I often mention the principles of progression and the fact that if you understand these principles making progress in any exercise is, at the very least, simple to understand.
However, just recently when I was asked about these I realize that I didn’t have them posted anywhere online.
(The best place to find them previously has been inside The Master Keys to Strength and Fitness.)
The first principles require understanding different types of progression. Of these, I see there are four main forms of progression:
Those that only focus on one or two of these are shooting themselves in the foot, metaphorically speaking. So in more detail:
#1 – Intensity
How much weight are you lifting? This is normally represented as a percentage of your one rep maximum. Other ways of looking at intensity would include how difficult of an exercise variation you’re using. With bodyweight exercises you lift your bodyweight, but HOW you lift (leverage, two limbs vs. one, range of motion, etc.) your bodyweight determines intensity. Even with weights these same other ideas apply too.
#2 – Volume
How many total reps and sets are you doing? This can be calculated as total poundage lifted, though I just look at total reps with a given weight. How much total volume can I do at a given intensity?
This tends to be a pretty easy number to increase from workout to workout. You can always rest more and do more sets. Still it can be useful to do as it translates to the other progressive measures.
#3 – Density
How much work are you doing in a given amount of time? Take the volume and intensity and divide by the time spent both doing it and resting. Again I measure this by total reps in a time amount, with a given intensity.
Not as commonly used as the other two for progression, it is still very important. As I mentioned volume can increase just by taking more time, which means you might progress in one way but not another. Bringing in the time element constricts this, making it more concrete.
Basically you can improve by doing the same amount of work in less time or more work in the same amount of time.
#4 – Quality
What is the quality of the work you’re doing? Here we can look at a couple of factors that are all covered within the progression of quality.
Technical Tightness – The first time you do a new move, or set a new max PR, it is often ugly. But with continued practice you can often make it look better, improving the technique with which you do it and also how good it feels to you.
Rate or Perceived Exertion (RPE) – This can also be described as severity. How hard or difficult is it for you to do? I lump this under quality because isn’t it higher quality to do something with less effort?
There are others you can use, like frequency of training, order of exercises in a workout including using pre-exhaustion, and many more. But if you get these four you have the “keys to the kingdom” of strength.
Want more? This month’s newsletter covers the Triple Triple Matrix, a way I’ve been putting these together to make sure I’m progressing well over time.
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