The No-BS 6 Step Formula to Achieve Mass and Confidence

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Success builds on confidence. And you need small wins to feed your confidence. This is all about continuous improvement: KAIZEN.

So, how do you build confidence and set the stage for continuous gains in the weight room? And most importantly, why do most people fail to do this? I’d say that more often than not, ego gets in the way. As Bruce Lee said, “it’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

Puzzled yet?

Without further ado, let’s apply this wisdom to the weight room! This article teaches you six smart ways to focus on the things that matter the most. The result is that you will have more confidence and better gains in the gym. Here they are:

  1. Achieve constant improvement by following the 2% Rule
  2. Create the winning habit of keeping a detailed training log
  3. Plug your recovery leaks by eliminating “Garbage Reps”
  4. After hitting a Personal Best: Stop the exercise immediately
  5. Eat and supplement wisely to create the right environment
  6. Flex your Yin muscles with nurturing lifestyle habits

Follow the 2% Rule*

Charles repeated this ALL THE TIME. “The perfect program doesn’t exist. Any program is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it.” As it turns out, most people change workouts too often. They keep hopping from one workout to the other, with little to no result to show for it.


Simply because they don’t have time to make significant strength gains on any given exercise. Progression rate is a very individual thing. According to Charles, statistically speaking, about 70% of the population does best changing their routines every six workouts or so for any given body part.

When Charles analyzed the training logs of his athletes he found that five was the magic number. But Charles wasn’t working with your average Joe, he dealt with freaks of nature, ultra-dedicated athletes with above average genetics. So this would account for the five vs six difference. If you are curious, Charles also found that only about 9% of the athletic population makes better gains if the training prescription is changed every workout.

Statistics are fine but what if you want to get more specific?

Well, then, you should use the 2% rule. A little warning is in order here. The 2% rule works ONLY considering recovery is optimized. And note that full recovery is crucial; otherwise all numbers are skewed. Now that we are clear: The 2% rule simply states that you should be able to add 2% to the previous workout load OR add one rep per set. If you fall short of this aim, then it is time to switch workouts. You are not adapting anymore. You may even regress and dig deeper into your recovery abilities. Also, with training age, the 2% Rule becomes the 1% rule. We’re talking 5-6 years of serious training.

Basically, if you can’t add 2% to the load or one rep per set, then it’s time to change things up. Of course, you need to keep a training log if you want to apply the 2% rule. Which leads us to the next point:

Keep a Detailed Logbook of Your Training Program

Charles liked to mention Tommy Kono, the Michael Jordan of weightlifting. Kono said that there is no single better training aid than a training journal. In his words, “the palest ink is better than the best of memories.” A well-kept training journal will allow you to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of your training program.

No matter if you squat two or three times your bodyweight, a training log keeps you on track for long-term success. Honesty is critical to derive success from a training log. Only record the reps done in proper form.” Charles R. Poliquin

Okay, story time! Typical Charles!  Charles was once asked by an intern trainer to go over his training log to help him design better training programs for himself. As he was reading he would see things like 100 lbs done for 5.3 reps.

SO, he asked the intern, “How can you do 5.3 reps?”

The intern replied, “well, I did five complete reps, then I did only a third of the rep.”

Charles went on: “How can you be sure it was not 5.32 or 5.38 reps?”

Imagine the intern’s internal debate! Charles cut it short saying, “you are either pregnant or you are not. There is no in-between. Next time, record just 5 reps please.” The intern earned the very nice nickname of “5.2”. Bet he never made the mistake again! And neither should you.

Back to the Training Log.

When using the training diary as a tool, make sure that your training conditions always remain the same. For example, don’t shorten the rest intervals, or prolong them. This would make comparison with a normal workout difficult.

For the strength coach training logs analysis is the stuff of genius. Charles was obsessed with numbers. He digitalized all his clients’ training logs, and performed statistical analysis of their progression. This is how he came up with structural balance norms. This is how he was able to find optimal volume and intensity for specific exercises.  It was integral in the inception of neurotransmitters’ profiles.

Now the 2% rule applies from one workout to the next. The next point is about set to set variation in strength.

Eliminate “Garbage Reps”

Now that we are operating within the confines of one exercise and assuming you have selected the proper load, when performing multiple sets, fatigue will inevitably set in. This means that:

  • If you keep the same load, you will be able to perform fewer and fewer reps
  • Or that you will need to lighten the load to respect the rep prescription

Okay, don’t freak out.

This is perfectly normal and even desirable. You won’t make progress if you don’t signal to your body that it is too weak for the actual demands of “the environment.” In the weight room, it translates as the necessity to create sufficient tension in order to elicit adaptation. The key point is: SUFFICIENT tension. If you keep banging reps when the tension is no longer sufficient, then, the exercise becomes useless. Charles called these reps, GARBAGE REPS. Garbage reps will:

  • Decrease recovery
  • Drain the nervous system,
  • Deplete energy stores
  • Ultimately pave the way towards overtraining.

No Bueno!

Hence, we like to apply the concept of the critical drop-off point. We go over this point in a lot more details during Science of Program Design classes. Check here to find when this course is scheduled next.

But to keep things simple for now, let’s say that: When training for strength, we tolerate a 7% drop-off in strength. Any more than that is not acceptable. Another option would be to keep going until you are forced to shave 2 reps off the initial rep prescription. Which is exactly what Charles’ three reps bracket recommendations allow you to do, i.e: 6-8 reps; 4-6 reps. etc. The devil – and Charles’ genius – is in the details!

When training for hypertrophy, we tolerate no more than a 20% drop-off in strength. After that, it’s time to call it off for this exercise. Of course, in the case of a workout geared towards hypertrophy, people will usually work with weight selection rather than dropping the reps. Keep in mind that time under tension is an integral part of the hypertrophy process. Dropping reps will shorten the TUT and we don’t want that when the goal is muscle size. Managing the effects of training fatigue is always a concern, and the better you can handle it the better your results. From time to time, you will have to deal with another statistical aberration… the days where you are on fire.

If You Hit a PB, Stop the Exercise

We are still operating within the confines of one exercise. And this pertains to strength endeavors rather than size.

All the trainers that know how to build strength, such as Pierre Roy, Rolf Feser, John Broz, or Istvan Javorek have thought about this question: What is the ratio of average, great, and bad training sessions athletes get while on their quest for super strength? They all agree. Charles summarized the tendencies as follows:

  • “Thomas the Tank Engine:” 80-85% of workouts. This is your typical good session. You hit the target. You add one rep or 2.5kg on every first set.
  • “Über Dweeb:” 12-14 % of workouts. These are the workouts we hate. Weightlifters are familiar with them and dread them. The weights feel heavier and it feels like moving through water – the stuff of nightmares!
  • “Superstar:” 8-10% of workouts. These we love! It’s the ultimate dopamine boost! You are at the top of the world! You are so strong and powerful it is ridiculous. Limits exist only for weak minds and the rules of physics don’t apply to you anymore…!

When you feel and lift like a Superhero, just go for it. Charles’ motto is to never miss an opportunity to get stronger. There are opposite opinions on how to manage the Superstar days. But Charles’ is CARPE DIEM. Careful though, if during the next workout you feel under-recovered… you need to cut the volume. Leave the weight alone, but decrease the volume. Another key point.

Say you have eight sets of two reps to do. On set five you hit a personal best. STOP the exercise right there. Finish strong. Give yourself a mental high five and move on the next exercise. If you are doing a superset, just prolong the rest period and finish the remaining sets of the other exercise. This strategy will benefit you more than trying to duplicate the performance – which is unlikely to happen. Next workout you will see the gains consolidated. Provided of course that you did your homework, i.e that you have recovered and waited the proper amount of time before attempting the feat again.

Eat and Supplement Wisely to Create the Right Environment

You only spend so much time in the gym. The rest of the time your priority should always be to create the physiological environment that allows growth or body-recomposition. Health is the foundation of performance. This is why it is so important to ensure that the basics are in place.

Training is a stress – your body must be equipped to deal with it if you want positive results. You can only handle so much stress before the balance is lost and the training effects turn negative. The major stress in the gains game comes in the form of inflammation. Every meal you eat has an inflammatory impact. It is a perfectly normal physiological response. Every workout creates inflammatory reactions. This is also perfectly normal and desirable. But then, what does the dedicated trainee do? He eats a lot – 5-6 times a day. He trains hard – he creates muscle damage.

Can you see a trend here?

The amount of inflammation that needs to be managed is off the charts! It becomes easy to lose control if counter-measures are not in place. This is where the basics of nutrition and supplementation shine!

  • Invest in a good multi and fish oil
  • Eat your veggies – eat the rainbow
  • Don’t over-indulge in pro-inflammatory foods
  • Rotate your protein-based foods not to trigger food intolerances

All the basics! Balance does not only come from your plate, it is also about nurture.

Feed Your Yin with Nurturing Lifestyle Habits

Imagine bench pressing a barbell with 55lbs on one side and 50lbs on the other. Pretty uncomfortable huh? Not to mention hazardous. Neglecting recovery while training like a man on a mission is exactly the same – dangerous and kind of stupid… You have to be simultaneously super conservative when it comes to recovery and super aggressive when it comes to workouts. This is the ‘barbell’ strategy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

For the sake of illustration, let’s use a very black and white example: Taking it easy in the gym because you have had a bad night of sleep is a waste of time. Ensuring you sleep well and giving your 100% in the gym is a clever investment. Not going to say that you need to learn how to “relax” because for us go-getters it sounds like a blasphemy, but we need to make sure we have fun! That we cultivate activities that promote a curious and playful outlook on life.

Another big help is to unplug from the internet. And connect to our “innernet”. Performance requires a strong why, your reason for doing this – and a focused mind. You can’t achieve great results without self-awareness. Self-awareness demands introspection; which only happens when we cut the outside chatter.    

Here you go, you know have 6 smart ways to increase confidence and boost your gains.

  1. Follow the 2% Rule
  2. Keep a detailed training log
  3. Eliminate “Garbage Reps”
  4. Stop the exercise immediately after a PB
  5. Eat and Supplement wisely
  6. Create nurturing habits

Kaizen, my friends!

Life Visioning, Michael Beckwith