We just had our second child—a daughter. She’s amazing, as is the pure lack of sleep we are experiencing. It is not uncommon for me to get around four hours of sleep a night. This makes training challenging. It makes making progress in my training even more so. The sane and rational thing to do during this period of time would be to go on a “maintenance” program.
I am neither sane nor rational, and I expect my body to make the progress I demand from it, or close to it, regardless of what my daughter or the rest of my life is doing.
In order to keep from hurting myself (like I did routinely in my thirties), I am now working with my old weightlifting coach. I tell him what’s going on in my life and what I think I can handle, and he writes my programs, with some guidelines of course.
If you have a lot going on in your life and lack the ability to fully recover from your workouts like you once did, you have zero business training the way you used to—or the way others do. Here is what routinely works for me to push my strength levels back to where they were fifteen-plus years ago, without having to work as hard as I did back then.
The Top Set Method
This has been used for time in memorium by some of the strongest guys in the world. Very simply, you work up to one top set in your training and call it a day.
Traditionally, you would go “all out” on that set. But for guys (and girls) whose recovery ability is challenged, that would be a mistake. Instead, you should grade your exertion on an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale of one to ten and keep your RPEs between seven and eight. Sometimes, sixes are good, too—usually when you think a weight is going to be a seven and it feels really light. Save the nines for the end of your strength cycle—one, two workouts at the most.
Here’s how I suggest you set up your training:
- Use either 5×5 or 5×3 for your workouts. Or for better results, alternate between workouts of the two.
- Start your cycle light. Use around 60-65% to give yourself momentum and train the skill of strength.
- Train three times a week using an “A-B split.” That is, alternate between an “A” training session and a “B” training session.
- Turn your warm-ups into group sets.
These are a little trick I learned from my weightlifting coach. You simply perform your warm-up sets back-to-back, adding load each set, with as little rest as possible between them. This excites your nervous system and allows you to put more force into each rep of that top set. And they work like a charm. You might feel a little winded after doing them, but don’t worry about that—the metabolic effects don’t have a negative neurological transfer.
Here’s how I recommend you perform this:
- Sets 1-3: As little rest as possible between, then rest 2-3 minutes after set 3.
- Set 4: First work set. Rest 3-5 minutes after.
- Set 5: Top set.
If you’re really hurting in the sleep department or using some highly technical lifts, you may want to do it the following way (which is what I do):
- Set 1: Rest long enough to add load or around 30 to 60 seconds, depending on the exercise or how you’re feeling on that exercise.
- Set 2: Rest long enough to add load or about 60 to 120 seconds, depending on the exercise or how you’re feeling on that exercise.
- Set 3: Rest 2-3 minutes.
- Set 4: Rest 3-5 minutes, usually more toward 5 minutes the heavier the load.
- Set 5: Top set.
When I was younger, I used to love the high volume, multiple “70% for 5×5” type routines. Now, I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to perform them. I’ve found I can make great, steady, measurable progress using the Top Set Method. If you’ve stalled or burnt out, you should give it a shot. It’s the most stress-free strength training method I’ve found.