Have you ever followed a particular exercise or training program for several weeks and gotten great results, only to see those results diminish significantly over time?
Yeah, me too.
It's so frustrating, but the good news is, it can be fixed by ensuring that progressions are built into your training program. By progressions, I mean anything that allows you to make progress in some area over the course of your training program.
Whether you are lifting more weight, doing it for more reps, or doing a more difficult exercise, you have to make sure that you are constantly progressing, or your body will stop adapting and changing (i.e. you'll stop getting results).
So how can you make sure that you are progressing every time you're in the gym?
Obviously you can't lift more weight every time you work out. If you could, any woman who had been working out consistently for a year or two would be benching over 400 pounds!
So what should you do?
Well, there are a few things you can take a look at in your workout. Below, I share different ways to progress (including increasing weight) and give examples of how you can use these progressions in your training program.
As you read the information below, it's important to keep in mind that while these progressions can be combined slow and steady progress is the key to long-term success, so don’t get too crazy with the progressions. Also keep in mind that certain exercises lend themselves to certain methods of progression.
For example, while adding weight/load to a back squat might make more sense, you can't always be adding more load to smaller, more isolation-type movements like biceps curls. You may be better off slowing the tempo down or using more range of motion in some cases.
Increasing the amount of weight/resistance you are using is the most common way to progress an exercise.
An example of this would be doing Split Squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between sets one week, and the next week, keeping all other variables the same, doing 3 sets of 10 reps with 100 pounds.
Performing more total reps either via more sets or more reps per set (at the same or close to the same weight as before) is another common way to progress an exercise.
An example of this would be doing Split Squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between sets one week, and the next week, keeping all other variables the same, doing 4 sets of 10 reps with 95 pounds, or 3 sets of 12 reps with 95 pounds.
Performing the same amount of work in less time (by shortening rest periods) really ramps up the intensity of your workout.
An example of this would be doing Split Squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between sets one week, and the next week, keeping all other variables the same, doing 3 sets of 10 reps with 95 pounds and only resting 60 seconds between sets.
Increasing range of motion is a great way to make an exercise more difficult.
An example of this would be using doing Split Squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between sets one week, and the next week, keeping all other variables the same, doing 3 sets of 10 reps with 95 pounds, but elevating both feet slightly allow for more range of motion/a deeper split squat.
Decreasing stability makes an exercise much more challenging.
An example of this would be using doing Split Squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between sets one week, and the next week, keeping all other variables the same, doing 3 sets of 10 reps with 95 pounds, but elevating your back foot on a bench (also known as a Bulgarian Split Squat) to decrease stability and make the exercise more difficult.
NOTE: Don't take this one too far. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns on decreasing stability, so please, no standing on an upside down Bosu Ball on one leg while doing offset-overhead-bottoms-up-kettlebell-presses. Got it?
Using a medicine ball as a base for your push-up definitely decreases stability and makes the movement more challenging!
Slowing down the tempo increases time under tension, and makes an exercise more difficult even while performing that exercise with same weight/volume/rest period.
An example of this would be using doing split squats for 3 sets of 10 reps using 95 pounds and resting 90 seconds between, and using a 1011 tempo (1 second down, 0 seconds in the bottom, 1 second up, 1 second at the top) one week. This means it took you 3 seconds for each split squat, or ~30 seconds to complete a set (per leg). If you perform 3 sets, then you spent approximately 90 seconds per leg performing split squats.
If you slow things down a bit, and use a 2111 tempo (2 seconds down, 1 second pause in the bottom, 1 second up, 1 second at the top) it is now taking you 5 seconds to perform each split squat, or 50 seconds per set per leg. If you do 3 sets, that’s 150 seconds per leg. You just increased your time under tension by 60 seconds per leg, or 67% using the same weight.
Keep in mind that there is definitely a point of diminishing returns with increasing time under tension, but it is a way to progress.
Tip: Increasing time under tension and/or using static holds are also a great way for beginners to “practice” and ingrain certain movement patterns. I love to have new clients just hold split squats statically in the bottom position. It’s easier for them to learn how to control their body if they don’t have to worry about moving up and down, it helps them “feel” what the correct position feels like, and it makes them feel like they are working very, very hard without actually beating them up
Pausing for two to five seconds during each transition point of the Turkish Getup is a great way to make it more challenging.
These are six ways to change your workouts slightly to ensure that you are consistently making progress with your workouts. I encourage you to review your current training plan and see if changing any of these variables gets your progress going again — I bet it will!
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