Exercise Progression - Tips To Help Workout Frustration
years ago, I was in one hell of a serious rut. So serious in fact,
that I was honestly considering giving up training all together
for a while. I felt frustrated, burned out, and mentally beat up.
My body felt old and cranky with various joint injuries and various
aches and pains. I started to wonder, was this it? Are my best days
behind me and now I start the long and slow decent into decline
of strength that comes with age?
Thankfully the answer was no. Not only was I not headed on that
downward spiral, but my best years were still to come. I just had
to wise up to something I like to call technical progression.
As athletes, we have three different ways we can progress our exercise
to train our bodies towards a higher level. The first two methods
are the most obvious and more popular:
Method #1 - Adding Intensity
This is pretty simple to understand and it is often where many look
to progress with resistance training. By adding more weight or adjusting
the speed of the technique, intensity is increased and places further
stress on the body.
Method #2 - Adding Volume
This method is also pretty simple. You add sets, reps, miles,
or workouts so you end up doing more of each exercise per unit of
These two methods were primarily what I was focused on. I just
kept adding weight, adding reps and adding sets. I figured I was
doing a good job especially since I was progressing in all the right
ways. Unfortunately, I was also playing chicken with an on coming
train. The thing with both volume and intensity is that they both
place stress upon the human body. After all, that's what we want
right? The human body gets stressed and it recovers and overcompensates
to become more fit.
cool thing is that the amount of stress we can place upon our body
is infinite. We can always place a few more pounds on the bar, do
one more set or run a few more miles. We can always do more. Unfortunately,
our capacity to withstand this stress is finite. We can only do
so much before we hit a wall at best or break down like an old car
This was the situation I was finding myself in a few years ago.
I had reached the limit of stress my body could withstand. I was
beating myself up. At first, I tried improving my recovery. I got
more sleep and improved my diet and that worked, but only for a
bit. Once I increased my capacity for stress, I quickly maxed out
again. I was like a compulsive shopper who got an extension on a
credit card. It only provided temporary breathing room until I maxed
out once again.
I was giving up hope until I made a discovery. I realized that
there was in fact a third method of progression beyond adding volume
Method #3 - Improving Technical Proficiency
The beauty of progressing technical abilities is that it safeguards
against the stress that adding volume or intensity creates. It improves
joint stability, ligament and tendon strength as well as reinforces
safe lifting practices. It's also infinite. While we can only handle
so much intensity or volume, we can always improve our technique.
Even the world's top athletes never stop seeking ways to improve
their running stride or golf swing.
The downside of technical proficiency is that it's not always as
simple as just adding weight or running one more mile. It takes
time and research to learn how to make the small changes that produce
big results. The other downside is that technical improvements can
be a shot to the ego. It requires the athlete to step back and admit
that they are not benching or jumping with the best form possible.
It can also require a decrease in intensity or volume. Many times,
improved technique means not being able to lift as much weight or
achieving as many reps.
This was the biggest reason why I didn't seek technical progression.
I didn't want to decrease my bench or only get 7 pullups even if
it meant my technique was better. However, as a friend once said
to me, "Do you want to get stronger or do you want to lift
more weight?" I always thought the two were the same, but in
the case of technical progression, they can sometimes be in opposition
to one another.
After a few years of including technical progression into my workouts,
I'm in far better shape than ever before. I'm faster, stronger,
and more stable and I've never looked better. What's more, all of
my aches and pains are a distant memory and I have the confidence
that I'll live forever.
I know the inevitable decline is out there, heading towards me
like a far off tsunami. However, with a new emphasis on technical
progression, I now feel that wave is still far off at sea and I
have a lot more time to play in the surf.
In my next article I'll share with you some of the fastest and
most effective ways to progress even the most elite levels of exercise