The number one rule when looking to progress in your workouts will always be progressive overload. This remains the same regardless of your goal.
Progressive overload means you do more work over time than you were before.
However, it is quite common that people think the only way to do this is by adding more weight and/or more reps. Whilst these are the most effective methods, it can lead to ego-lifting, injury and plateaus if abused incorrectly, or for too long.
There comes a point in everyone’s training career where adding weight or reps isn’t feasible every week. Over the long term you should certainly strive to lift more weight for the same reps, or the same weight for more reps. However, on a week-to-week basis, you need to train more strategically, and look at other ways to progress, as traditional progressive overload is never linear.
This is particularly true during lockdown, when we don’t have access to tons of equipment.
So how else can we apply progressive overload in our workouts to reach our health and fitness goals?
- Add weight to the bar
- Lift the same load for more reps
- Lift the same load with better technique.
- Lift the same load with increased range of motion.
- Lift the same load and reps with less effort.
- Lift the same load and reps with less rest time between sets.
- Lift the same load and reps with longer and different tempos.
- Lift the same load and reps whilst ‘feeling’ the muscle contractions more intensely.
- Lift the same load with more acceleration (less grindy reps).
- Do more sets with same load and reps.
- Do more work in the same amount of time.
- Do the same amount of work in less time.
- Do the same work at a lighter bodyweight (especially applicable for those who are aiming to maintain their loads during fat loss phases – it still progress!).
As you can see, progressive overload can be achieved in a number of ways. Remember, improvements in form will always come first, and increasing reps and load come second.
In order to track progress reliably, we have to standardise technique. That’s the only way you will ever know if you’ve really improved.
Bouncing reps, a little added body English, cutting depth and rounded backs can all contribute to ‘perceived’ progress, but very little muscle overload. Focus on what you can do to challenge your body over time!