We love variety. We love coming in and doing something new each and every day.
But if you have specific goals, like doing an unassisted pull up, you can’t simply do something new each and every day.
Actually if you want to reach your goals, you need to repeat workouts…over…and over…and over again.
And then you need to progress your current workouts.
You are not reinventing the wheel each and every workout, each and every week.
You are simply constantly building on your past and current routines to progress and get stronger to reach your goal.
How can you progress your workouts if they are constantly changing?
The simple answer is…You can’t.
You can’t easily track whether or not you are moving forward. And whether or not you are getting results, you won’t know what is and isn’t working.
And if you don’t know what is and isn’t working, you don’t know what to change when you plateau or your results slow.
So how often do you change up your workouts? And how do you build from progression to progression?
Below are some great tips and guidelines to help you create a great progression.
1. Change up your workouts every 3-6 weeks. You need to spend at least 3 weeks on a progression to get results from the workouts. The first week you will learn the moves and become comfortable with them. The next week you will add weight and the third week you will be able to really push yourself to the max with them. You may find that you can get just a little more out of them if you do a fourth and final week or you may be ready for a recovery week. I’ve found that the maximum amount of time you can repeat the same workouts without plateauing is 6 weeks. Longer than that and you start to get bored or overtrain or plateau. Go no longer than 6 weeks without a recovery week and changing up your workouts.
2. Progress the exercises and weights. There are progressions/regressions for every exercise. Think about the push up for instance. Never been able to do one? Start against the wall. Then do one from a lower incline with your hands up on a bench…maybe even on your knees. Then maybe a super low incline from your toes. Then maybe from your knees on the ground. And finally from your toes on the ground. You can even progress the move further and do a decline push up. The point is, you start with one move, master it and then move on to the next level the next progression. You can also make moves more challenging by adding weights. Heavier weights make moves harder. But going heavier or lighter isn’t the only way to use weights to change up the exercise. You can also vary exercises by where you hold the weight and the type of weight you use. A kettlebell deadlift is different that a barbell deadlift or a suitcase deadlift. A front squat is different than a sandbag shouldered squat or a barbell back squat. They all challenge the body in different ways because of where you hold the weight and the type of weight used.
3. Change up your workout design. You can change up the number of reps and sets you do to challenge your body in a new way. Working toward a one rep max? Then slowly lower your weights down as you progress. Looking to get stronger, feel better and create some body composition changes? You may want to mix up your workouts and add in some density sets. You can vary the reps and sets to help you achieve different results. If you are working on maximal strength, your workouts shouldn’t look exactly the same as someone focused on weight loss. If you are focused on doing an unassisted pull up, your workouts won’t look the same as someone working on a pistol squat or training for a race. You workout design should match your goals.
4. Change your supplemental lifts to address your weak points. As you progress, you will find that different body parts are the weakest links. Address those weak links with supplemental exercises. If you want to do more push ups and your triceps are weak, add in some dips or some close grip push ups. Shoulders weak? Then add in some overhead presses and maybe some handstand holds. Make sure to add in lifts to help you progress toward your goal and address your weakest links. Those supplemental lifts should change even if your goal stays the same for a progression or two. These different lifts will help work those weak links in different ways to make them stronger and can address any new areas of weakness.
5. Consider what your week looks like OUTSIDE of working out and plan around it. If you plan out your workouts ahead of time, you can plan certain workouts to go on certain days. Know you are alway busy Monday and really only have 30 minutes to workout? Plan your short workout for that day. Know that you hate going to the gym on the weekends when you are home but want to get in a workout? Plan a home recovery workout for that day or any other workout you can do from home. Consider your schedule and match your workouts to your schedule. It will make your workouts easier to stick to and therefore keep you more consistent. A huge part of progressing is consistency!
6. Focus on one goal each progression. Often we have lots of different goals we want to accomplish, but we can’t address all of them at once. Sometimes we can address two at once if they somewhat overlap (like doing more push ups or pull ups can easily be compatible with the goal of losing weight). However, you must stay FOCUSED on one or two things with each progression. Focus your progression with only a goal or two in mind so that everything you are doing will benefit those goals. When you spread yourself to thin and try to do too many things at once, nothing will end up getting accomplished.
7. Address injuries first. Know your injuries and address when and how you are going to rehab them. This may mean focusing on a different goal and only doing rehab for the injured area during a progression. It may mean adding in rehab/prehab to workouts as part of the warm up. Or it may mean setting aside stretching/trigger point days to address your imbalances. If you don’t address injuries first, you aren’t going to get stronger and you may cause issues in other parts of your body. If you don’t address an ankle injury and just keep pushing through your knee, hip, back may all end up with issues. Your progression should go mobility, stability THEN strength/cardio. If you aren’t mobile and have a good base, you aren’t really going to get the most out of your workouts!
8. Vary the intensity of your workouts. Each and every workout shouldn’t be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. With pre-planning your progression, you are able to plan so that you aren’t destroying the same muscles over and over again and pushing your body toward injury. You can plan so that your body has ample time to recover before those muscles are worked again. If you do a hinge day and a squat day, make sure that your body has time to rest in between. Don’t put those workouts back to back. And make sure your legs are worked in different ways during each workout. Also add in a super intense metabolic workout and maybe one where you work at 70%. Make one upper body day killer and maybe the other is more stability and mobility focused. Varying the intensity and having some “easier” days can actually help you get closer to your goal than 5-6 days of super intense workouts.
9. Consider the space and equipment available. This one seems obvious but often we actually forget about all the tools we have at hand…like our own bodyweight, which is super important to remember if we want to work out 4 times a week, but just can’t make it to the gym more than 2. Once you look at your schedule, you can plan out when and WHERE you will do the workouts. Maybe you can only get to the gym twice a week, but you find you can workout two times at home. Then consider all the tools you have at home. Utilize the space and equipment you have and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Not all workouts have to occur in the gym with machines or free weights or barbells.
10. Track what you do and progress each week. A progression helps you succeed because it is pre-planned but more importantly because it allows you to easily track your progress. Write down your weights, reps, sets. Track every variable that isn’t set in stone. Say you state you are going to do 8-12 reps. Track the weight you use for those reps and how many you manage to do with that weight. Then the next week work to beat that. Tracking allows us to know EXACTLY where we are so we know EXACTLY what we have to do to progress the workout the next week!
Do you repeat workouts? Do you make them up when you get to the gym or do you have a pre-planned progression?
How long before you change up your routine?