By Andrew McGunagle
When working towards improved strength, it’s very easy to get caught up striving towards one big, lofty, one-repetition maximum number. If you’re not careful, the major milestones you shoot for - 185, 225, 315, 405, 500, and so on - can cause you to make poor programming decisions.
If the gap between your current abilities and your goal is too large, you might have a tough time making a plan that is efficient. Often, people in this situation write out non-specific and indirect programs, they hope for some sort of progress, and they end up floating around in mid-milestone purgatory for years.
Similarly, impatience can cause individuals to create plans that are unrealistic. After achieving a goal that took many months - years, perhaps - to achieve, they get over-ambitious and put together a 12-week plan to, say, take their deadlift from 405 to 500. After a few weeks of extreme workloads, they often lose the precious momentum they built when they busted past their last plateau. Frustration starts to mount, and stagnation usually occurs.
If your only measure of progress is the next big number, then it can be difficult to know if you’re headed in the right direction if you aren’t regularly testing your max. Unfortunately, constantly testing your max isn’t always the best way to build that lift. Therefore, it is important to create a multitude of high-carryover mini-goals that will provide you with the conviction you’re on course and moving forward while you do the higher-volume work that will actually spur progress. The kicker is that these mini-goals must accurately indicate that you are, in fact, on course and moving forward. If they don’t correlate with your main goal, then you’re wasting your time working toward them.
The value of mini-goals is best measured by their specificity to the main lift and the weakest points in that lift. If your main milestone goal is a heavier 1RM in a certain lift, then improving your 2RM, 3RM, 4RM, and 5RM for that lift will be the best indicators of progress for that max. If you’re going to able deadlift 500 pounds, then you should be able to deadlift 455 pounds for a certain number of reps and a certain difficulty (RPE). Think beyond rep maxes into various rep-RPE combinations, and you’ve got lots of mini-goals to shoot for.
This contention shouldn’t be revelatory for many of you, but I would like to offer that having a broad swath of concrete numbers to work towards and ensuring that these numbers remain in balance is a unique and valuable way to approach your training plan. In order to easily generate concrete numbers to work towards, I offer the table you’ll find in the excel document linked below.
Use the table to brainstorm options to creatively program in ways that ensure each rep-RPE value in the 1 to 5 rep range improves and no combination lags behind. Insert a few future 1RMs into the 1RM cell and look at the multitude of PRs you can work towards. Quit obsessing about just one ultimate number – extrapolate and suddenly you’ll have plenty of momentum-building mini-goals that actually relate to the one big, glorious lift you envision.