“Man, I couldn’t move my arms yesterday.”

“That’s nothing. I needed a wheelchair just to get around after that leg workout.”

“You guys are amateurs. I went to the hospital and now on dialysis after that WOD.”

OK, maybe the last example is a bit extreme (but it has happened!).  This seems to be the new “bench press” for the fitness community: feeling dead after a workout. Having a hard workout and telling your workout buddies about it is not new mind you. I’m referring to the one-upping that takes place on a daily basis via social media and in person. Workouts have become less about making progress and more about feeling like you went through the indoc program for SEAL training. And, that’s  the problem: lack of attention to the progressive overloading principle.

Some of you are going to say I’m wrong because fitness buffs, gyms, and online programs are always showing the latest “before and after” shots of clients making progress. This is true (and should continue). However, bragging rights have become the focus on the workout itself and less about what changes, be it health, performance, or aesthetics, have been obtained through steady, consistent, progressive overloading, challenging workouts.

I hate complaining about a problem without offering a solution so here are a few tips EVERYONE should consider when moving into your next workout (ideally, workout program):

  1. Stay with the same exercises for at least 4-5 weeks

With very few exceptions almost all good programs have you perform the same movements over and over again for a training cycle (hence, the 4-5 week time frame). This is the first step in tracking your progress b/c if you’re jumping from one exercise to another then there’s no way of ensuring you are making progress. Again, some programs do jump around but they are usually more complex and for elite level athletes. Remember, just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Keep it simple. Stick with the same exercises.

  • Record your sets, reps, and weight used (tempo if necessary)

What’s the point of all this work if we don’t write it down? Takes out the stress of remembering what exercises you did and how many sets/reps you performed. In my opinion recording workouts is one of the best methods to help keep you focused on progressive overloading. Using this information each week allows you to push a little bit harder via more reps, more sets, or more weight than the previous session. Over the course of 4-5 weeks make sure you are increasing the overall volume of your workouts. For example, if I performed 3 sets of 12 reps of 185lbs on Bench Press week 1 and I increase the weight by 5lbs on week 2 (and complete 3 sets of 12 reps) then I will have performed 180 more pounds than the previous week. If I were to stay with this increase by week 5 I’ll have performed 720 more pounds than week 1! That’s a huge increase! More volume = More progress = More results.

  • Start lighter than you think

This will be the hardest thing for everyone (but, mostly men). The whole point of progressive overloading is that we start with a challenging but attainable workload beginning week 1. In other words, if you come out of the gate with guns blazing then you will burn yourself out by week 2.

Drop the ego and start lighter.


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