The #1 missing thing from most Fitness Programs.
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
So you’ve decided you want to get fitter, leaner, faster and/or stronger. You've got all the gear you need. You've got a comprehensive program…..and critically you’ve got the time and desire. So away you go, and provided you apply yourself, you’ll get results, right? Correct, but only up to a point... If you do commit to a new workout program you will get fitter and just about any new program will cause change, but if you do the same thing over and over your body will adapt and plateau. If you want to significantly change your fitness level or body composition changing things in arbitrary way when it feels like you’re ready just won’t be enough. Put simply you need regular progression in your program. While writing this post I've seen about 40 people enter or leave a local gym. I'd bet that at least 35 of them would have done/will do essentially the same workout as last week, with no intentional increase in intensity, duration or weight lifted. Now I’m not saying that is a bad thing in itself, simply having a regular exercise routine is clearly really beneficial, however I'd be suprised if only such a small minority of regular gym goers want to change their fitness level or how they look. Planned & structured progression is simply a must in order for transformation to take place.
How and what to change in order to progress.
To make an exercise program progressive there are some obvious things to change i.e lift more weight, do more repetitions or go for longer. There are also some less apparent ways of changing the workout including shorter rest periods between sets or exercises, increased resistance on a bike, doing cardiovascular exercise at a higher heart rate or trying more advanced versions of current exercises. Now, trying to progress with everything in every workout isn't going to work, it'd be incredibly difficult and probably impossible to complete each session or at least be difficult to sustain motivation for. The key is very small progressions workout to workout or at least week to week. It’s the incremental changes over time which add up to really significant results. Let’s say for example that your routine has 5 different weight or resistance exercises and you have been advised to do 3 sets of 10 of each and do this whole workout twice per week. Using this idea of incremental progressions you could do the first 2 workouts in the first week and complete the 3 sets of 10 repetitions as advised but then for the 3rd workout in the 2nd week add a repetition to each set i.e. do 3 sets of 11 reps. Repeat that for the 4th workout and then on the 5th workout add another repetition (making 3 sets of 12 reps).If you were to continue with this pattern once you’d done 6 weeks and 12 workouts you'd have done 3 sets of 15 reps and most importantly be appreciably stronger. Confused? This sample program should give a nice clear visual explanation.
This would be a good time to then increase the weight lifted but reduce the repetitions and repeat the pattern again (this time I’d start at 8 reps though and finish with 12 reps after 5 weeks but this is getting a little more technical). Over 11 weeks you’ve have made some nice gains and providing your diet is adequate you’d have noticed some pretty significant change to your body.
It's not just strength training you can make small progressions with.
Part of this same program could well include a 20 minute session on the stationary bike after the weights. If you initially start on a resistance level of 6 on the bike and find that challenging but sustainable you could adopt a similar strategy by doing the last 2 minutes on resistance 6 in the 3rd workout, then the last 4 minutes in the 5th workout etc etc, eventually once you’ve done 11 weeks you’d be doing the entire 20 minutes of cycling at a higher resistance and thus burning more calories and simply ‘be fitter’. What I've desribed is a fairly basic example and admittedly it isn’t as possible for a committed exercise devotee with years of continuous training experience to make increases as often and they may require more complex periodisation, however many regular gym-goers could be more deliberate in planning regular and very small increase somewhere in their routines. Depending on your goals you’d naturally look to make progress with other variables. In training for your first marathon you could choose to add 5 minutes to the total duration of the longest run you do each week. Again using that idea of 11 weeks of training that’d be a whopping 50 minute increase in running endurance! Barriers to progressing
The main barrier to making regular progress is frequency. Personal training clients who do strength training (& cardio for that matter) once per week, just don't gain enough muscle, strength or fitness to be able to consistently move forward. Then if they go a week without exercise is can effectively become 10-16 days between workouts, and that is a relatively LONG time when you talk about your body and a de-training effect.
Stress, lack of sleep and poor diet also limit the bodys ability to adapt to exercise and make progress. It may seem obvious to make sure you make a program progressive but you’d be surprised how seldom it is properly structured into people’s routine or plan. If you're making the effort to turn up and exercise regularly I think you'll find the extra little bit of planning in making your program incrementally progressive could be the seemingly small thing that makes a big difference to your results. I'm sure you'll also find it makes your exercise routine feel much more purposeful and worthwhile. Get in touch if you’d like to get going with an effective, progressive exercise program.