Challenge Sets

Is this an old school philosophy with limited application?

When it comes to challenge sets, are there valid reasons, based in “science” on why they should be done?

Do they make one bigger or stronger? Forget all the rest. It's that simple. Do they have reason to be placed into a training program?

I am not even sure this is a point of debate anymore. When I think of all the training parameters, applications and methods, I can’t think of any valid physical reason as to why challenge sets need to be a part of any training program.

Let's step back a minute.

What are challenge sets?

These are any set in which the lifter is challenged beyond what they “think” they may be capable of doing. In some aspects this could be a one rep max but more often than not it is trying to see how many reps they can get with a set weight. For example, their best with 315 is eight reps so they challenge themselves to see if they can do 12.

These sets can also be strip sets, up sets, or anything that is going to mentally challenge the lifter. This would be when 100 reps sets, timed sets and many others fail.

With any of these, almost all coaches will tell you they will not have any real positive training impact on the programs. In fact, they may actually be detrimental because they are very hard to recover from... and... maybe flirting with injury because the body will be pushed to, and past its limit. This is why I like to refer to them as gut check sets.

Then, why am I writing this?

Because I lean toward old school ways and it seems to me too many people today don’t know how to handle and deal with challenges and adversity.

Just look around. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? I really wonder if things would be different if everyone had to spend several years in a weight room busting their ass and doing challenge sets here and there.

It's kind of hard to blame someone else for not getting the last three reps of 30 on the leg press because you didn’t breathe right on the first 10.

It's not a good feeling when you are three reps away from your challenge rep goal and you racked it before you finished. You can make all the excuses you want but you KNOW when you decided to rack it you made that decision to stop. Nobody likes to make that decision and if we are honest, we all have... and we deal with it. For many, however, they never get used to it, and hate doing it, and never go into it thinking they will fail. Maybe that's not stated well. Getting "used to it" is not how it sounds. Not as, getting used to stopping short and failing. What I mean is getting used to having their back against the wall and knowing they wont always come out ahead... but... not letting that stop them from the next challenge.

In fact, the more times they are pressed and put into these positions the better they become at picking what challenges to take, how to approach the set, how to do the set, and how to finish the set... AND... The bigger and harder the challenges become!

In fact, over time, even though these sets suck... they begin to look forward to the next challenge because...

They learn how to deal with adversity, deal with self talk, and deal with failure... and success.

I guess this is where I’m different than others. I do see how these sets can work against the general goals of the lifter, but I see how they can REALLY help the global goals of the individual because isn’t the weightroom simply a microcosm of life?


Dave Tate Blog


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