How ‘Holding Back’ Might Become Your Secret Weapon

Every one of us has a built in home base. A comfort zone, if you like. 

Stressors in our day to day life seek to disrupt our home base. These could include poor sleep, stressful working situations or deadlines, dieting, your psychological state and even your training load.

Our bodies are masters at adapting to the stressors. In a physical sense, pushing ourselves beyond our home base results in growth and increased fitness, and likewise, insufficient stress results in down-regulation or reduced fitness capacity.

Simple concept, right? 

But life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. 

Stressors have a cumulative effect on our body. Add in a less than adequate sleep, a calorie deficit and a work deadline that has you pulling 16 hour days – and what should be your 80% deadlift load suddenly hits very close to your max.

So how can we keep continued progress when the target is continually moving?

Enter the concept of ‘training by feel’

We are able to continually personalise our training intensity by listening to your body each session and moderating our training volume based on our perceived readiness to train.

In other words, this method provides a simple structure that allows you to push harder when you’re feeling good and pull back when you need the rest.

How does it work?

As you’re completing your set and counting out the reps, you will start to develop a ‘feeling’ for how many good quality reps you’ve got left in the tank. And it’s this countdown that forms the basis of the model, which has been more recently developed by strength coach Mike Tuchscherer as the Reps in Reserve Method.

How many reps have you got left in the tank?Perceived Effort
None (maximal effort)10
Maybe 1 more rep9.5
Definitely 1 more rep9
Maybe 2 more reps8.5
Definitely 2 more reps8
Maybe 3 more reps7.5
Definitely 3 more reps7
Could do 4+ reps6

At Bioathletic, we love using this type of method because as Physios and S&C coaches we’re often dealing with Urban Athletes that, with the right exercise selection, are able to make big changes in the space of a week and using a method like this allows us to continually push forward.

In practice, you can still utilise your current program with target repetitions but also introduce a Reps in the Tank guide to determine appropriate load, which can be manipulated across a training cycle.

As an example of how it might play out:

Week 1: 5 × 5 @ 3 Reps in Reserve 

Week 2: 5 × 5 @ 2-3 Reps in Reserve

Week 3: 5 × 5 @ 2 Reps in Reserve

Week 4: 5 × 5 @ 1-2 Reps in Reserve

Written by

Travis Waite

Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.

Travis Waite