then you can often make progress for some time without even resorting to volume or density. You can simply do max sets. But when you hit a plateau doing this, that is where volume and density come in.
I like the max set because it is very clear progress. If you can do more reps than you’ve done before you have made progress. If you can’t do more reps than before you have not.