The typical advice trainers give to newbie lifters is to add five pounds to the bar each week on exercises like squats, presses, and cleans. The idea is that if you increase the weight regularly you will get bigger and stronger, but this only works for the first six to 12 months.

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Trying to pursue linear strength gains after that to set bigger and bigger PR’s becomes a risky endeavor, as the human body can only adapt so fast. Tendons and ligaments do not respond as fast as muscles do, and if you continue to load them with heavier weights, something’s going to get inflamed, tear, or snap. When you’re an experienced lifter, you just can’t expect to set PR’s every week anymore.

Pick Your Battles

To stay safe and ensure long-term progress, you have to allow for fluctuations in strength. Some days you’ll be strong and others you’ll be weak. This is life. Trying to add weight or do more reps on days you’re not up to it is how you get hurt. Instead of trying to top your last performance at all costs, do only what you’re capable of on that day. Just because you military pressed 135 for eight last time doesn’t mean you have to get it for nine this time. You might only feel up to a few sets of five. Do it. You’ll get nine another time.

Measure progress in terms of years, not weeks. And use variety. Unless you are a competitive lifter, you shouldn’t be doing the same exercises every week. That leads to overuse injuries. If you really want to set new PR’s fast, here’s the safe way to do it: use a new variant of the exercise each workout. So change your grip width, use different bars, add chains, etc. When you re-test the main lift you’re trying to build, you’ll be stronger.

Remember, PR’s are nice, but the most important thing is to stay healthy so you can continue training long-term.