The Missing Ingredient for Progress in the Gym.
One of the biggest flaws of most workouts for women is that they lack proper progression. It might seem obvious to state that your workouts need to systematically become more challenging over time if you want to keep seeing results, but it is so often overlooked.
They key to securing consistent results in the gym is this little thing called progressive overload.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise and it is the fuel that drives progress in the gym.
When we are strength training, we are imposing a demand on our muscles and nervous system, which causes an adaptation. As we recover between workouts, our bodies work their magic to rebuild and make the demand easier next time we perform it.
Simply, to get stronger and more fit, your workouts need to become more demanding over time and you must make your muscles work harder and less efficiently than they’re use do. Without doing this, you won’t improve and get stronger.
Unfortunately, most women miss out on this completely. They skip around trying different workouts, or doing random routines from Pinterest, train inconsistently or always do the same thing/use the same weights and rep schemes.
If you’re always doing the same thing, your body will adapt to it, it will become less demanding and your body won’t have to work as hard, so you stop seeing results.
On the flipside, if you’re not giving your body enough of something to adapt to because your workouts are inconsistent, random or too easy, you will also struggle to improve.
Strength training is the best way to guarantee progressive overload.
One of the countless reasons why strength training is so effective for sustainable body transformation is because you can always focus on continuously getting stronger and improving your performance. There are also numerous ways besides just lifting more weight to use strength training to progress (which I’ll get to below!).
It’s very difficult to use progressive overload with cardio. And it almost always backfires.
I don’t know about you, but having to do more and more cardio over time to achieve and maintain my results sounds like a real drag to me, and is totally not sustainable. It also doesn’t fall in line with my philosophy of making fitness enhance your life.
When it comes to cardio, more is not exactly better, and intensity will always trump duration in terms of effectiveness.
Although low/moderate intensity cardio is an important part of a well-rounded regimen, if you are looking for body transformation the best amount of cardio is the least amount you can do while still getting results (after prioritizing strength training, proper nutrition and stress management).
How To Use Progressive Overload.
If you are a beginner, in your first year of strength training, progress will come pretty rapidly. Sit back and enjoy the ride because strength gains will become much less linear as you become more advanced (sorry to be the bearer of bad news!).
So if you are new to the iron, simply focus on mastering basic exercises and improving your range of motion. If you perform the same workout as you did the week before, but with better form – congrats, that’s progression!
After you’ve nailed your form, then it’s time to start progressing using weight and manipulating other variables.
Here are the numerous ways to use progressive overload:
Increasing the amount of weight or resistance you’re using is the most common way to use progressive overload.
An example would be squatting 100lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps on week 1, and the next week squatting 3 sets of 8 reps with 105lbs.
This entails doing more work overall via either more reps or more sets, usually using the same load as done previously.
An example would be doing 3 sets of 8 on week 1 with 50lbs, and the next week 3 sets of 10 with 50lbs.
Or doing 3 sets of 8 on week 1 with 50lbs and 4 sets of 8 the next week with 50lbs.
Range of Motion:
Increasing your range of motion on an exercise means you are moving your body and/or weight used a greater distance.
Examples would be performing glute bridges with your feet elevated, split squats with your front foot elevated, steps ups to a higher box, or getting deeper in your squats without any compensations (like your lower back rounding).
Progressing density is accomplishing the same amount of work (or more) in less time than before. This can be done by decreasing rest time in between exercises or sets.
For example, if week 1 you performed 3 sets of 6 squats at 100lbs with two minutes of rest in between them, then week 2 you performed 3 sets of 6 squats but with 90 seconds rest between them.
Time Under Tension:
TUT is simply means you are slowing down the exercise and increasing the amount of time your body is under “tension”. This can be done by adding pauses to exercises (pausing in the bottom position of a squat or push up, for example) or changing the tempo of a workout.
An example of changing the tempo of an exercise would be using a 2-1-1-1 tempo with a push up – 2 second lower, 1 second pause at the bottom, 1 second push up and 1 second pause at the top before beginning the next rep. It will take you 5 seconds to complete each rep.
Stability refers to the ability to resist movement from an outside force. You can decrease stability by performing single arm or leg movements, using unstable surfaces (such as suspension trainers) or decreasing your points of contact with the floor.
Examples of decreasing the stability of exercises include lifting one foot slightly off the floor when performing planks to decrease ground contact, doing single leg Romanian deadlifts instead of bilateral, or using rings or a TRX suspension trainer to perform push ups.
A solid training program will have progressions built in for you, so that you don’t have to worry about it. All you have to worry about is keeping track of your sets, reps, and weights used and that you are always doing your best to improve a little bit week to week.
At Hurst Strength clients generally get a new training program every 4 weeks. Each new program builds upon and progresses from the previous one using the variables above, and each new program prepares the client for more advanced exercise.
It’s also important to note that as I mentioned, progress will not always be linear, despite how much you try. There will be “off days” or weeks where you aren’t ready to do more yet, and that’s totally normal – don’t let it get to your head, go with the flow, take care of your recovery and keep on truckin’.
If you have questions, or are interested in your own customized training program to ensure you achieve maximum results with a simple, sustainable and effective approach whether you are a woman new to fitness or a seasoned lifter, reach out!