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Overloading Your Training – Part 1: Overloading Volume

Overloading your training volume: the strategies discussed here are designed to push you past your limits in total volume for a particular lift. Simply put, the purpose is to help you get more total reps in a workout than you typically would for a given lift and weight. These strategies take the intensity level of your training up a notch.

Failure Sets:

You don’t have to train to failure on every set of every lift, or even in your primary lifts in every session to make progress. For most of my training I use Prilepin’s Table to plan my primary lift’s weight, sets and reps. On my supplemental and assistance lifts I generally target a training range that ends within 1-3 reps of failure. You can make consistent gains stopping just short of failure; however taking your sets for a particular lift to failure can increase the intensity of your workout.

The rest of the strategies in this article will help you take your sets past your failure point. This will force your body to recruit more muscle fibers than would normally be used for the given lift, and help you get stronger and bigger. That is the goal, right?

Forced Reps:

Having your spotter help you complete additional reps at the end of the set is the simplest way to increase your training volume. Just because your spotter helps you with some reps does not diminish the effectiveness of the set. Quite the contrary, the increased volume past failure can make for a highly effective training session.

The strategy is simple. Take the set to failure and continue lifting for additional reps using assistance from your spotter. For a given set target 2-3 forced reps at most per set. More than that and your spotter will end up lifting the weight for you, and will likely not be pleased.

Your spotter should give you just enough assistance to get past the sticking point enabling you to complete the rep unassisted. If you are at complete failure and cannot lock out the lift, your spotter should give you enough assistance to keep the bar moving at near your normal tempo for that lift, but should not take the weight away from you. You should be forced to press with all of your remaining strength as the spotter helps you lock out the lift. Maintain strict lifting technique and continue driving. Let your spotter give you just the boost you need to complete the reps.

Total Rep Sets:

In terms of complexity, the total rep sets scheme is also relatively simple. If you cannot complete the target reps in your lifting sets, simply add sets until you hit your target reps for the lift. For example, at 70% of my max on a given lift, using Prilepin’s Table I typically plan to complete 5×4 reps. If I miss some reps I continue lifting until I complete all 20 reps (example, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 1).

I typically only use this approach for my primary lifts. Supplemental and assistance work can be greatly affected by the primary lift’s volume and intensity. If I have to adjust weight or reps on supplemental lifts in an individual session I usually don’t sweat it too much.

Cluster Sets:

Cluster sets can help you get more reps per set than you typically could in a particular set. Complete the target reps for the set, rack the weight, pause, and then continue to failure. Using the 70% example above, each set would go something like this:

  • Complete 4 reps
  • Rack the weight, pause 10 seconds
  • Unrack and continue lifting to failure

If the number of reps you get in the second part of the cluster is equal to or greater than the target reps in the primary component the weight is too light. In the 70% example your target range would be 4 reps in the primary part and 2-3 reps in the second portion of the lift.

Drop Sets:

I saved the best for last. And by best I mean horrific.

For best results use 2 spotters for drop sets, and leave collars off (if you can do so safely). The key to drop set pain is rapid weight changes between drops. To perform drop sets:

  • Unrack the weight and lift until failure
  • Rack the weight
  • Spotters quickly change the plates dropping to the next weight
  • Without resting unrack again and continue lifting to failure
  • Repeat the process until you hit the target number of subsets

A few tips to maximize the effectiveness of your drop sets:

  • Plan out your sets ahead and either load the bar with plates that can be easily stripped (for example if you’re squatting, you can easily drop a 45lb/20kg plate with each drop), or have the weights handy for your spotters if they must swap plates on and off
  • A good range is 3-5 subsets in a given drop set
  • Drop sets are most effective when your first weight is heavy enough to complete a reasonable number of reps – not less than 5 and not more than 8


Drop sets are exceptionally intense. Don’t try to use this strategy on all sets in a given lift. One or two drop sets is likely to do enough damage for the day.

Wrap Up:

Volume overloading will take you to failure and beyond. For safety and to maximize their effectiveness it is very important that you have a trusted spotter assisting you.

These strategies are a great way to crank up your training intensity. Use them in moderation, limit them to one lift in a session and don’t use more than one strategy in that session. Very high intensity strategies like drop sets shouldn’t be used for all sets in a session.

Try plugging volume overloading into your training program and crank up your training intensity.





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