The Importance of Progression

The most important component of successful training is an unremitting desire to progress. Athletes and coaches sometimes become frustrated by the lack of gains "their program" delivers. This leads to a search for magical solutions, food supplements, exercises and equipment. The "program" will be changed, perhaps changing exercises, sets, reps, percentages or speed of movement. After another period of unsatisfactory results, new gurus will be consulted and the program will change again. All the while, the answer to their problem is too simple to be seen.

Athletes sometime seek the "secrets of strength" from the Biggest Guy in the Gym. Their conversation will go something like this:

Small guy:"I just can't seem to get my arms to grow."
Biggest Guy in the Gym:"What are you doing for your arms now?"
Small guy:"What you told me to do. Barbell curls three sets of ten, cable curls four sets of eight, tricep press downs five sets of five."
Biggest Guy in the gym:(Looking up, thinking real hard.) "Well, its obvious to me you need to be doing dumbbell curls for five sets of eight, preacher curls for 10 8 6 4 pyramid and lying triceps extensions super setted with tricep push¬downs."
Small guy in the gym:(Humbled and grateful to be in the presence of a weight guru.) "Thanks for the advice, man. I can't wait to try my new program. I know this one will work."

And the small guy is off on his new program, conveniently forgetting that it was the Biggest Guy in the Gym that gave him his first program that produced unsatisfactory result in the first place. And the Biggest Guy in the Gym, enjoying the role of mentor, forgetting his original advice, never tells his students to train harder on the program they have.

We have to quit relying on hand me down information. Do you really think you can change the chemical composition of muscle fibers by changing sets, reps and speed of movement? Muscles are not that smart. They do not have "eyeballs" that allow them to "see" a "program" or if the resistance comes from a machine or barbell. Yet many people have devised very complicated ways to train that are hard to understand, that they probably don't understand, and we're sure the muscles don't understand. This has resulted in such things as pyramid up schemes, pyramid down schemes, power pairs, percentage training, five sets of five, and a favorite misguided approach "periodization". All these methods assume that there is a magical muscle making formula that you can just plug into and get results. Periodization takes the ridiculous to absurd by making the formula an almost epic like journey that takes a person through distinct phases of "hypertrophy", "basic ¬strength", "power" and "active rest".

Reality is something different. The body changes by a force of will. Strength training, to be productive, must be difficult and progressive. But the progression need not be difficult to understand. Each workout, on each exercise, try to increase the weight or the repetitions. This is called the double progressive method of overload and it is the most effective way to improve.

An athlete who could improve one repetition every workout would experience phenomenal gains. For example, let us say we are doing strict barbell curls in the 8 to 10 rep range on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Week 1

Monday 60 lb. for 8 reps
Wednesday 60 lb. for 9 reps
Friday 60 lb. for 10 reps

Because we have reached 10 reps, it is time to go up a small amount

Week 2

Monday 65 lb. for 8 reps
Wednesday 65 lb. for 9 reps
Friday 65 lb. for 10 reps

Week 3

Monday 70 lb. for 8 reps
Wednesday 70 lb. for 9 reps
Friday 70 lb. for 10 reps

At first it does not seem like much is happening here, but let's take a closer look. If we are training three times a week, that is 156 workouts a year. If we are going up in weight 5 lbs. every 4 workouts...

156 workouts per year/4 workouts = 39 increases 39 increases X 5 lbs. per increase = 195 lbs. per year!

Not bad for arm curls!

Is this possible?

We have never seen an athlete who could increase a repetition every workout, but there will be times that your progress will amaze both yourself and your coach. For the more experienced trainee it can be frustrating training for weeks to add only one rep. But even if you add only one rep every three weeks, that is still twenty five pounds a year, which would translate into one hundred pounds over the course of your college career.

A rep is a huge increment and needs to be broken down into an ...inch! Make every inch of every repetition count. Don't cheat yourself by using momentum for one inch. Make progression the driving force in your workouts. Try to add one rep each time you train. Or try to add a half of a rep. Or six inches. Run a little longer. Sprint a step more. Improve one inch. Demand improvement from yourself each time you train. Refuse to replicate previous results.

In the short run you are trying to add reps. In the long run you are trying to add weight. Small increases over time will get you were you are trying to go, and when you can curl 150 pounds for ten strict reps, your arms will be as big and as strong as they will ever be. Do not look for magic. Ultimately, you will determine your results, not the program, the coach, or the equipment. Look to yourself your motivation and effort for the answers.

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