In the early stages of training (when you’re a novice), we take a very basic, general approach to getting strong: we do the same exercises, sets, and reps every session while continually adding a small amount of weight to the bar. This works well for establishing good technique, it gradually allows the trainee to adapt to the new stressor, and it teaches the process of training, which requires more than just a blase approach to getting stronger. However, this phase doesn’t last long, as the body can’t continually adapt just to an increase in weight. Usually after 2-3 months people begin to miss reps indicating a need for a change in programming. Some go a little longer, some a little shorter, all depending on the context of their situation.
When this novice phase of training is over and we can’t add weight to the bar each session, we move to more immediate programming. In the intermediate and advanced phases of training one very important principle becomes critical: individualization. The trainee( and coach if they have one) must begin to assess what exercises, sets, and reps produce the most optimal results for them, given their situation. We take into account things like volume (sets x reps), intensity (weight on the bar relative to your maximum), effort (RPE), exercise selection, goals, lifting/injury history, personal preference, and current research (among others) to formulate a plan to keep improving. We also look at what produces results. This requires good record keeping, as well as a system to analyze the effect of certain training on your strength.
This is the challenge, as Mike T recently wrote about, because your body is constantly in flux, changing and adapting to the stress imposed on it. Trying to get some clarity on what is working is tough, but with good data and consistent training we begin to get a better picture of how an athlete responds. The main takeaway is that after the novice phase training gets more specific to the individual. If you want the best results, you’ll need to begin learning what works best for you, and that’ll take a more mindful approach to your lifting.