Always seek progression in Fitness.
Sure, there is a stereotype that trainers are always trying to get their female clients to lift heavier and to get everybody in general to work harder. If both clients and trainers can buy-in on the idea that progressive resistance is crucial for results, then together our work is more effective.
“You always have to go heavier,” is a Big Myth!
Not everybody can, will, or should continue to go heavier on various exercises. That being said, going heavier than your last effort on a particular exercise is one of the most obvious methods of progression and yes, it will work. So when you can, try to go heavier because you’ll burn more fat, tone the body, and gain confidence.
The purpose of this blog post is to explain that there are far more opportunities for the individual trainee to make progress that don’t just include going heavier. Since much of my audience is Orangetheory Fitness related, I will speak of treadmill intervals and resistance training, but even if you work out at a different gym, you may find this to be a useful post.
5 methods of Progressive Resistance that you can use today to get Fat Loss results and Gains in fitness.
Let’s begin the list!
1. Method 1: Use the same weight as your last attempt, but adjust the way in which you perform the exercise tempo.
Let’s say that you’re using a 25lb dumbbell for a single arm bent over row. The vast majority of people perform this exercise with a 1 second up, no pause at the top, and 1 second down. I have to ask: What is the rush?
Spend some time and OWN the movement. I almost ALWAYS recommend pausing the top portion of a back exercise even though that happens to be the hardest part of the exercise because it is where you will get the most fitness/postural benefits of the move.
On the bent over row, next time try to use a 1 second on the way up, then 2 seconds intentional squeeze at the top (retract those shoulder blades, elbow towards your ribcage, neutral spine), and then lower the weight for 2 seconds while feeling the mid/upper back and lats still activated. Now, instead of 8 reps taking you only 16 seconds to perform, the 8 reps will take about 40 seconds. So even though you’re using the same weight as last time, you will get amazing gains by controlling the tempo and spending more time under tension. Try it!
2. Method 2: Do the exercise with the same weight or lighter than before, but with better form.
Okay so this goes along with the previous method of “Owning” the movement. However, it is important so I feel that it deserves its own category.
Quick personal story: When I was young, I thought I was strong but I was wrecking my lower back on deadlifts because my form was poor. So I literally went 100 pounds lighter and focused on having the best form I possibly could. Even though my weights used were so much lighter, I still felt that I was putting in a high intensity and making improvements on my overall fitness.
So the next time you go into the gym and you feel that going heavier just isn’t going to happen, or if you feel it just isn’t worth it for your health and safety, give yourself the opportunity to truly dial in on proper technique. You won’t regret it, and you can count it as a success for your workout.
3. Method 3: Increase range of motion (safely).
Once again, the first two methods are similar to this one. However, this method does NOT apply to every exercise. As a trainer, I notice when people do not perform a full range of motion and I do not judge the individual. I ask if they have any injuries or limitations, sometimes yes, other times they admit to being lazy. That’s okay, motivating and pushing you is my job.
When I demonstrate exercises, I try to make it as clear as possible what the ideal range of motion is and what a full range of motion involves. Sometimes people take it too far on exercises like Deadlifts (yes, you can go too low, and yes, there is a point of diminishing returns), while other exercises such as squats or lunges people do partial range of motion which can be limiting.
If you have an injury, okay that’s fine, don’t make it worse. But if you are healthy enough to perform the move, you need to get that full range of motion the majority of time. There is a time and place for partials, but usually that is sport specific (or bodybuilding specific). People interested in fitness should work the full range of motion for long, lean, healthy, high quality muscle.
4. Method 4: Add reps
If you don’t want to go heavier, then you can add reps to make progress. Now of course, we’re not talking about 5 lb dumbbells for a million reps — we are still working hard here.
Let’s say that your coach prescribes you with an exercise for 10 reps. You’ve used the 20 pound dumbbells before, so you select them again because you know you can do it. However, once you’ve hit 10 reps, you still feel like you’ve got a lot left in the tank.
So what do you do? a) end the set because you got 10 reps or b) continue the set because you care about your fitness gains?
Hopefully the answer is obvious. Use your time well. In circumstances like this, you either need to increase your weight, or JUST. KEEP. GOING.
A good rule of thumb is to end the set within 1-3 reps of failure. So if you have a weight that you could do 16 reps with, and you do 10 reps really fast (with that basic rushed tempo that most people use), then you’re missing out on crucial results. So your options again, either slow down your tempo, use heavier weights, or add more reps!
5. Method 5: Treadmill tip: Use a different incline (or grade %) than you’ve done in the past.
At Orangetheory Fitness Seattle in Capitol Hill, a few of our people on #TreamDre are doing the incline challenge. They add .5% incline every week and continue using the same speeds. So if they are running 8 mph at 1.0% incline on the first week, they are running 8 mph at 3.0% incline after a month.
Think of incline as a method of resistance. Think of incline as a means of gaining strength. Think of incline as a way of building your butt and taking stress off of your knees and ankles. Think of incline as a way of toning faster and getting results.
Once you go back to doing 1% incline challenges, you will be on top of your game and that 9 mph will feel sooo much better.
You can use these methods of progressions on your own or with the guidance of your coach.
I wish I could write more methods, but I will have to save them for a later blog post. You have this information now, but in the future, you will be able to read about even more methods of progression.
As a trainer, progressive resistance is the name of the game. My success is your progress and there is no other way.
My goal will always be to provide you with an amazing workout experience, but if I don’t have you make gains, then I am not hitting my own progression as a coach.
Thank you all for reading, and stay tuned for more updates to Dre Fitness. Love you all.
This is a great post. I go to OTF on the east cost regularly but have started to get bored with the routine. Sometimes I’ll deviate from the routine (ie, switch a squat exercise and do something else instead). I’d welcome a blog post on ways to “freshen up” my OTF workout – I love the idea of adding incline on the treadmill!
Awesome, thanks for the suggestion. Stay tuned, I’ll think of some ways to freshen up an Orangetheory workout routine!
Thanks! Can only do so many burpees, squats, jump squats, step-ups, goblet squats, medicine ball squats…