Are you on exercise autopilot? After every set do you add a 10-pounder to each side of the bar before you can say, "Please spot me, Jamie Eason?" Then it's time to consider some new ways to step up your workout. Alwyn Cosgrove has got some great ideas about the subject.
The Path To Progress
Most people use a single variable to progress in their weight training – load lifted. There's nothing wrong with that, but eventually you reach a ceiling when you simply can't add more weight to an exercise.
In a typical training program, we have exercise order, exercise selection, sets, reps, tempo, rest period and load. Here's a small sample workout below. Let's go over three progression methods and see how each changes the workout.
1A) Squat – 3 sets of 6 reps (3x6) with 90 seconds rest, using 200 pounds
1B) Dumbbell bench press – 3x6 with 90 seconds rest, using 50 pounds
Workout Volume (sets x reps x weight): Squat 3600 pounds. Dumbbell bench press 1800 pounds. Total 5400 pounds.
Assuming each set takes a minute, the workout is done in 15 minutes.
Most people would just increase the load each week. But instead, we could add an additional rep next workout. Or add an additional set. Or maybe we cut the rest period down, and with the extra time we can add more exercises or even back-off sets.
Method #1: Add Reps
Add one rep to each set of each exercise.
1A) Squat – 3x7 with 90 seconds rest, using 200 pounds
1B) Dumbbell bench press – 3x7 with 90 seconds rest, using 50 pounds
Workout Volume: Squat 4200 pounds. Dumbbell bench press 2100 pounds. Total 6300 pounds.
You can always get one more rep.
Method #2: Add Sets
Add one set to each exercise.
1A) Squat – 4x6 with 90 seconds rest, using 200 pounds
1B) Dumbbell bench press – 4x6 with 90 seconds rest, using 50 pounds
Workout Volume: Squat 4800 pounds. Dumbbell bench press 2400 pounds. Total 7200 pounds.
Do a little more work than the next guy.
Method #3: Reduce Rest Periods
Decrease the rest between each set.
1A) Squat – 3x6 with 75 seconds rest, using 200 pounds
1B) Dumbbell bench press – 3x6 with 75 seconds rest, using 50 pounds
Workout Volume: Squat 3600 pounds. Dumbbell bench press 1800 pounds. Total 5400 pounds.
Assuming each set takes a minute, the workout is now done in 13.5 minutes.
Let's Put It All Together
Week one: Workout as described. 3x6 with 90 seconds rest.
Week two: Increase the reps on each set by one. 3x7 with 90 seconds rest.
Week three: Maintain the reps, add one set per exercise. 4x7 with 90 seconds rest.
Week four: Reduce each rest period by 15 seconds per set. 4x7 with 75 seconds rest.
This will take us from week one's total volume of 5400 pounds in 15 minutes to a total volume of 8400 pounds in 18 minutes, with an increase in workout density from doing those two extra sets. That's 55% more work in only three more minutes, or over 100 pounds of additional work per minute training.
Obviously this is a huge increase in the total work done without having to add any weight to the bar. So even if you're in a situation where your home gym doesn't have any extra weight, you can still make great progress. I haven't even changed exercise order, exercise selection, rep tempo or load, yet I still managed to create a more challenging workout.
This would not be a more challenging workout.
Hopefully you see the benefits of implementing different methods of progression rather than just increasing load all the time. The key to progress is overload and there are various ways of getting there. Just make sure you're moving forward every step of the way.