I consider myself very lucky to get to work with people with all different fitness levels, experiences and goals. Because of the online training I do, I also get to work with people in many different locations with access to different equipment than I may have in my gym.
Therefore I constantly have to think of new ways to work the body and challenge people.
And that is AMAZING. Because all too often we get stuck doing things ONE WAY.
Same exercises. Same way of making them harder. Same rep ranges. Same set ranges. Same rest. Same tempos. Same same same same same!
And that isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to go crazy or try every newfangled thing that comes out.
But as trainers, we constantly have to be thinking and adjusting to make things work for all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. (Or if you travel a lot and work out in different places or with limited equipment this may just help you too.)
Which is why I was excited when I got into a discussion with one of the trainers I mentor about making glute bridges more challenging when she only has very light weights.
So I asked her…How can you make the glute bridge more challenging if the weight you have is no longer difficult for the client?
She looked at me and said, “Add more reps?”
And I agreed that was potentially an option. Increasing or reducing the volume is a valid way to mix up workouts.
But I said, “What else?”
I knew she knew more options, but so often we get stuck thinking about the problem in the same way….Which is exactly what happened to this bright and wonderful trainer.
She was so used to having a full gym with plenty of weights to make her weighted glute bridges more challenging that she didn’t really think about how else to progress the movement.
So I told her to think about different variations of the bridge to make the light weight or the basic bridge more challenging for her client…
Here is the list we then came up with to make a Weighted Glute Bridge (with too light a weight or even no weight) more challenging:
- Single leg without weight from the ground.
- Single leg with the weight.
- Single leg without the weight off the box.
- Thruster with your back on the box.
- Thruster with weight.
- Thruster, single leg without weight.
- Thruster, single leg with weight
- Thruster with feet raised.
- Thruster, single leg with feet raised.
- Thruster with feet raised with weight
- Thruster, single leg with feet raised with weight (although being very careful)
- Change up tempo.
- Slow down the bridge up.
- Slow down the hold at the top.
- Slow down the lower back down.
- Slow down all three pieces. Or just one or two. Or use different tempos on each. Maybe do explosive up, hold at the top and slow down.
- Pulse at the top or bridge up, lower halfway down, then back up then all the way down.
- Try shorter rest between sets so she can’t fully recover and the weight is more challenging.
- Place her feet on an unstable surface.
- Add in other equipment…If you have towels or sliders, try using those for a bridge and curl with or without the weight…
And we could have gone on. (For instance, we could have even added in all the other bridge variations out there….)
And while some of those had weight, they were meant to use the weight she had on hand. They were variations she could do with the client based on what she had access to.
She didn’t need to skip the exercise, especially since glute bridges are ESSENTIAL. She just had to find another way to make it challenging without our normal go to of “add more weight.”
Same goes for so many of the basic moves we do. All too often we think “add weight” or “do more.” But those aren’t the only ways to add variety to our workouts or challenge ourselves…Especially when we don’t have more time or access to weights.
Don’t have heavy weights but love deadlifts? Try a single leg deadlift! You will need lighter weights than with a bilateral movement.
Weights still too light? Or maybe you don’t have any weights at all. SLOW DOWN THE TEMPO. Try hinging over toward the ground for a five count and then quickly coming back to the top. OR try a slow lower over and then an explosive movement back up with even a jump off the ground as you come back up (aka a single deadlift hop).
OR try only loading down one side to make the movement more unstable.
Or try doing as many reps as possible in a set amount of time and then rest very briefly before repeating. Shorting the rest period gives muscles less time to recover meaning they are already fatigued when we begin again….Which can be good if we aren’t going for a one rep max or even trying to increase weight each round.
Sometimes even how you pair exercises together can make an easier exercise more challenging because you can then use that movement as a way to “burn out” the muscle after it is already fatigued.
Also, traditional weights aren’t the only pieces of equipment that make exercises more challenging. A homemade slosh pipe or even a milk jug filled with water can be great unstable weights.
Or if you are traveling and need a way to make exercises more challenging (with something you can fit in your suitcase), suspension trainers, resistance bands, mini bands, sliders/towels/valslides are all easy transportable pieces of equipment to make exercises more challenging.
Anyway, the point is, you don’t need a barbell or dumbbells to make exercises more challenging. Heck, you don’t even need equipment truly (although it can make things more fun).
All you need to do is BE CREATIVE! Explore other options. Change up other exercise variables…that is besides just reps or weights!
There are so many ways to challenge yourself with your workouts.
But all too often people only focus on lifting more weight.
You can do longer or shorter workouts. You can change up the intensity. You can change up the exercises and the equipment you use. You can vary your rest. You can change up your repetition tempo.
You can also vary the VOLUME that you do.
And by “volume,” I mean changing up the number of reps and sets you do during your workout. HOWEVER, increasing your workout volume doesn’t have to mean longer workouts.
It does, however, mean you won’t be able to lift the heaviest weight you’ve ever used.
That being said though, you do want to use a challenging weight that won’t cause you to go to failure, but will create muscle shake-age (that is my very technical term for feeling your muscles start to fatigue as you lift).
You want to challenge yourself while allowing yourself to move from one exercise to the next with little to no rest between.
And even though you aren’t going to failure or using the heaviest weight you can handle, the sheer volume of work you are doing will create muscle gains.
Using heavy weights and low reps isn’t the only way to develop strength and gain lean muscle mass!
Higher volume with slighter lighter weights can also cause great gains.
For example, the forced reps variations I discussed a few months ago can be a great way to increase your workout volume, challenge yourself and help you progress toward your fitness goals WITHOUT just focusing on always lifting heavier weights or doing lower rep counts.
Another great way to increase your workout volume is by doing density sets. One of my favorite ways to do density sets is by setting a timer and then trying to do as many rounds of two or three exercises in that allotted time as possible.
During these sets, you will use a lighter weight and stop before reaching failure so that you never really need to rest more than 30 seconds at any time.
These density set workouts can also be a great way to get in a little extra “cardio” and can be a great way to give your body a break from the low rep, heavy lifting while still helping you to move forward! And if you’ve plateaued with your low rep, heavy lifting workouts, a high volume workout may be just what you need to get over your plateau.
(Shoot, I also love these workouts because I can get in a high volume of work done WITHOUT having to do 20 reps at one time…Since for some reason my brain, in general, hates counting up to 20….)
Below is a sample high volume workout to get you going this week!
Glute Density Set Workout
Stretch and Roll Out:
Set a timer for 15 minutes for each circuit. Perform as many rounds of each circuit as you can in that 15 minutes. Rest 2-3 minutes between circuits. Try to rest no more than 30 seconds at one time during each circuit if you rest even that long.
Mark down how many rounds of each circuit you get in 15 minutes so next time you have something to compete against and show progress!
15 minute timer
8-12 reps each side Single Leg Deadlift
10-25 reps Reverse Hypers
Rest 2-3 minutes
15 minute timer
5-10 reps each side Backward Rotational Lunge to Front Lunge Across
8-12 reps each side Single Leg Glute Bridge
Stretch and Roll Out:
Single Leg Deadlift – For this move, you can hold dumbbells or kettlebells, but remember DO NOT GO TO FAILURE. Beginners should start with bodyweight. Stand on one foot with the knee of that standing leg slightly bent. Hinge over at your hips, sweeping the other leg back toward the wall behind you. Pretend you are driving the heel of that foot straight into the wall behind you. Lean forward with your upper body as you hinge forward, keeping the back nice and flat. Make sure that as you hinge, you are sitting into the heel of your standing leg. Do not lean forward and come up onto your toes. To stand back up, drive through the heel of your standing leg and squeeze your glute at the top. Try not to tap the other foot down at all or at least not till you are fulling standing. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other leg.
Reverse Hypers – Click here for a description and pictures of me using a small side table I have at my house to do the Reverse Hypers. You can also use a box step or do this move from the ground; however, I do prefer the range of motion the table or box step provides.
Backward Rotational Lunge to Front Lunge Across – This move is actually two lunges, which means that 1 rep is actually 2 lunges. On one you rotate back and open and on the other you come forward and across. Start with both feet pointing toward “12” on a clock. Performing the lunge first with the right foot moving, take the right foot and move it back toward “5” on the clock. As you reach your foot back toward “5,” you will pivot that toe so that it is perpendicular to the front foot which is still pointing toward “12.” Lunge down, bending the right knee while keeping the left leg straight. You are sinking your weight back into that right foot. Then drive up off the right heel and come back to standing. Beginners may need to pause in the middle between lunges while more advanced exercisers can go right from the back rotational lunge into the forward cross lunge. After driving the right foot back to center, bring it forward and across the body toward about “10/11” on the clock. Your right foot will again turn so it is perpendicular to your left foot which is pointing toward “12.” Sink down into a lunge, bending both knees and then drive off the right heel to come back to standing. Repeat those two lunges and then switch to the other side. Beginners will want to use bodyweight while more advanced lifter may front load with a kettlebell or dumbbells.
Single Leg Glute Bridge – Beginners will perform a single leg glute bridge from the ground (however, if you can’t get your hips up as high as with the two leg glute bridge, stick with the two leg variation for now). More advanced exercisers may put their foot up on a box or advance the move further by putting your back and your foot up on benches/boxes. Remember though, you can’t go to failure during these density sets.
Do you pay attention to the volume of work you are doing?
How do you challenge yourself without just adding more weight?
NOTE: Not every workout should contain a ton of reps and sets. Do not go overboard with volume and/or intensity. Not every workout has to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Varying your volume and intensity is key to getting results while preventing overuse and injury. Workout variables need to be manipulated to help you work toward your goal.