Many new lifters and even advanced ones are always in a rush to add weight to the bar. At this point in my career, I’m happy to hit a five-pound personal record (PR) on any lift. One thing I always strive for is rep PRs. I don’t care what anyone says: if you do six reps with a weight you could do it only for five before, you got stronger. Too many people focus on hitting the big 1RM and forget the little stuff that gets them there.
As a beginner, yes, you can and should easily add weight to the bar each week. However, as a beginner, you are more likely to hurt yourself due to poor form and adding too much weight to the bar. I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that this is a marathon, not a sprint—or as Dave likes to say, a series of short sprints. Either way, if you rush each week, you are on your way to a plateau, burnout, or worse, an injury. This is why so many don’t last in strength sports. It only gets harder the stronger you get, and let’s be honest: people are lazy. After the newbie strength gains are over, you really need to work hard and train smart. That’s what separates the beginners from those who become advanced. So, if you are in this for the long haul, here are four ways you can get stronger without adding weight to the bar.
Add More Sets
Adding a set each week is a great way to increase your training volume. I’ve done this with both compound movements and accessory lifts. Take a simple bicep curl, for example. Start with the typical hypertrophy protocol of 3x8. The following week, use the same weight for four sets of eight reps, then 5x8. One way I have implanted these is with deadlifts after my main heavy pulls. An example would be to start with your top set of a heavy double of 605. Then, drop down to 65% of your 1RM for 6x4 at 420 pounds. In week 2, you can add two sets, so 8x4, and in the final week, do 10x4 at 420 pounds. I guarantee that 10 x 4 will be a killer.
Accomplish More Work in Less Time
I rarely see anyone time his or her rest periods anymore. Trust me, you do not need 10 minutes in between sets. Instead of using your phone to text and check the gram in between sets, use it to time how long you are unnecessarily sitting on your ass. For your main movements, you shouldn’t need any more than five minutes in between, and for your accessory lifts, you’ll need two minutes at the most. Start shaving the rest time down each week and watch how much better shape you are in. Also, another added benefit is that you won’t be in the gym for more than three hours to do four exercises!
Add More Reps
This one I feel is used more commonly, and it’s great. Like I said, more reps than you could do before is a huge improvement. I love hitting rep PRs, and I feel that I can hit them more consistently than I can weight PRs. However, over the long haul, as I keep hitting rep PRs, I can still achieve the weight PRs, which is what it all comes down to on the platform. This is why 5thSet and 5/3/1 are so successful—all about hitting constant rep PRs. What I find funny here is that people like to hit only certain numbers. Reps of one, two, three, five, eight, 10, 12, 15, and 20 are apparently the only ones you can do. Many times I’ve had a client do one more rep on an accessory lift where I didn’t feel that he or she could add five pounds. This is especially true for dumbbells, where you are really adding 10 pounds total when you make a jump. So, if they did 3x8, then in the following, go 3x9. I know, it looks funny, but yes, nine! Again, it’s okay to use all different rep schemes if it’s more than you can handle before you are on the right track.
Move the Same Weight with Better Form
Now this is going to be a tough one for a lot of you. It’s not easy to take the same weight you have done before, and I get it. You want to hit that PR no matter how small it is. However, if you grind out a set of three squats that were super ugly, and you barely finished, I really don’t think it’s smart to increase the weight. This is where everyone videoing his or her lift is a great thing. Many times I’ve gone back through my videos to watch an ugly set I did, to do it again. But this time, I’d do it with better form, not shaking like a newborn baby deer. It may not be more weight on the bar, but doing the same weight with better form still means you got stronger! So, check the ego, and make sure that you are in it for the long haul, as otherwise, you will crash and burn like most.