Progressive Overload… It’s the name of game when it comes to the Gains!
There’s simply no way around it, you must progressively overload the muscles to keep the gains coming. When most people talk about progressive overload, they almost universally speak of lifting more and more weight every time you do the same exercise.
As every trainee on the planet has found out to their dismay, you can’t just keep lifting heavier and heavier loads week in and week out. “Add 5 pounds to your bench every week and in 4 years you’ll be benching 1,000” has been a time honored way of pointing out how absurd it is to expect continuous improvement in how much you can lift every time you set foot back in the gym.
How then do we continue to progress if it isn’t by lifting more and more weight? Read on my fellow lifters, for great rewards await.
The “Heavy Set” Method
No, this doesn’t mean you gain weight until its easier to lift the weight… Although that can work sometimes. This method means that you add weight to the beginning sets of a sequence until you can finally add the weight to all of them. Example:
230×5, 225×5 x 4 sets
230×5 x 2 sets, 225×5 x 3 sets
This is a way of increasing the weight without making it impossible to finish enough work to actually create a stimulus. 225 still represents a high percentage load for this lifter, so by increasing just one set per week we can eventually get to where we want to be without taxing the recovery of the lifter too much.
Progressing on the amount of volume lifted is the most intuitive right after lifting more weight, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Let’s say you get stuck at 225 on the bench and just can’t quite seem to lift any more no matter how much you strain and fight against it. To make sure the gains train doesn’t come to a screeching halt one thing we can do is increase volume by either adding sets, or adding reps to our current sets.
So if you get stuck at 5×5 @ 225lbs, and when you try 235 your number plummet to reps of 3,2,2,1,0 you could back up back to 225 and build up to 5×6-8, or even add sets of 5 so you are doing 7×5 or 8×5. Now you have really given the body a huge stimulus to adapt to compared to your previous 5×5 scheme.
After you can get 8×5 or 5×8, you will surely be able to better handle the increase in weight next time around.
This technique was made popular by Charles Staley under his “escalating density training” method. I won’t get into the specifics of that particular method, but suffice to say that increasing the Density of work done is another way to progress.
Sticking with out 225x5x5 example above, you would note how long it takes you to complete the entire exercise including sets and rest periods, and the next time around you would try and beat that time. If you used 3 minute rest period you might complete it in around 15 minutes. Try and shave 30-60 seconds off per week until you can get it to around 10 minutes, and you will have progressed quite nicely.
The idea here is that by giving your body incomplete rest you are managing fatigue in a different way. The extreme end of this example would be to rest so little that you are able to do all 25 reps of a 5×5 scheme with no rest in between the “sets” and just bang out 25 reps at the old weight … A bit extreme as I said, and unnecessary. If you can shrink the amount of time down 30-50% you will no doubt have progressed to a point where you can up the weight and be more comfortable there.
That’s enough to digest for this week, next week we will go over 3 more methods for progressing on a stuck exercise.