Fitness program design can resemble a game of leap-frog in that you work to get ahead, then you’re in the back of the line again. But even in the game of leap-frog, the goal isn’t to stay in the same place – you’re always moving forward.
Here’s a simplified example of a progressive training program you could apply to most any resistance exercise. For now, let’s just say we’re talking about the bench press.
Week 1: 3×12 @ 185
Week 2: 3×8 @ 200
Week 3: 3×5 @ 215
Week 4: 3×2 @ 230
(FYI: if you’re not familiar with the notation above, in week one, 3 is the number of sets; 12 is the number of repetitions. The number after the “@” represents our fictitious weight)
There are a few key points I’d like to make with this example.
With a plan such as this, you gain the benefit of being able to look ahead and know exactly what you have to do. No more guessing in the gym.
This example has 2 primary constants: the number of sets and the specific exercise being used. By limiting the number of variables, you can get an idea what’s working and what’s not. This allows you to make personalized adjustments as necessary.
As you can see, the reps decrease each week. But how can this be considered progression? As your reps go down, your weights (read: training intensity) will increase. No more using those pink foam covered dumbbells for ump-teen sets of 10 useless repetitions week after week, month after month.
Now back to my original leap-frog concept. When you’re done with week 4, you go back to week one again, but this time starting at a higher intensity and always moving forward.
Here’s another example of this idea at work:
Cycle 1; weeks 1-4, you used weights of 185, 200, 215 and 230, respectively.
When you start cycle 2, where only a month earlier you were doing 185lbs for 12 reps, you now have a new starting point of 190-195lbs and all the other weeks follow a similar increase in intensity. Continue to repeat the cycle and now you’re finally able to make progress!
As I mentioned, this is an overly simplistic model and it does have some limitations, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture. Each individual workout is only a small (but still important) piece of a much bigger picture.
To move forward, you must train progressively.
Next week, we’ll take a look at recovery and adaptation.