What is it?
The principle of progression dictates that there is an optimal level of muscle overloading, and an optimal time frame for this overload to occur. In other words, your workouts shouldn’t get tougher too slowly or decent improvements in body composition are unlikely, while making them tougher too fast may result in injury or muscle damage.
Why is it important?
Without consistent progression in your workouts, you won’t maximise increases in muscle size, strength or endurance. Progression can be accomplished in several ways: increase the load, add repetitions, alter your rep tempo, shorten or expand the rest period between sets, increase the volume of overall work – or any combination of these variables.
How should I progress my workout?
Progression for bulking up In order to best stimulate muscle gains a moderate number of sets (4) and a moderate reps range (6-12) is required, along with lifting to failure.If upon completing a set you feel you have a few more reps in you – which would take you out of your target rep range – it’s time to up the weight. Try to start each new exercise with a load that forces you to fail on rep six or seven. By the end of a six-week cycle, you should be pushing for eight to twelve repetitions. When you start failing at this point, add some more weight so that you fail at around the sixth repetition again. Repeat.
King tip Complete a progression test every 4-6 weeks. This could take the form of a one, six or 10 repetition max test for each muscle group.
Progression for building strength and power Power increases when a muscle produces the same amount of work in a shorter time, or more work in the same amount of time. The optimum way to progressively increase strength is to deploy a lower repetition range (1-5) and higher number of sets (around 7), incrementally increasing your load with each set. Warm up with lighter weights and incrementally add weight each set until on your final set you cannot complete a repetition. A typical session for training the power clean might include a five-rep warm up with 50% of your one-rep max, followed by five reps at 65%, five reps at 75%, four reps at 85%, three reps at 90%, two reps at 95%, one rep at 100%, and then a personal best attempt of one repetition at 105% of your one rep max.
King tip Plot your workouts on excel to get a great visual demonstration of your progression.
Progression for muscular endurance The ability of a muscle to produce more repetitions with a specific training load is best enhanced through long duration sets and shorter recovery time between sets. So to ensure improvement, do the same amount of work each set but cut down your rest periods. Alternatively, throw in an extra set, or increase your load.
King tip Pre-exhaustion training – in which you exercise a muscle to fatigue before initiating a set, forcing secondary muscles to work harder – will ensure an exercise is progressively challenging in terms of muscular endurance.
Progression for reducing body fat For resistance training focused towards losing weight, the same guidelines outlined in the bulk up section above should be followed. High intensity interval training (the most effective way of burning fat in less time) should be performed to failure just like with weight training. For example, sets should be made incrementally harder and you should not stop until you cannot complete the set. Try one of these three workouts.
King tip Always work to failure whether in the weights room or on the treadmill, but don’t expect every session to be progressive. Progress is volatile and as long as the line of best fit is positive you are on the right track.