How to progress your training

Progressing your workouts is vital to making consistent gains and avoiding a plateau. Far too many trainees initially make good improvements with their training but fail to keep the improvements going because they become happy with their routine and do not vary it. Once you’re comfortable doing a routine it’s time to change it. We never keep our clients on a single routine for more than 3 weeks and the majority of the time we change it after 2 weeks. Progression is what training is all about. Knowing how to progress workouts is crucial to the personal training process and there are a number of methods you can use to do this.

Shorten the rest

This progression is most suited to fat loss based training routines. I like to use this progression method in the following way: start with this rest scheme.

1A) bench press 10-12 reps
60 seconds rest
1B) back squat 10-12 reps
60 seconds rest

After one week progress the workout like this:

1A) bench press 10-12 reps
No rest
1B) back squat 10-12 reps
60 seconds rest

So I basically cut out the rest after the 1A) movement. I’ve used this progression count less times and it always produces decreases in body fat.

Increase the load

Probably the most common and simplest method of progression is to increase the weight. If a client starts bench pressing a weight of 90kg for 8 repetitions and progresses to 105kg for 8 repetitions you can guarantee this trainee will have put on a considerable amount of muscle. Keeping good records of your training and tracking your progress is important for you to make gains. Track the loads you are using and try to make small increments every workout. This will lead to large increases in strength over time.

Advance the exercises

Certain movements require more motor skills and proprioception (body awareness) than others. For example, a back squat requires a lot more skill than a leg press. Starting with simple movements and learning how to ‘feel the muscle’ is a must for beginners. From this base you can move on the more advanced exercises. Here is a good example of this progression method:

1st 2 week phase

1A) Front foot elevated split squat

2nd 2 week phase

1A) Split squat, foot on floor

3rd 2 week phase

1A) Bulgarian split squat

This progression is both logical and effective. As you flexibility increases the range of motion is increased. Using more advanced movements is a great way to keep making gains in your training and it also breaks up the monotony of repeating the same old movements.

Increase the volume

The debate as to train with high or low volume is ongoing and has been for a lot longer than I have been alive. Personally I find volume training works well for me. I always get good hypertrophy and strength gains when I use high volume methods. Increasing your volume progressively will build muscle and boost the metabolism. Therefore, this method can be applied to a hypertrophy, strength or fat loss programme. The following example is based on a 3 week programme in which the volume increases week to week.

Week 1
1A) Back squat, wide stance 2 sets. 8 reps

Week 2
1A) Back squat, wide stance 3 sets. 8 reps

Week 3
1A) Back squat, wide stance 4 sets. 8 reps

Increase the density

The density of a workout can be defined as the total amount of work completed in that workout. Workout density is the amount of work performed in a specific time frame. Research has shown one of the ways to make sure your metabolism stays elevated after exercise is to keep your rest periods between sets relatively short. One way to increase the density of your workout us to use antagonist supersets. That means you pair exercises for opposing muscle groups. Here is an example:

1A) wide grip pull up. 6-8 reps
Rest 60 seconds
1B) barbell push press 6-8 reps

Tri-sets and giant sets are also a great way to increase density. I once asked Strength Coach Charles Poliquin “What is the most important principle to adhere to when writing a fat loss programme?” he said very simply “Density”.

Tailor the programme to your weak body parts

To really individualise a bodybuilding programme you first need to scrutinise your physique and find out your strong and weak body parts. Preferably you would have an experienced coach do this for you. Once you know what is weak you can go about fixing it. Personally my chest is by far my strongest body part and it over powers my arms and shoulders. To rectify this I once trained my chest only one time in 3 months whilst I brought up my weaknesses. If you have imbalances but you don’t address them they will stay unbalanced and you won’t achieve symmetry. Make progress from generic workouts by tailoring them to your individual needs.

Increase the TUT

Time under tension (TUT) is an important concept of weight training. By definition TUT is the amount of time your muscle is under strain during a set. Sets with a high TUT produce more lactic acid which leads to a greater release of growth hormone. This in turn leads to fat metabolism at a faster rate. Tempo training is something we use a lot with our cliental. By counting tempo for each repetition you can estimate the total TUT of a set and then use this for progression. Just by slowing down your negative by 1 second you can increase the TUT a lot. For example:

1st 2 week phase

1A) Bench press 10 reps 3010 tempo
TUT of 40 seconds

2nd 2 week phase

1A) Bench press 10 reps 4010 tempo
TUT of 50 seconds

Just by decreasing the negative by one second you increase the total TUT by 10 seconds, this a simple but effective method of progression. However, this method is more applicable to hypertrophy and fat loss workouts rather than strength based programmes.

These are just some of the methods of progression we use here. It doesn’t have to be complicated but you do need to monitor your progress. I was once on a seminar in Orange County California, on that particular day we were testing 1 rep max bench press. One of the questions you should ask the person you are testing is roughly what they think they can bench for a single. The amount of “trainers” I asked that day that had no clue what they could bench was shocking. You should always know roughly what you can lift. My point here is track and record what you are doing. You do not have to be completely anal or OCD to do this, you just need to know what is going on so that you address this and progress. Try these progression methods in your routines and watch the improvements come.

MikeH profile3 300x199 Female fatloss series: Breaking bad eating habits

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *