3 Nuanced Progression Strategies

by tffitness on August 9, 2016

the-principle-of-progressive-overload-702x336In the iron game, progressive overload is quite literally job one — without it, your efforts — though well intended — will be in vein. In fact, the whole point of manipulating various training parameters such as frequency, volume, and exercise selection (just to name a few) is to optimally facilitate progressive tension overload.

Despite this, many lifters don’t fully appreciate the nuances of effectively applying this important principle to their workouts. Here then are my 3 favorite tips for more effective overloading:

ONE: Use Goal-Specific Progression Tactics 

While progressive overload is required for successful outcomes for both strength and hypertrophy training, the particulars differ slightly depending on the main training objective.

When strength is the primary training target, bar weight (intensity) should be prioritized over total work output when push comes to shove. Sure — increase volume if and when possible, but never allow the quantity (volume) of work negatively affect the quality (intensity) of that work.

When training for the acquisition of new muscle mass is your goal, progressive overload suddenly takes on a new personality: while intensity still matters, as long as you’re at or above 65% of 1RM, the intensity requirement has been satisfied. Of greater importance is your total work output, and more specifically, the total number of hard (close to failure) sets you perform for the target muscles. (As an aside, muscle can be built training at very high intensities — sets of 3 for example — but this tends to be impractical since it’s so time-consuming to warm up for and rest between such heavy weights).

TWO: Don’t Limit Yourself To “Sets Across” 

“Sets Across” is a term often used to describe the practice of using the same weight load for all prescribed working sets. As an example, if your program calls for 4 sets of 8, and you use 265 pounds for all 4 sets, you’re using sets across.

As common as this practice is, I think it tends to unnecessarily limit work output in a few different ways. Let’s say that on your last squat session you lifted 315 for 4 sets of 10 reps and you’re looking to improve upon that performance on your next squat session. A “sets across” approach would involve lifting 320 or perhaps 325 for 4 sets of 10.

While such an approach would be just fine, even if you managed to lift 2×10 with 325 followed by 2×10 with 320, and finally a set of 10 with 315, you’re still ahead of the game and respecting the law of progressive overload. If however, you feel obligated to use sets across, you might be unlikely to take a set with 325 for fear that you won’t be able to repeat that feat 4 more times. So allow yourself to step things down a bit on latter sets of necessary — by doing this, you’re likely be a bit more aggressive, knowing that you can give yourself a break on later sets if you need to.

THREE: Respect The Law Of Sustainable Progression

strength-training-protect-brain-and-bonesMany lifters simply assume that they should add 5 pounds to the bar each and every workout. This seems instinctively cautious of course, since the smallest weight plate in most gyms is 2.5 pounds

If you extrapolate this rate of progression over long time-frames however, you’ll quickly realize that this would mean adding 260 pounds to your current max in one year. Not gonna happen.

A more practical approach is one where you slowly build up the reps you can perform with a given weight, and then increase bar weight. As an example, you might initially overhead press 95 for 3×6. Next time out, you get 3×7. The following session, 3×8. Now you’ve built the foundation for a weight increase, so on your next session, you hit 100 for 3×6. Rinse and repeat.

Progress Can Take Many Forms

These 3 strategies have proven themselves over the years with my clients, and they are common tools among successful strength coaches. Look for opportunities to apply all three, and enjoy the gains that come from training smart!

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This Week’s Training

Training Volume: 76,200 Pounds (Last Week: 60,040 Pounds)

Highlights

• High Bar Squat 275×5

• Medium-Grip Bench Press: 210×6

• Deadlift: 405×6

• Dumbbell Bench Press: 180×8

Well I’m happy to report that I’m more or less back on track this week — my shoulder permitted me to do some reasonably heavy benching, and my strength levels have been good on squats and pulls as well.

One new change to my training — something I’m exploring — is the addition of two short aerobic sessions each week. I’ve started off with 20 minutes at a very easy (155-125) heart rate. The purpose of this is to rebuild some aerobic capacity, which I’ve neglected for years now. I’ve chosen to cycle for this purpose, which probably has the least potential to interfere with strength and hypertrophy goals. What I’m liking about this so far is that it also prompts me to follow it up with a bit of mobility work, since I’m pretty warm and sweaty after getting off the bike. I’ll have more to say about this in future posts, but for now I just wanted to give you a heads-up about what I’m doing.

That’s a wrap for this week — let me know if you’ve got questions or topics for future blog posts — I’m always interested to know what’s on your mind and what you might be struggling with.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.8 Pounds

Volume: 22,005 Pounds

Goblet Squat

Set 1: 10 lb × 10

Set 2: 40 lb × 10

Set 3: 50 lb × 10

High Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 8

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 8

Set 4: 185 lb × 6

Set 5: 225 lb × 6

Set 6: 275 lb × 5

Set 7: 225 lb × 6

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 6

Set 2: 185 lb × 6

Set 3: 225 lb × 6

Set 4: 275 lb × 6

Set 5: 315 lb × 3

Set 6: 365 lb × 3

Smith Squat

Set 1: 95 lb × 6

Set 2: 135 lb × 6

Notes: I’m exploring this as a potential accessory exercise for next cycle

Standing Calf Raise

Set 1: 220 lb × 8

Set 2: 220 lb × 8

Set 3: 220 lb × 8

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bodyweight: 197 Pounds

Volume: 12,975 Pounds

Med-Grip Bench

Set 1: 45 lb × 8

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 8

Set 4: 165 lb × 6

Set 5: 185 lb × 6

Set 6: 205 lb × 5

Set 7: 210 lb × 5

Set 8: 185 lb × 8

Notes: Minimal left shoulder pain

Low Row

Set 1: 100 lb × 8

Set 2: 140 lb × 8

Set 3: 160 lb × 8

EZ Bar Curl

Set 1: 45 lb × 8

Set 2: 65 lb × 8

Set 3: 65 lb × 8

Set 4: 65 lb × 8

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cycling

Set 1: 5 mi | 20 min

Workout Notes: Pulse: 110-120

RPM: 75

Level: 10

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bodyweight: 208.4 Pounds

Volume: 30,260 Pounds

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 6

Set 2: 225 lb × 6

Set 3: 315 lb × 6

Set 4: 405 lb × 6 (Video Below)

Set 5: 365 lb × 6

Set 6: 365 lb × 6

Leg Press

Set 1: 90 lb × 6

Set 2: 180 lb × 6

Set 3: 270 lb × 6

Set 4: 360 lb × 6

Set 5: 360 lb × 6

Set 6: 410 lb × 6

Set 7: 450 lb × 6

Seated Leg Curl

Set 1: 145 lb × 8

Set 2: 145 lb × 8

Set 3: 145 lb × 8

Seated Calf Raise

Set 1: 100 lb × 8

Set 2: 100 lb × 8

Set 3: 100 lb × 8

Set 4: 100 lb × 8

Friday, August 5, 2016

Bodyweight: 198.4 Pounds

Volume: 10,960 Pounds

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 100 lb × 8

Set 2: 100 lb × 8

Set 3: 130 lb × 8

Set 4: 160 lb × 8

Set 5: 180 lb × 8

Set 6: 160 lb × 8

Chin Up

Set 1: 1 rep

Set 2: 2 reps

Set 3: 3 reps

Set 4: 4 reps

Set 5: 5 reps

Set 6: 6 reps

Set 7: 7 reps

Set 8: 8 reps

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 60 lb × 8

Set 2: 70 lb × 8

Set 3: 70 lb × 8

Set 4: 70 lb × 8

Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension

Set 1: 60 lb × 8

Set 2: 70 lb × 8

Set 3: 70 lb × 8

Set 4: 70 lb × 8

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Bodyweight: 198.4 Pounds

Cycling

Set 1: 5 mi | 20 min

Workout Notes:

Level: 10

Pulse: 110-125

Distance: 5.53 Miles

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