You're getting this wrong, two

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Dan Trink

Dan Trink


Fort Co-Founder






In the 1970’s, the “concept album” was most definitely a trend.

Rather than just place a bunch of singles and fillers on an album as they did in 50’s and 60’s, rock bands in the 1970s tried to have a common thread or theme perpetuate the entire record. Sure, one or two of the songs may have been tailored for radio play, but these albums were meant to be listened to front-to-back in their entirety. The first concept album is often credited to Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours” which is, admittedly, an incredible album. And while it does have an overarching theme of heartbreak it's a far cry from bands like Styx who sang about a dystopian future where rock and roll is outlawed on “Kilroy Was Here” or Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare” where we hear the tales of a fictional teenager named Steve as he dreams about black spiders, necrophiliacs and Vincent Price.

Essentially, every rep target is typically associated with a percentage of your one rep max (or heaviest weight you can lift for one rep). For example, a 5 rep max is typically 87.5% of your one rep max. So choosing a weight that is 85% of your 1RM and doing that for 5 reps will typically land you at about 1 rep in reserve.

Dan Trink

Fort Co-Founder

Funk groups like Parliament, R&B artists like Toni Braxton and hip-hop artists like Raekwon have all dabbled with concept albums. But for me the absolute kings of trying to make their records more than just records were The Who.

Between “Quadrophenia” in which a British teen struggles with an identity crisis and, perhaps the blueprint of the concept album “Tommy” which, I shit you not, is about a deaf and blind boy who excels at pinball, The Who made concept albums that were weird and wild and still somehow worked.

All this is to say that I’ve never really tried to pull off the blogging equivalent to the concept album - a series of posts that relate to each other.

And while it is perhaps a stretch to call two consecutive posts a “series”, I am going to do some self-aggrandizing here and claim that I am very successfully about to debut the second post in a themed sequence.

Last week we talked about perhaps the most prevalent concept in group fitness that is holding back progress, the short rest period.

(For those of you who may have missed that, I made the argument that most group fitness classes rely on very short rest periods to make you feel fatigued but at the sacrifice of using appropriate loads and techniques required to actually get the most out of training.)

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another training parameter that often gets misused and will truly hold you back, at best, from making optimal progress and getting the most out of your time in the gym and, at worst, will lead to injuries.

And that is the use of appropriate load.

Not choosing the right weights goes beyond group fitness but those classes are certainly not immune.

We’ve all heard the calls from the mic’d up instructor to “grab a pair of dumbbells” or, even worse the “girls grab the 15s, guys grab the 25s” which makes me absolutely insane as 1) load choices aren’t gender specific and 2) any blanket load recommendation is likely to be inappropriate for a significant portion of the class.

But whether in the class setting or on your own. Whether it’s barbells or dumbbells or kettlebells. Choosing an inappropriate load has one uncommon but harmful effect and one very common and highly consequential effect.

The first is that choosing an inappropriate load can lead to either an acute or overuse injury. And while this is certainly the less common outcome, it is the one most people fear for obvious reasons.

Getting hurt in the gym sucks. And while bad technique usually gets the rap for this, it is usually a poor load choice that is to blame. Because even poor technique doesn’t result in long term problems under little to no load. It’s only when you add significant stress to a poor movement pattern that you wind up with a real problem.

But the much more common issue is utilizing a weight that isn’t challenging enough for the given task.

Because while it isn’t always necessary to train to failure (and you probably shouldn’t be training to absolute failure very often) you do need to get somewhat close to failure in order to actually make progress.

A recent study showed that, when allowed to pick their own weights, most people performed sets of 10 reps with their 20 rep max. Meaning they had 10 reps in reserve or could perform double the amount of reps in a given set.

When this is your approach you are going to have a hard time making progress.

In fact, you can increase muscle mass in quite a wide variety of rep ranges. Anything from 5 reps to 30 reps per set will work. However none of them will work if you don’t regularly come within a few reps of failure in your chosen rep range.

You can do this by feel if you are willing to assign a rep range to your workouts rather than a static number of reps. For example you can choose a weight that allows you to perform between 12 and 15 reps typically and just go one to two reps short of failure. If you are feeling great during a set this could be 14 or 15 reps. If you are feeling fatigued it may be as few as 9. It doesn’t matter. What matters is getting close to your limit for that set.

The other approach is to use percentages, also known by its fancy-smancy gym name, relative intensity.

Essentially, every rep target is typically associated with a percentage of your one rep max (or heaviest weight you can lift for one rep). For example, a 5 rep max is typically 87.5% of your one rep max. So choosing a weight that is 85% of your 1RM and doing that for 5 reps will typically land you at about 1 rep in reserve.

The problem with this system is that people don’t always know their true one rep max. And the further you get away from the 1RM the less reliable the percentage is (it’s very hard to nail a percentage for a set of 15 compared to a set of 3). However a relative intensity chart can, at the very least, be a good springboard to figuring out what weight should be on the bar.

And all of this is important because, like I stated earlier, if you are using submaximal weights for a given rep range you just aren't going to realize the outcomes you were hoping for. Essentially wasting much of your time and effort in the gym. And you want that less than Travis Kelce would want to hear the next Taylor Swift album after a (god forbid!) break up.

Will there be a third post in this series detailing the misuse of volume or pace or something else that people are getting wrong?

Probably not. I don’t have strong evidence that those are being misused. And, let’s face it, I’ve probably already bored you to tears with back-to-back weeks of actual hard-hitting training facts and that’s not what you are here for.

Nope, I know it’s the Bieber jokes, Fonzie references and the vulnerable stories of my sullen teenage years that keep you coming back. And I want you coming back.

Just as The Beatles sang at the very end of perhaps the most famous concept album of all time, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I'd love to turn you on.

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