You just finished your top set and stuffed it up. What do you do? Repeat or move on? I explain the best way to approach it

What to do if you make a top set error

You just finished your top set and stuffed it up.

So you probably either;

– Failed the lift

– Perceived your technique was horrible

– Didn’t lift to comp standard e.g didn’t hit depth in squats, didn’t pause long enough whilst bench pressing, etc


So, what do you do? – Do you repeat the set or move on?


Let’s break down each of the above problems because the answer depends on the context –


If you failed the lift 


Was the lift just too hard today, a grinder, and you couldn’t move it? – Move on – Do not re-attempt 


1 – Chances are you’re going to miss the lift again. Lifters who miss a lift during a power-lifting competition have an increased chance of missing their next attempt (1).


2 – You’re probably already fatigued, and doing another set will likely further add to your fatigue. If the load you were trying to lift wasn’t much higher from the week before (which you got easily), but this week it’s moving slow, then you’re probably fatigued. It’s probably not a good idea to add to fatigue by re-attempting a lift that you already missed. You’re likely going to add fatigue on top of the fatigue you already have, which isn’t doing any favours besides accumulating more fatigue.


Likewise, is completing that one set going to be the difference in adding 10kg to your total versus not doing it? No, it’s not. Adaptations are accumulative, we get strong over years of training. Missing one lift out of 100 is a drop in the ocean and is not going to affect your long-term progression in the slightest way.


Did you fail the lift only because you made a silly technique error and the load + RPE was easy? 


1 – You could re-attempt the lift if it’s not adding a much fatigue which isn’t going to affect the rest of your session


2- You could move on and if you feel you need the extra volume, do an extra back-off set. But missing out on one set isn’t going to change anything, nor will it affect your gains.

Was your technique terrible?


Technique was horrible during a top-heavy set, but normally, your technique is good = Do not try doing the set again, move on 


I find this is for the perfectionist / anxious type lifter who generally has an all-or-nothing mindset – If the lift is not great – then what’s the point? It was shit; therefore, I’m shit. No. Mistakes happen and are always going to happen. The more experienced you get, the fewer errors will occur, but errors will still happen.


For the perfectionist type of individual, encouraging a re-attempt when something goes shit is probably encouraging perfectionism behaviour (if it wasn’t perfect, keep doing it until it satisfies this anxiety).


Not doing something as good as usual is fine and just because you didn’t do it good this time doesn’t mean you need to catastrophise and believe that you’re shit, you’ve ruined your whole workout, you’re not going to get as strong, or whatever negative automatic thoughts that may flood your brain post bad set. Chances are, these catastrophising thoughts are lies and are highly unlikely to occur.


If you stuff up your technique, move to your back-off sets. You can practice fixing whatever technique error you made in the following sets.


Technique was horrible, but you’re in a training phase where you’re specifically practising technique, and the loads are very light – e.g., you’re a beginner, and your technique isn’t great yet.


In this instance, doing an extra set isn’t a big deal. The problem with repeating top-heavy sets is the potential fatigue accumulation for minimal gain (building muscle or improving strength). The ‘cost to reward’ is not in favour of reward.


For someone using very light weights to learn technique, there will likely be very little fatigue associated with doing an extra set but another opportunity to learn. In this instance, the cost to reward is more in favour of the reward.  


Didn’t lift to comp standard


The points raised here will be similar to what’s already been mentioned. What is the cost to reward in doing an extra set? For someone worrying if the lift wasn’t at comp standard, I can imagine that this lifter more experienced than the beginner lifter and is probably using loads that are fatiguing. 


As mentioned already, repeating the top-heavy set will probably add extra fatigue for no benefit. You can practice correcting your error in the back off sets. If you’re continually not doing your top set to comp standards every week, it’s possible the load is just too heavy and you may need to lift lighter.


Bonus point – You’re in the last week of the training block, and there’s a deload next week. You missed your lift because it was too heavy (but you were close to getting it), or you made a technical error that caused you to miss the lift. 


I get it, you were going for a PB in the last week of your training block, but you missed your lift. Should you re-attempt or move on? In this case, going for a re-attempt probably isn’t so bad SO LONG as it’s not going to affect your other lifts. As mentioned, doing an extra set is more fatigue. So if adding extra fatigue significantly impacts the performance on future lifts, you’ll have to decide what is worth more—doing the re-attempt or maximising the performance of other lifts?


If the re-attempt lift is not going to affect other lifts or may have minimal impact on them, and you have a deload coming up next week, then the extra fatigue probably isn’t an issue.  

1.         Pritchard H and Morton R. Powerlifting: Success and failure at the 2012 Oceania and 2013 Classic World Championships. 2015.

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

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SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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