Failure week – how to be more objective about progress

So for the last 8 weeks I have been working on building strength. I like to lift heavy things and I like to train to lift even heavier things. While I am fairly low down compared to some of the monsters, I’m doing pretty well for a (slightly) older guy.

Last week was test week. Time to see how much my numbers had shot up after all the hard training I’d done.

Bench press  – Fail.

Deadlift  – Win.

Front squat  – Fail.

I expected a good bump up in my top numbers, but alas, apart from the good old deadlift, it just didn’t happen.

So, failure, disaster, waste of the last 8 weeks.

When I was younger I would have taken this attitude. My competitiveness and expectations of myself wouldn’t have allowed me to accept anything less than big jumps in my best numbers. But that is a very narrow-minded view on whether the last 8 weeks had been worth the effort and almost guaranteed to end in eternal disappointment.

There are, however, a lot more ways to measure success or progress than just your top numbers lifted. Unless of course, you are in a powerlifting meet and you need those top numbers to win. Then that pretty much all that is going to count!

Subjective vs objective.

If your measures of progress are too subjective, then they are affected by emotion. You feel that the weights moved easier. You feel that you’re having a “fat” day. You think that you’re no further forward than you were 2 months ago, 6 months or a year ago. These feelings could be vastly different after a good nights sleep or after a strong cup of coffee… they rarely take into consideration any facts.


Subjective measures are ok, but you have to get objective in order to assess and make progress.

Objective measurements are based solely on the facts at hand. Your opinion on them is invalid.

Did you lift more weight? Yes or no.

Did you lose inches off your waistline? Yes or no.

Did you add size to your arms/ chest/ legs? Yes or no.

Can you run/row/ cycle further and faster than before? Yes or no.

Objective measures tend to require some kind of tracking over a period of time in order for you to assess. Using food journaling, workout logs, monthly measurements, that can all be reviewed and they either show progress or they don’t. They come down to one question – Did you improve? If you did, great keep doing what you are doing till it stops working, then make an adjustment and assess how you progress.

In the case of my training in the above example, my 3 and 5 rep maxes went up across the board. My accessory exercise volume went up significantly and I stayed healthy throughout. I can look back at my training logs and see the numbers go up. Maybe on a different day, the top number would’ve gone up. I can see overall that I made big improvements in a number of training areas.

I can also look back at my nutrition tracking, which I use from time to time, and see that I wasn’t entirely consistent. For my next phase of training, I’ve taken a couple of before pics and I’ll compare these with ones taken at the end as a gauge of body comp improvements. (While photos aren’t always as objective as measurements, they can be a pretty good option). This will help me be more consistent on the nutrition front.

So next time you’re trying to gauge progress, think about how objective you are being and look for ways that you can measure progress instead of guessing.

Stay healthy,


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