Most of the clients I usually start training are sedentary and haven’t been doing any type of structured exercise. They have usually been sedentary for a period of months or years with some having never done any structured exercise or training program in their life. The one good thing with this is these clients usually have a window of time in the first 3 to 6 months or longer where their bodies are very sensitive and receptive to training. If they are consistent and practicing good, consistent daily lifestyle habits (proper nutrition, consistent and quality sleep, stress management techniques like meditation, etc.) they can make some really good progress and gains in a short period of time. After that period of time though progress and gains come at a slower pace. It is much easier for a newbie to strength training to make progress than a person who has been training consistently for years. This is when you see many people plateau in their training programs.
There are many ways people can make progress in their training programs. The most common is using what is called, progressive overload. Progressive overload can be defined as a method of strength training that advocates for the gradual increase of the stress placed on the musculoskeletal system and nervous system. It can be done a number of different ways. You can add more weight, more reps, more sets, more exercises, a progression to a more challenging and advanced version of an exercise (going from a goblet squat to a barbell squat) along with a number of other ways to challenge and stress the body.
One of the problems people make is they progress to quickly in a training program and make too big of a jump up in their training programs. They increase the weight too quickly, increase their reps too quickly and by too many reps and increase how much total work (sets of an exercise or number of exercises) too quickly. This usually ends in a training plateau which ends up in the results coming to a standstill. The key is to make progressions in a smaller, much more manageable way and slowly over the course of a training program.
When it comes to making any type of progression in a training program you don’t want to think of making them every workout. That isn’t very realistic or practical. A much more realistic and manageable way to make progressions in a training program is every 3rd workout and with one type of progression at a time (more weight or more reps or more sets). You wouldn’t want to increase the number of reps, the weight and the number of sets all at the same time. That is just too much at one time. Making one progression at a time and every 3rd workout or so will allow your body to adapt at much more manageable pace and get long term, consistent progress.
When it comes to increasing weight, you want to think of small increases in weight. The problem people make when making increases in weight is they think of it in terms of how much weight they are increasing. You don’t want to think of how much weight you are increasing you want to think of what percentage of weight you are increasing. Because not all increases in weight, even if it is the same amount of weight, are created the same. For example, an increase from a 10 lb. dumbbell to a 15 lb. may not seem like much but it is a 50 % increase in the amount of weight. That is much different than increasing the weight in the same 5 lb. increment from 100 lbs. on an exercise to 105 lbs. which is only a 5 % increase which is much more manageable. A good rule of thumb is to make increases of just 2 % to 3 % in weight. Someone may ask how do I do that if the weights only go up in 5 lb. increments at my gym? This is where attachable weight magnets and weight clip ons come into play. They come in half lb., 1 lb., 1 ½ lb. and 2 ½ lb., increments. They can attach on to dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and even some machines. The good thing is they aren’t that expensive, are made by a bunch of different companies and can be found pretty easily online.
As far as increases in reps are concerned you want to think of increasing one rep at a time. Many people make the mistake of increasing by too many reps at a time. For example, they go from 6 reps on an exercise and jump it up to 8. Unless the weight is really light that is too big of a jump. Increase your reps by just one rep at a time.
When it comes to progressions of an exercise to a more challenging or advanced version of an exercise. Think of progressing every 3 to 4 weeks. If you are doing a push-up on a low incline (which is an easier way to perform a push-up) progress it to doing a regular push-up off the ground after 3 or 4 weeks of doing it on a low incline.
With the number of sets you are doing in an exercise think of adding just one set every 3 or 4 weeks. You wouldn't keep adding sets to an exercise and adding sets to a workout as whole forever as that would potentially lead to over-training but over the course of a training program that lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks or so you could add a set to an exercise every 3 or 4 weeks.
Plateaus and sticking points in a training program are inevitable, even with the most fit, advanced trainee but if you think of your training in slow, smaller, more manageable progressions you will allow yourself to make much more consistent progress over the long-term. You wouldn’t take a whole bottle of aspirin for a headache, you would take just one. You always want to think of the minimum effective dose to get the job done.
Thank you for reading my blog article. I hope you found it helpful and informative. If anyone is interested in personal fitness training or sports performance training reach out to me via my email Dan@eidensfitness.com or you can contact me directly at 702-521-6012.