Programs fail (in general) for three reasons
1. The program is literally too hard (and unrealistic)
2. You have failed to have yourself conditioned enough to carry out the program
3. You just didn’t show up
The bit we can help with – Conditioning
Most of us would not consider ourselves extremely fit, or conditioned, but the normal person that has been training for a bunch of years is hugely capable of putting in work, day in, day out, and it took all those years to get to that level. Pre-last two years of shut downs, doing 80-200 sets a week was realistic.
There has been a lot of people that have been looking for a 'secret' post lockdowns, and its not a fancy program or some piece of fancy equipment, its just getting yourself to a stage where you have 'enough capacity'.
Accumulation of stress + recovery = adaption.
Insufficient stress = no adaption
Accumulation of stress + Insufficient recovery = no adaption
You can pretend our sport is as fancy as you want, but it boils down to that. Beyond beginner gains, accumulation of stress means
1. Load sufficient to have a neural response (ie, more muscle fibres)
2. Load sufficient to cause breakdown of muscle fibres
Capacity means the ability to create the above stress load
Billy benched 140 pre lockdown
Billy has not been able to run a full training cycle in 2 years
Billy wants to get back to 140
Billy runs a program that ends in 140 single
This makes sense, but the idea the Billy has the work capacity he did when he benched 140 is likely incorrect.
If Billy was running a 'normal' bench program, he would have been benching twice a week, if he was running a bench specific program, he would have been benching three times a week.
Two years ago, he had the ability to do that, and recover, and get better.
Work very close to your rep max is hugely stressful and likely to cause Billy to be sad.
How do you get your work capacity back
Reps. Lots of reps. Lots of sets. If we go back to Billy, a 140 bench is around 100 for 8, 95 for 10 (we are all different, Billy should look at his old logs or use a online max calculator).
Before Billy goes back into benching hard, running a more rep based program, with 'plenty of run up' is a great idea.
For example - a 6 week ramp would look like
Week 1 - 70kg for 5 10s
Week 2 - 75 kg for 5 8s
Week 3 - 80kg for 5 6's
Week 5 - 85kg for 4 5's
Week 6 - 90kg for a max rep
If Billy is in the range of 10-12 for 90, thats great, if not, just go back from week 1 and start again.
We've said it 1000 times, but your training career is way longer than you think.
The long road has the shortest travel time
We're trying to sound smart, but shortcuts like going hard early lead to failed recovery or worst, injury.
Mentally, its very very hard to get close to your max strength and start failing.
If we were coaching Billy, we'd say stick with 70kg and do 1 set, then two, then 3 etc.
Yes, that adds another 4 weeks prior, but life is long.
Are we 'soft'
We'd say, if you are even searching for a answer that includes buying things your don't need or programs that are magic, then that is 'worse' than taking time and progressing, even if its slow repeat progress.
The author took age 14 to age 32 to bench 140 on that natch. In those many years of 'nerdy' training focussed on capacity and slow, but linear progress, many sprung past, got injured or got bored, and never got to there goals.
It is what it is, if you are detrained because of the world for the last two years, you don't get to magically make up time just because you want to. We don't sell magic benches that make you strong, and there is no magic program.
As unexciting as it is, make the work the goal, not the product. If you are in the gym, putting in work, you are not soft and you are kicking every internet warriors butt.