On the 1,729th workout without a rest day I completed a personal record squat set of 185 pounds for 76 reps. This post describes the process I employed to achieve that set and many others along the way. I hope you find this post helpful so that you too can achieve rep max personal records in any lift of your choosing.
|Watch it now if you haven't seen it.
One of my favorite movies is "The Edge.” Released in 1997, it is a thrilling tale of survival starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. The story revolves around two men, Charles Morse (played by Anthony Hopkins) and Bob Green (played by Alec Baldwin), who find themselves stranded in the remote wilderness of Alaska after their plane crashes. Charles is a wealthy and intelligent billionaire, while Bob is a young and charismatic fashion photographer. The opening scenes portray Charles as reserved and intellectual, while Bob is impulsive and superficial.
The men struggle to
survive in the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan wilderness as tensions between
them rise. They soon discover that they are not alone. A massive and cunning
grizzly bear begins stalking them, pushing them to their limits.
The movie explores themes
of human instinct, the will to survive, and the thin line between the comforts
of civilization and savage nature.
As Bob's will is fading, Charles provides one of
the most powerful quotes of any movie. In this most memorable scene
he is convincing the younger Bob that they will kill the bear and live.
Charles: “Do you believe
it, Bob? Believe it?”
Bob: “I don’t know
Bob: “I don’t think it’ll
Charles: “It will work!”
Charles: “It will work!
What one man can do another can do.”
Bob: “We can’t kill the
bear, Charles. He’s ahead of us all the time. It is like he is reading our
minds. He’s stalking us for God’s sakes! He’s…”
Charles: “You want to
die, don’t you? Well, then die. I’ll tell you what. I’m not going to die. I’m
not going to die. I’m going to kill the bear. Say it, I’m going to kill the
bear. Say it, I’m going to kill the bear. Say it. Say it! I’m going to kill the
bear! Say it!”
Bob: meekly “I’m
going to kill the bear.”
Charles: “Say it again!”
Bob: “I’m going to kill
Charles: “And again!”
Bob: “I’m going to kill
Charles: “Good! What one
man can do another can do!”
Bob: “What one man can do
another can do.”
Charles: “Say it again!”
Bob: “What one man can do
another can do.”
Charles: “And again!”
Bob: yelling “What
one man can do another can do!”
Charles: “Yeah. You’re
goddamned right. Cause today, I’m going to kill the motherfucker.”
The quotes Charles
provides in this scene are mantras I have used repeatedly. I’ve said these
things to myself countless times, quoted this scene in previous blogs, and
during my time as an active-duty Marine, I would recite “What one man can do
another can do” to those I led.
Today, I’m telling you to
kill the bear.
What seems impossible,
what seems like it might kill you, is exactly what you need to do. By facing
such challenges you will grow because we
are what we do. Therefore, if you are always doing what
you know you can do, then you are choosing stagnation and ultimately, death. Prevent
the most common quagmire found in the gym by choosing risk and facing defeat. Get
so close to destruction that you can smell the bear. Then, when your
inside voice cries quit! Persevere and kill the bear.
Know that you will fail
many times before you succeed. Know that success is one fleeting moment in the
process, and that the process
itself is the goal – not the momentary gratification of
killing the bear; a single yet rewarding event that develops the way forward.
Instead, be gratified every second you are in the process, even when failure
guts you, rejoice. Strive for that next rep.
|See the bear. Prepare to kill it.
Enter: The Bear
What is this bear I speak
of? The bear is the next rep.
The bear shows its face
when you near a personal record. Its growl steals your breath on that fourth rep
when five is the goal. On the 19th when you want 20. When the weight
feels heavier than ever before, the bear is standing over you, ready to eat.
To harden yourself
against the bear, seek its teeth. There is no other way to kill
a bear than to hunt it down, rep after rep, forever reaching for more bear
skins with which to adorn your gym.
We are created at the
edge of destruction. The bear will maul you. But you will live another day,
pushing forth, taking with you the hides of one bear after another. Not every
hunt will be successful, but hunt you must, otherwise the bear wins. From a
broken heap, rise anew.
Kill the bear.
I say this to myself now
as much as I say it to you.
When I am a rep away and
my heart is beating out of my chest, I say kill the bear, and squat one
more rep. However, not every set is a successful hunt. Sometimes I rack the bar
early. Defeated. Eaten up. Knowing that I sought the bear as a fool,
underprepared in mind and body.
Last year I set out to
achieve a series of squat
rep max personal records. For twelve months I steadily worked
towards these goals. Week after week I hunted one bear after another. These are
the bears I killed. Many times I lost the fight against them, only to pursue
them and later taste victory. One by one they fell.
Last year when I listed
those squat sets, I forgot that I once had done 500x2.
I updated that to a new goal of three reps, making each set a personal
record. Some by many reps, others by one rep, and in the case of the 1-rep max,
less than two pounds. My previous 1RM was set in 2016. Now older, I am
stronger, due in large part to me growing more cunning than the bear.
|Face the bear or run from it, killing your spirit instead.
Hunter / Killer
“Training and testing are two different things.”
-Every strength coach ever
My previous best with 315 was 20 reps.
In stalking that bear, I managed to get 315x22 reps,
just three shy of my goal. That day, despite setting a new personal record, the
bear won. I died after watching the video and realizing that I quit mentally
well before my body was exhausted physically. The last rep was fast, the
position was good, yet I didn’t push for that next rep, and because of that,
the bear won.
The same happened with
365 when I got it for 12
reps and doubted myself getting the next three. The bear
won again that day. It won several times more. The same was true when hunting 405x10.
Though, by then I was more cautious, having learned from my many failed
attempts with 315 and 365, so I pursued my 10RM personal record one week at a
time, one rep at a time, being eaten up only once when hunting that 10RM@405.
First, I got 405x6.
The next week it was 405x7.
the week after. But the next week I succumbed, and the bear won… just 8 reps again.
I should have pushed for the 9th rep. I quit instead and racked the
bar. The following week I got 405x9
and much needed revenge. One week later and well prepared mentally and
physically, 405x10 was mine.
The more the bear escapes
me, the more I want it. And though I die a little when I see that I quit a set
early, I am encouraged, for one day the bear will be mine. Rep after rep I
temper myself against the bear, and rep after rep I get strong enough – both
physically and mentally – to one day kill the bear.
Hunting is training.
Killing is testing. Therefore, not every time I squat am I trying to kill
the bear. Most of the time I am training myself in preparation for that
moment when I can be successful. To be successful, most of the training should
be more difficult than the testing. Because then, when you kill the bear,
it will come easier, and you will be more prepared for the next one.
For example, the final
workout with 315 pounds the week before I finally hit 315x26 and killed the
bear was among the most difficult squat sessions I have ever completed. It
was a simple 15
down with 315 pounds: 15 reps, 14 reps, 13 reps… 12… 11… 11
(contemplate quitting because I forgot how to count and did an extra rep)… 9…
8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… done, and nearly dead. Such workouts
were also completed, but on separate days than the kinds of accumulation phase
progression that is detailed below. These kinds of workouts served to build
capacity by limiting rest and providing novel stimulus that helped me develop specific conditioning and grow mentally sharp (read: practice counting lots of reps while under a bar).
Another example of conditioning focused training would be
doing every minute on the minute (EMOM) workouts where I might try to squat half-
or quarter-sets of my previous week’s RM for a predetermined length of time.
For example, if last week I squatted 315 pounds for a 10RM, then in my EMOM
workout the following week I would do a 15-minute EMOM of 3 rep sets: thus
completing 45 reps with 315 pounds. These had the added benefit of training my breath control and keeping my heart rate in check. Though each set is not very fatiguing, the
limited rest helped build capacity so that I can push rest lower between those
sets in the kinds of workouts detailed in the following section.
|Be cunning and daring and you will be victorious.
What follows describes an
accumulation phase. This is a period in your training where volume progression is the
priority. I used this process for squats, as I accumulated reps weekly,
stalking my bears. A similar approach can be applied to any lift. Use this
approach to hunt and kill your bears.
Below is an example strategy
of how to push 365 pounds from a 6 Rep Max (RM) to a 15RM. Doing so more than
doubles the volume one is capable of with a weight. This is how I’ve been pushing
for the high rep squat goals I have. Let this example serve as a guide for your
efforts. I applied these same concepts and similar progression patterns to 405 pounds, as I pushed it from a 5RM to a 10RM, and likewise for my 455-pound and 500-pound rep max goals. The methodical approach detailed in the following section is, more or less, how I achieved every squat set I determined to do this year. Simply take these concepts and apply them to your weights, abilities, and the movement of your choice.
Find 6RM at an easy effort (leaving 2 or more reps of the same quality in the
tank.) Then follow that RM with half-sets. These are additional sets with rep
values that are half of the RM. Perform a minimum of four and a maximum of six
half-sets after the RM, all at the same weight as the RM. If the half-sets are moving
with good quality (consistent posture and speed) then you should extend to five
to six follow-up half-sets after the RM.
Shortened as: 6RM@365(E)+3
reps x 4 to 6 sets
Week 2: Holding
365 pounds until it becomes a 15RM, this week push for a higher RM. Follow-up
volume is performed via half-sets that are adjusted on account of the effort
rating of the RM.
Assume that the push
effort for the RM resulted in a moderate effort (meaning only one rep of the
same quality left in the tank) or a hard effort (no reps remaining). In this
case, accounting for the higher effort, rounding down the half-sets would be an
7RM@365(M or H)+3 reps
This is because by having
fewer reps per set in the follow up volume you are more likely going to be able
to extend the follow up sets to five or six total after the RM. I have found
that a half-set rounded up after a moderate or hard RM results in greater
fatigue and more rapid decline in rep quality. By rounding down and doing more
sets instead, fatigue is limited while also accumulating the necessary volume
to push the weight to a higher RM the next week.
7RM@365(M or H)+3 reps x 5 sets
this example, the sets ended because the last rep of the fifth set reached a
moderate to hard rating and the minimum additional volume after the RM had been
achieved. Therefore, there was no extra benefit of grinding out a 6th
half-set. The goal for the follow up volume is to double RM value. So, if you
hit a 7RM you want to get at least 14 total reps via the follow up half-sets. In
the above example, 15 reps were completed after the 7RM.
The beauty of doing
half-sets after the RM is that they start easy, which results in less fatigue,
while also allowing us to get more high-quality volume with a weight. The
follow up sets should stop when they become a moderate or hard effort. Should
the minimum additional volume not be achieved then I suggest you reduce the
half-set value by one or two reps and complete more total sets. In this case,
doing singles or doubles once the triples become too difficult, extending those
singles or doubles until the minimum volume is achieved; typically just one or
two additional sets.
Week 3: Push
365 pounds for a higher RM. Follow-up volume is performed via half-sets that
are adjusted on account of the effort rating of the RM.
Here only one rep was
added but it came at a hard effort (meaning no reps of the same quality were
remaining). In this case, the wise choice would be to round down the half-sets,
thereby opening the effort gap (the difference between the RM value and the
half-sets after) thus allowing for more total sets to be completed without
incurring too much fatigue.
Since adding reps each
week is the goal, mitigating fatigue is a top priority. When rounding down the
half-sets try to do more of them. In this case, if necessary, it is okay to
exceed the usual limit of six follow-up sets because each set has fewer reps. Again,
the goal here is to at a minimum have the total value of the follow-up
half-sets reach twice the value of the RM.
8RM@365(H)+3 reps x 4 sets (12 reps) + 2 reps x 2 sets (4 reps) (16 reps total)
The triples worked well
until the fourth set, which was again a hard effort. Because of that, a fifth and
sixth set of two reps were performed. This way the minimum follow-up set volume
was achieved; the lifter completed 16 total reps after the 8RM.
If however the follow up
set volume does not reach the minimum amount of doubling the RM, it is not a
big deal in the grand scheme of things. Account for this training fatigue in
the next session where this weight will be lifted for even more volume. But to
do so, while also limiting fatigue, the RM set can be skipped and only the half-sets
will be performed. This way, the most fatiguing set of the workout is removed,
resulting in less training fatigue, achieving a kind of deload while also using
the same weight and getting more reps in than the week before.
Week 4: Lift
365 pounds for half-sets only. No RM is performed this week because the minimum
follow-up set volume was barely achieved the week prior or was not achieved at
Here in week four the RM
set is skipped to allow for more training volume while mitigating overall
fatigue. Because the RM set causes the most fatigue due to greater time under
tension, when training fatigue is limiting training volume (as it was in week three),
simply remove the one set that causes the most fatigue – the RM set. By doing
so, more total volume can be completed.
Example: 365 x 4 reps x 7
The total volume is 28
reps, four more reps than week three which had 8RM+3x4+2x2 (24 reps). Because
no RM was performed, the half-sets were pushed from 3 reps to 4 reps and those
half-sets were extended to 7 sets.
When skipping the RM set,
more half-sets will be needed to beat the volume of the week prior. Should the
sixth set of four reps go up smooth and still be easy (meaning two or more reps
left in the tank) then attempt a seventh half-set. However, if even one more
rep is completed over the training volume in week three, you have still made
progress. If you need one more rep, then do it via a single rep set. Like with
week 3, the last two or three sets could decrease in value, perhaps going to
triples, doubles, singles, or any mix of the three needed to beat the total
volume of the week prior.
Because no RM set was attempted last week, but the total volume had improved,
the RM will attempt to be pushed higher. To account for accumulated fatigue,
the effort will be kept at an easy or moderate target.
9RM@365(M)+4 reps x5 sets
push effort was successful, adding one rep over the week 3 rep max while
keeping it within the target effort range. Because the RM was at a moderate
effort and training fatigue is still a factor to be mitigated, the half-sets
were rounded down. This allowed the follow-up volume to be extended to five
sets, for a total of 29 reps in this workout. This added +1 rep over week 4’s
6: The RM push will be attempted again, trying to add another rep. A hard
effort is allowed for this since it had been two weeks since the last hard
effort set. Remember, a hard effort is one in which another rep at the same
quality is unlikely. Perhaps another rep could be performed, but it would
greatly sacrifice rep quality and incur far too much fatigue, ultimately
limiting the accumulation phase. The goal is to sustainably add reps to each
training session. To do so, you must be mindful of fatigue as you continue to
accumulate training volume with the same weight week in, week out.
10RM@365(H)+5 reps x4 sets
total of 30 reps was completed. The RM was at a hard effort, confirming that
last week was likely a genuine moderate effort. In this way such weekly push
efforts of the same weight serve as a check and balance, informing you of your
effort rating accuracy, as well as informing you of how many reps and sets to
complete after the RM.
half-sets are now pushed from sets of four reps to sets of five reps. This is a
minor increase in time under tension through the follow-up volume. A
considerable factor when it comes to developing the ability to push the RM
higher. For this reason, the half-sets are limited to just four total, thereby
matching the half-set volume of the week prior. The one added rep came via the
RM being successfully pushed to ten reps. Next week, the RM target will be held
at 10RM with the goal that the effort decreases. If so, the half-sets will be
extended to five or six sets.
7: The RM is held to 10 reps with the goal of it being easier. The half-set
volume is extended, thus adding to your total training volume.
Example: 10RM@365(M)+5 reps x5 sets
RM got a little easier, but not much. The total volume was beaten by one
half-set, making it 35 reps: a gain of +5 reps over last week. The goal for
next week will be to again hold the RM target at 10 reps, hoping it is then an
easy effort, and if so the half-sets will again be extended to a sixth set.
8: 10RM remains the target, with easy being the ideal effort. More half-set
volume will be added by attempting a sixth set after the RM.
10RM@365(E)+5 reps x6 sets
the effort reduced further, the amount of follow-up volume could be fully
extended. The sixth set went up at a moderate effort, perhaps allowing for a
seventh rep on that final half-set. The RM effort being easy and the half-sets
being fully extended indicates that the RM could very likely be pushed next
week, which will be the goal.
9: The RM will be pushed to a hard effort and the half-sets adjusted depending
on the effort of the RM set and the resulting fatigue.
12RM@365(H)+6 reps x4 sets
effort last week was easy, indicating that an RM push this week could result in
a gain of +2 reps to the RM. That ended up being the case. The half-sets were completed
for six reps each, limiting those to just four sets so as mitigate accumulated
training fatigue. Again, the time under tension for each half-set increased,
developing the ability to further push the RM in later workouts.
Although the time under
tension increased the effort gap decreased, going from a difference of 5 reps
in week 8 to a difference of 6 reps in week 8. This means that most of the
follow-up volume was very easy, or easy, as the later sets (4 through 6) will
get more difficult due to fatigue. Next week, the goal will be to hold the
12RM@365 but hopefully it becomes a moderate or easy effort. If so, then the
half-sets will be extended to five or six sets total.
The same weight is again repeated for a 12RM with the goal of getting in more
follow-up volume via extending the half-sets to five or six sets.
reps x4 sets +3 reps
The RM effort improved,
it got a little easier, but the follow-up volume proved to be more taxing. This
could be due to bad recovery the days before, or just an inevitable off day.
Regardless as to why, the follow-up volume was increased barely by doing a 5th
set of just three reps. Such would be a quarter set. Should next week have a
similar result, then that 5th set will be pushed for more reps,
hopefully then at least getting it for 4 reps, but ideally it will be another
half-set of 6 reps next week.
In addition to getting +3
reps over the week prior, the rest was pushed lower. This increased the density
of the training session. This was also likely a factor as to why that 5th
set couldn’t be completed for six reps. Being mindful of rest will help you
improve your work capacity with a weight. So as you are trying to add reps to
the workouts, you may also attempt to reduce the rest between each set.
However, do not be eager to limit rest too much. Just five to ten seconds less
still gets the work done faster.
Week 11: The
12RM will be held, hopefully then landing at an easy effort. If so, more
follow-up volume will be completed. Because the effort gap has widened
substantially in the last few workouts, limiting rest between the sets has
become a more important progression factor. To improve training density, the
rest between sets will be limited by a conservative 5 sets less than last
week’s training session.
reps x5 sets
The fifth follow-up set
was successfully pushed to six reps. That added three reps over the total
volume last week. So progress was made. However, the rest was limited further,
decreasing it by 5 seconds less between all half-set compared to the week
prior. This way, training density increased as the effort gap widened due to
the RM effort getting easier and thus the half-sets too becoming easier as
well. Next week, the RM will be pushed.
At this point, the bear is within striking distance. It may prove a dreadfully
difficult set, but if achieved, you have killed the bear.
Because last week’s RM effort was easy and the half-sets were extended to five
sets after the RM, while also further limiting rest, the RM will be pushed. The
reach goal is to achieve the 15RM target, killing the bear you’ve been hunting
for the last three months.
Example: 14RM@365(H)+7 reps x4 sets
The bear killed you. You
racked the bar a rep early, believing it to be the hardest set of your life.
Maybe it was. Nevertheless, you picked yourself off the floor of the gym and stepped
back into the squat rack for the follow-up half-sets. These were not extended
and kept for the minimum goal of four sets. The overall volume went up by
several reps, which is progress. In addition to adding volume, rest was again
pushed down by 5 seconds less between each half-set.
Next week, you will again
push the RM, trying to then kill the bear.
The RM was hard last week; it will be hard again this week. However, because
last week had just four follow-up sets, the total volume did not increase, it
remained the same from week 11 to week 12. Such is how the weeks may go when
the follow-up set volume is extended as it was in week 11. The volume may even
go down after a successful RM push effort, which is often followed by four
half-sets or perhaps just two or three, depending on the effort of the RM, how
many reps were gained during the push effort, and the level of fatigue.
Because the follow-up
sets last week were limited to just four, the result was effectively a time
under tension deload, which promoted better recovery and less fatigue heading
into this workout. That makes the RM push effort more likely able to reach the
You killed the bear. It
was hard. Harder than last week. However, that final rep was reached for and
grinded out. You learned a valuable lesson: sometimes when you think you don’t
have another rep in the tank, you might. Your mind may be fearful and tell you
to quit, but you’ve developed the ability to ignore that voice of doubt. This
is a different kind of progression, something that is developed in these
accumulation phases. When all is needed to progress is just one more rep than
last week, you will learn how to make that rep happen, whether that means
digging deep and pushing the RM for one more or extending the follow-up volume.
in mind that the above progression does not perfectly mirror my own. It is
close though. All I did was make neater my actual workouts so that the concept
could be more easily understood. It took me about 3-months (beginning of March
to end of May) to push 365 pounds from a 6RM weight to a 15RM weight. However,
that weight hovered around a 5RM to 6RM for two months prior, as I was not
actively working with it. Also, while I was trying to gain volume each week
with 365 pounds, I was doing other squat workouts during the week to build my strength and/or
endurance with another weight. For example, I would be working with 405
or more, developing heavier RM strength as I pushed that weight towards my goal
RM sets, listed earlier in this blog. Doing so built my maximal strength in one
session while in another session I was developing my squat strength-endurance. These things worked together to develop the long list of squat sets I competed in 2023.
Likewise, I would be
doing workouts where my specific work capacity was the goal, achieving that by
limiting rest such as during EMOM workouts as previously mentioned, or an AMRAP
(As Many Reps (or Rounds) As Possible). An example workout was a 20-minute
AMRAP of 135-pound squats x5 reps, completing as many sets
of 5 reps in 20 minutes as possible. I did this workout in early March when I
began pushing 365-pounds toward the 15RM goal. This was by far the hardest
workout I did in 2023. Because of it I learned just how much I could push
mentally, a skill needed when training to kill bears.
Though not necessary,
that kind of grueling and terribly painful workout benefited me. It may not be
needed for you! Do what work you determine needs to be done. Some of that will
be improving your heavier maxes, some of it will be improving your lighter rep maxes,
some of it will be focused on specific conditioning (such as that 20-minute
AMRAP death squat session), and some of it will be focused on general physical preparedness
(GPP) such as sled work or time dedicated to cardio like running, rowing, or cycling. Develop your training plan according to your strengths and weaknesses,
be patient while applying consistent effort, and before long you will also have
Train now. Prepare to kill
|The ideal gym fit. Haters will act unimpressed.