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You can’t go at 100% all the time – doing so can lead to injury, fatigue and plateaus in performance. The key to maintaining progress year-round is to regulate your training intensity, know when to take it easy and when to go all out.

Ever had one of those days where the weights feel unbelievably heavy?

A weight that you’d usually knock out five easy reps with seems like your one rep max, and you grind your way through three horrible reps, before racking the bar and giving up. Even your warm up sets feel heavy, and you trudge from one exercise to next in a kind of daze, feeling lethargic and achy, just waiting for the session to come to an end.

Everyone has sessions like this – it’s part and parcel of the iron game, but clearly these workouts don’t do any good at all. You’re merely going through the motions, and not getting any benefit from the session.

Once every now and again, a session like this isn’t a huge issue. But it’s when they become more frequent, and your training starts to feel like a chore, with every exercise requiring maximum effort, yet still feeling like the weights are working against you that you need to start worrying.

It could be a sign that you’re overdoing it and pushing yourself too hard.

This isn’t to say you should take every session easy. Going too light and not pushing yourself is just as detrimental for progress as going too heavy and struggling with your weights, but you may just need to reign things in slightly.

You can’t work at your maximum intensity all the time – it’s simply not possible. And even if you are super-human and can give one hundred percent in every session, it’s certainly far from optimal.

Too many people feel like they’re not working hard enough or making gains if they don’t fail the last rep on every set, need a spotter to help them out with a couple of forced reps or slow negatives on each exercise, or don’t wake up with extreme soreness each morning and struggle to even sit on the toilet or climb a flight of stairs.

This isn’t the case though – getting bigger and stronger isn’t about beating yourself into a jello-like pulp, it’s about being smart and stimulating muscles, not annihilating them.

Going heavy causes a great stress on your central nervous system. Your CNS is like the control center for your muscles – when it’s turned on and alert, you’ll be quick, explosive and strong. Heavy weights will feel light as a feather and your power levels will be through the roof. When it’s fatigued however, every weight you lift will be a grinder, and feel like its double what it actually is.

This is the main problem with so many programs, and the way a lot of people train.

Shooting for a new one rep max on the same exercises week after week, or insisting on going to failure, or even past the point of failure and using techniques such as drop sets, forced reps, and partial reps is a surefire way to kill your CNS. While all these tactics are important parts of a strength training program, they should be used sparingly and not seen as the norm.

Taking the odd session or a few exercises a bit lighter is not a cop-out – it’s essential if you want to maintain progress and make your best gains every. You must know when to max out and when to ease off on the intensity and coast for a while.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “How to Modulate Intensity”, By Mike Tuchscherer, Published on February 2, 2012, Accessed on November 30th, 2012
  • Retrieved from