This article was originally penned by Dr Mike Zourdos who has an extensive impressive history in powerlifting as well as a long list of educational credentials.
When it comes to load progression, many of us have done a few of these strategies without even being aware of it. Some of the ways to progress in load I’ve heard go as follows:
If work is below an 8 RPE, progress up by 2.5% for that week and see how next week feels, repeat until at 8 RPE…new cycle of training changes things up on a monthly basis so you shouldn’t hit an 8 RPE until near week 4 of each training cycle. This was presented by kizentraining, as well as by Jake Noel.
Another progression strategy I’ve seen is more linear – follow plan and at week 3 do an amrap for squat and bench and based on number of reps your working 1rm will go up and your linear percentages will change with that new number. DL changes based on speed of bar that is tracked by coach or can be tracked personally,.
From the article:
Surely, we all look to continuously increase the load we are lifting, but how are we supposed to do this? What strategies can you use to dictate load progression?How much should you increase load each week? Are different progression strategies appropriate for experienced and novice lifters?
There are 3 strategies for load progression: These strategies are:
An arbitrary progression
Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise
Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) progression
Arbitrary progression – Great for novice or intermediate lifters as the progression tends to add weight quickly.However, just because you can add 10kg, doesn’t mean that you should.
When a novice individual increases load too fast, this causes a constant increase in volume, and in the short-term, moderate volumes may be preferable for both strength (2,3) and hypertrophy (3) to high volumes. Therefore, I see no reason for a novice individual to adapt to a higher training volume early on, especially if there is no guarantee that extra benefit will occur. Further, it is likely that a novice individual is still making great strides to improve their technique on multi-joint lifts (i.e. squat, bench press, deadlift, etc.), thus rapid load progressions could increase injury risk when technical mastery is not yet achieved. Therefore, in novice to intermediate lifters, it may be a successful strategy to prescribe an excellent load with a simple 2.5kg progression increase.
Final Word: An arbitrary progression from week to week cannot be used universally since rate of strength adaptation is individual; however, it could keep novices from progressing too much too soon by stipulating they stick to a simple 2.5kg weekly load increase.
Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (APRE) – This is what I’m currently using with this training block.
Pros – as long as you are using a % increase of load this is a good model as it is based on how many reps you can achieve based on last week’s (month’s) numbers (which are based on the previous week/month).
Cons – that AMRAP might be over what you can usually do due to excitability and you knock out 10 reps when you usually could only knock out 8, which can lead to progressing in too much load and missing reps down the road.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) – RPE 10 – no more in the tank, 9 – 1 rep, 8 – 2 reps…you can utilize RPE for load progression (lower RPE = more reps x sets). This can be done looking at last training session or looking at an average RPE based across all sets.
Pros – it doesn’t get much more individualized than RPE.
Cons – is the RPE accurate? How long does it take for a lifter to know for sure? Noobs might think they are at a 7 RPE when they are much closer to a 9.
Final Word: Load progression with RPE has distinct advantages in that it individualizes progression not only for the lifter but also across different days of the week (if different repetition zones are used within a week); however, this strategy is predicated on the lifter providing accurate RPE values.