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Progressing in Black Sheep

This is an article to outline how exactly it is that you make progress with the Black Sheep programme.

In particular, online clients may be wondering what the hell I'm talking about when I prescribe something like:

"1-5 range, starting at 90kg"

The mechanics of progression in the Black Sheep programme rely on two important tools:


APRE stands for Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise. That’s a very long way of saying: you have to earn the right to add weight to the bar.

For every exercise within the programme, you will be prescribed a rep range. Your objective is ideally to hit the max reps, and if you do this you will be permitted to add 2.5kg to the exercise.

This ensures we are sufficiently challenging ourselves to get stronger, however we need something else to ensure we are not overdoing it…

2. RIR

Stands for Reps In Reserve. This is your proxy for how hard you’re working. Very simply, at the end of a set, you will assign a value to how far from failure you think you were. If you felt like you could have done 3 more reps, then it’s 3 RIR. If you could have done 4 more, it’s 4 RIR, etc.

In Black Sheep, we try to adhere by ‘The Rule of Two’ - meaning we want to always have 2 reps in reserve at the end of each set. This a sweet spot between sufficiently stimulating us, while avoid pushing so hard that we might negatively impact our recovery for the next session.

Once we are no longer able to perform another set without having 2 reps in reserve, and/or being able to match our reps from the previous set, you are officially done on that exercise for the day!

Putting It All Together

At this point you might still be quite confused. That’s okay, because all will become clear with the following examples:

Example #1

5-10 rep range, starting at 60kg

This is an ideal example, and should be reflective of

your first few sessions in a block of training. Every set was a positive increase in reps and / or weight. The lifter did not feel he/she could beat 8 reps on the next set without having less than 2 RIR, and therefore they finished the exercise there! A great session.

Example #2

1-5 rep range, starting at 80kg

In this example, making progress was harder for the lifter. The RIR stayed the same for the first 3 sets, despite their performance improving, which is not uncommon (you should feel a warm-up effect). The exercise finished at set 4 because the lifter felt they couldn't do another beat 2 reps of 82.5kg without dropping their RIR to < 2.

Example #3

6-12 rep range, starting at 40kg

This is an example of when things didn’t work so well. It could have been aftter a night of bad sleep, a stressful week, or a few days of poor eating. The lifter may also have done too much in the first set, or overestimated how many reps they had in reserve.

At any rate, the lifter got less reps than their previous set, and the RIR went below 2, so we cut the exercise there. It's recommended that you cut the exercise anytime you get less reps than the previous set, even if the RIR doesn't change.

Getting Stuck

Eventually as loads go up, you will eventually encounter a weight that is too challenging to progress the reps on. In this instance I will prescribe you ‘sets across’, typically at the minimum of the rep range.

This means that all your sets will be done for the same amount of reps, with the goal being to get more ‘total reps’ then you have before at that weight. Below is an example of how this might happen:

1-5 range, starting at 110kg

Week 1: 110kg x 2, 3, 5

Week 2: 112.5kg x2, 3, 4

Week 3: 112.5kg x2, 3, 4 (9 total reps)

Week 4: 112.5kg 6x2 (12 total reps)

Week 5: 112.5kg 5x3 (15 total reps)

Week 6: 112.5kg x3, 5 | 115kg x2


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