Today we are going to talk about a core concept in strength training that applies to anyone that works out to gain strength, get big muscles, “get toned” (we’ll ignore the fact that “toned” is really just “gaining muscle” for this article), get in shape, or even lose bodyfat… and that concept is CONSTANT PROGRESSION. Why did I put it in all capital letters? Simple – because it is the most important idea in weight training!
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the idea that if you are not constantly pushing yourself and trying to improve, you will not make gains and you will just stay in the same spot spinning your wheels. Lets say that you are working out to turn yourself into an Arnold Schwarzeneggerian beast so you can impress all of the ladies with your massive muscles – so you start doing bench press. The first day you hit the gym and you find that you can lift 135lbs for 10 reps, and you do 3 sets of 10. The next time chest day comes around you hit the bench and you do your 135lbs for 3 sets of 10… and you stick with it for the next 6 months. You’ve probably made some gains because you’re new to working out, but you’re upset that you don’t look like Arnold yet, and you are still doing 135lbs for 3 sets of 10 because “that’s what you do on chest day”. What is wrong with that picture? Well, the answer is simple: There is no progression!!
If you go into the gym every workout and do the same workout with the same weight, you are going to continue to have the same body. You will get REALLY GOOD at bench pressing 135lbs for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, but you will continue to have the same physique that it takes to bench press 135 for 3 sets of 10. If you really want to make changes to your body, you have to give it a reason to change. You see, your body doesn’t want to add more muscle “just because” – it needs a reason to do it. Muscle requires fuel, and your body is a machine that is programmed to try to run as efficiently as possible – so in a sense it tries to keep itself in a state where it is easy to maintain itself. Extra muscle serves no purpose if you don’t show your body it is necessary for it to be there by overloading the system so it sees a “need”. How do you make your body think that for some reason you need to have 19” arms and a 50” chest? You have to keep challenging it so that it has to adapt and add that new muscle! It is really simple – strive to progress SOMETHING each workout. Whether you fight to get an extra 1-2 reps with a weight you used last time, or add something as small as a 2.5lb plate to the bar – you need to do something to give your body a new challenge. When you encounter a new level of resistance, your body must adapt so that next time you you will be able to handle it – that is how you make progress towards your goals.
I make it a point to try to either increase my reps or my weights on every exercise on every workout – with my program I repeat each exercise every 2 weeks so that type of progression is reasonable. If you do the same exercises more than once in a week, you may not be able to make the same progressions every workout – but you should try to make change every week. Naturally you can’t make progress constantly on every exercise or eventually you will be bench pressing 900lbs for reps – you will reach a point where progress stalls out. Once you hit that point you need to evaluate if you just need to take a break from working out for a week, or if it is just time to ditch that exercise and replace it with something new. The rule I use is if it is just one exercise that is stalled, and I can’t make progress for 2 workouts in a row – the exercise is gone. There is no point in keeping bench press just because you like it when you aren’t making progress – switch to incline or decline for a while until that stalls out, then go back to bench press again. If you are stalling out on most of your exercises at the same time all of a sudden – you may just need to take a week off from working out. You will not suddenly become a weak pile of flab in a week – your body will thank you when you get back to the gym.
Okay – so the moral of the story here is you MUST MAKE PROGRESS with each workout, or with every few workouts. If you are just going in and doing the same thing over and over again, your results will be the same over and over again. If you want your body to change, your workouts must change – simple as that.
Have a good weekend everyone!