I would Rather Overshoot than Undershoot: Why I am not Concerned with Missed Reps

Written by: Kevin Cann


When I first started getting involved in powerlifting one major piece of information that was drilled into me was that you should not miss reps in training.  This belief is still carried on strong within the powerlifting world and for good reasons.


For one, making reps builds confidence through building success.  You get used to making reps and you definitely build some confidence. The other statement that would get made is that you don’t get stronger from missing reps.


I followed these guidelines for years and with good success.  However, there were a few things that I noticed.  For one, you had to use lighter weights and always took a more conservative approach.  Many of my lifters would get scared of the heavier weights.


My lifters also became too scared of actually missing reps.  It was something they shouldn’t do, so they naturally didn’t want to do it. This leads to more conservative competition performances.


I began to question this thought process.  It is easier for me to compare this sport to others in which I participated in.  I played college soccer.  For my college team and many of my club teams growing up I took the majority of the dead ball kicks.


On numerous occasions I have sailed balls over the net, didn’t get enough spin on it to bend it where I wanted, and overshot teammates.  There were also occasions where I put it exactly where I wanted or in the back of the net.


Those previous mis-strikes didn’t deter me on future kicks.  In fact, they gave me information to adjust.  This is one of many reasons why I feel a constraints-led approach is the way to go.  It is ok to mess up.  No sport has a 100% success rate.


Think of hitting a baseball. If we were looking for a 100% success rate the ball would never leave the tee.  Failure is part of sports.  It would be pretty boring without it.  You can’t fear messing up.  You also can’t let it rip you apart when it happens.  This is mental weakness.


What are the negatives of missed reps in training?  You lose confidence?  If you can’t handle missing a rep without losing confidence your mental game needs a lot of improvements.  Its ok to be pissed off after it.  You should care enough to be pissed.  However, if it rattles your confidence that is a problem that needs to be worked on and there is nothing wrong with that.  We will work on it.


Is missing a rep dangerous? Nope.  As long as the athlete is prepared to handle the weight, it’s not dangerous.  Plenty of missed reps happen on the platform without injuries.  I hurt my back on a made attempt, so it is not any more dangerous.


Many will argue you miss out on the training volume.  This assumes you know the exact training volume down to the pound that that person needs. If you have that information you are the only one capable of calculating that.  You should use that to get rich.  I would buy it.


Using training volumes is an educated guess.  It is not an exact science.  I actually read some interesting research this morning saying that internal load is what drives progress not external load.


When we can’t nail down the ideal volumes for someone, we need to be sure our intensity is high enough to get a training stimulus.  I make sure my lifters get 1 to 2 of these hard sets per lift per day and we adjust on a daily and weekly basis as needed.  Nothing is written in stone.


Gauging internal load is very difficult.  Often lifters feel it is heavier than what it is.  I have had Kerry take 80% for a set of 10 that looked moderately hard for triples. She wasn’t the only one that experienced this.


My volumes better be on if I am giving her triples with something, she can hit for 10 at the end of all of the sets.  Literally that translates to an RPE 3.  Not heavy enough.  We are training so it will yield a training stimulus, but not the best one.


If I want to get a training stimulus, I want that triple to be HEAVY.  If we go up too much and only get a double, so what?  She performed a hard double that will definitely yield a training stimulus.  Is not getting that triple going to hinder progress?  If that triple wasn’t heavy enough it absolutely would.


So say that double is an RPE 9.5-10.  I definitely know we got a training stimulus, but to what extent can it hurt us?  Heavier sets may come with a greater recovery need. How much greater is that recovery need?


Most of my lifters train every other day.  Is it something that will last beyond that day off?  Chances are it won’t.  If it does, we adjust that training day as needed and make a note moving forward. Sometimes I don’t care about that day getting screwed up a little bit.  Training is a process that always needs to be adapted.  The program is nothing more than a rough draft guide to that process.


Often missing a rep allows you to assess what went wrong.  Were they nervous?  Did they just misgroove it because it was the first time touching that weight?  Was it just too heavy?  It gives you some information to adjust the training process. Make those adjustments and come back to it and see if it has improved.


If a set is really heavy you can just end everything right, there instead of doing backoffs.  You can back way down and still get the reps and skip accessories, or you just decide to plow through.  You have decisions you can make based off of the lifter and what is best for them at that current time.


I know I am probably an outlier in this, but I really don’t care if they miss reps.  It should not happen often at all, that is not what I am saying.  If it happens too frequently, we got to work on choosing the right weight to put on the bar. However, if it happens occasionally so what?


You got into this sport to put more weight on the bar.  You will miss reps, it is part of the sport.

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