Why does someone need to progress at lifting weights? Can’t I just “mix it up” and confuse my muscles every single day with something completely different?
Sure, but it will take longer to improve specific, foundational movements that are imperative to building muscle.
But why does that matter?
Because muscle is great, and it keeps us young, strong, healthy, mobile, sexy, happy, and much more. I won’t go into details of why having muscle goes far beyond vanity, but it does.
Now back to progression.
This goes beyond standard progression of more reps more weight.(more on that soon).
Like anything else, lifting weights is a skill that must be learned, and improved upon to get the most effect from it. If you only do a squatting exercise once a month, how do you expect to ever get better at it? Like Bambi on ice, your legs will not develop the proper neuron firing patterns to actually LEARN the proper squat.
There is a big difference in just popping your butt towards the ground, and actually doing a squat.
Same goes with any lift. How many people actually feel LAT PULLDOWNS in their LATS? Or a chest press variation in their chest (pecs)?
This takes time, and learning, and concentration on improving motor patterns and getting the correct muscles to contract/stretch/squeeze/flex/etc. This is how results happen, and how you get the most out of lifting weights.
So how does one go about progressing?
Basic progressive overload is the backbone of muscular growth. From wikipedia:
Progressive overload requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or time in order to achieve the targeted goal of the user. In this context, volume and intensity are defined as follows:
- Volume is the total number of repetitions multiplied by the resistance used as performed in specific periods of time.
- Intensity is the percent value of maximal functional capacity, or expressed as percent repetition maximum.
This means more reps, or more weight – and you are progressing.
This idea works GREAT for people who are new to lifting (0-1 year of consistent training), and works with most exercises.
One of the simplest ways to progress is increase reps until about you can get 20, then decrease reps and increase weight and repeat.
This would look like:
- Week 1: 3 sets of 10 at 50 pounds
- Week 2: 3 sets of 12 at 50 pounds
- Week 3: 3 sets of 15 at 50 pounds
- Week 4: 3 sets of 20 at 50 pounds
- Week 5: 3 sets of 10 at 60 pounds
Now this is very basic, and isn’t always this linear. But its a principle.
***Also, some exercises are hard to increase weights on time after time – example lateral raises – and thats okay, try focussing on the other progression techniques at the end of the article***
This brings up another point: TRACK YOUR WORKOUTS!
How would one know that they are progressing if you are always guessing at what weights you used last time, and how many reps you did?
Now what happens when you can’t do anymore weight, or you stop being able to increase reps?
If you fall into the general fitness population (anyone who isn’t competing in bodybuilding or strongman/woman competitions) thats okay!
Now is when you can change things up, try a different variation, and see how it changes you.
Some other ways to progress besides adding weight include:
- Varied tempos (slow eccentrics or lowering portions of lifts are brutal)
- Varied grips (wide grip, neutral grip, front squat, back squat, rack position holds, overhead holds, etc.)
- Varied implements or handles on cable machines (dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, neutral handles, rope attachments, v-bar handles, etc.)
- Timed sets – instead of doing 3 sets of 10 reps, try 3 sets of 30 seconds at a challenging weight – this is a good one.
- Improving your form! There is always room for improvement and working the muscles through a solid range of motion with a good contraction of the working muscle.
These are just a few ideas, but give them a try if progress has stalled – then try whatever lift you were stalled on and see what happens.
Just remember, lifting weights is a skill that must be worked on constantly to actually see improvements – track, and progress wisely.
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