When it comes to progressing in the gym, what is your method? Do you go by feel and assumption, personally rating your performances? Or do you try and use a more ‘calculated’ approach?
During my formative years of lifting (let’s say my first 20), I progressed when I felt I warranted an increase. If I achieved my set number of reps with a prescribed weight, I would increase the load.
My goal was to get STRONGER each week.
We know this as progressive overload. But by how much? Well, this could be anyone’s guess…
My method was I would assess my performance and if I felt my last rep was an “all-out effort” achievement or if I could have “pushed a little more”.
With the former, I would add the least amount of weight as possible next week. And if the latter, I would add a little more…
I found that I wasn’t really being held accountable to a ‘standard’ in any way to which I made my selections. It was by pure guestimation, so I started to look for a more ‘accurate’ and ‘prescribed’ way.
That’s when I found rep calculators!
How can using a rep calculator help me achieve my physique goals faster?
If you have not heard of a rep calculator, they are a free device you can easily find via a web search. Their promise is that they can prescribe what you can lift, for how many reps (so being able to accurately prescribe your performance) through different variables).
For example, if you could bench press 100kg for 10 reps, then your maximum 1 rep weight would be 130kg.
This is a hypothetical projection that if you could lift 100kg 10 times, you could lift 130 kg just once (that’s what the calculator says).
And note, I have never found 2 exactly the same. They are all are slightly different with different calculations, so be consistent with the one you use because you will note differences.
Obviously, there are many things to take into consideration than just numbers. So I will paint a personal example of how you can use a rep calculator to project your increases and potential performance.
With my own training, I don’t stay at an allocated rep range through a whole program. Over the length of my program (typically 12 weeks), I find I get better strength and composition gains if I start at a higher rep target (12-10 reps) and then end in a lower range (6-4). The higher number here (ie 12) represents my maximum achievable target reps and the lower (ie 10) is the minimum standard of reps I wish to achieve.
Recently, I was able to blast out 105kg for 8 reps on the close grip bench press. I am not the strongest lifter, but I am always trying. And that set presented a hypothetical 1RM of 131kg
Now, moving into the lower rep range of 6-4, in the past, I would have gone for a small increase (because that 8th rep was pretty tough) of around 107.5kg. If I round up to 108, my new projected 1RM would be 127kg (calculated at 108 x 6 via the calculator’s scale). That is a decrease in performance of 4kg off my prescribed 1RM.
To ensure a progressive result, I needed to make sure my 6rm attempt delivered a projected 1RM of 132 as a minimum, which was 112kg (playing with the numbers, 1 @ 132 = 6 @ 112).
When I saw this number, I honestly thought it was MADNESS! I didn’t think I would be able to do it.
But… what the calculator does is just give you a projection of what you ‘could’ possibly do. And remember, it is completely and 100% hypothetical
There is only ONE true way to say that is an achievable result, and that is to do it!
So what it does do well, is to present a goal. A possibly… to spark your belief that “maybe, I can”. And this alone raises your standards!
So with 112kg on the bar, I squeezed out a VERY TOUGH 6 – mission accomplished!
I had 4-5kg on the bar more than I would have probably chosen without the tool, and fair to say I produced a greater stimulus, which has the potential for greater growth.
Of course, it is NOT just numbers!
As I have talked about in the past, I don’t believe it is just a numbers game and there are actually 3 elements that must work synergistically together to actually rate as progress:
- Load (weight on the bar)
- Volume (your repetitions achieved)
- Performance (how you lift the weight)
As you are lifting more weight and bringing the reps down, ensure that you are using the same form each and every week.
Same, as you start a new program and are scaling the weights back and increasing the reps, ensure your form stays rock solid.
Form is a critical point, as it is the one variable that MUST stay the same each and every week. This way, your form becomes your ‘control’, therefore you can validate your improvements are that in strength, and not via any other means.
One Final Point
This can be an effective tool to enhance your training if used correctly. Though always remember, picking up 200kg 20 times may equal a projected 1RM of 303kg, but it is not a 300kg deadlift. Picking up 300kg once is a 300kg deadlift!
Projected 1RM’s are NOT the same as 1RM’s
Happy Personal Besting!