The principle of progressive overload is perhaps the most important concept for anyone to understand when developing athletes or simply getting stronger. It is one of the most basic differences between training and simply exercising.
For both adult and youth athletes!!
Unfortunately, this concept is often misunderstood and misapplied, I’d like to simplify the concept of progressive overload and discuss how to most appropriately apply it as part of an overall training program.
The most simplistic way to explain progressive overload is to slowly challenge yourself to do more than you’re currently capable of doing. Without some system of progression, we’re just burning calories and making athletes tired. Sure, they may benefit from exercise, but the process of training or developing athletes should be more systematic so they progress in the safest and most efficient manner possible.
The variables that can be manipulated when applying overload include:
Frequency – how often the stimulus is applied
Intensity – either the percentage an athlete’s maximum capability or the degree of effort that goes into an exercise
Duration – how long the workout takes
Volume – the total amount of work performed. This is generally represented as the weight x reps for strength training, but it can also be represented by the total amount of sets, number of reps or distance traveled.
Most of this article will focus on progressive overload for strength development, but speed & agility will also be discussed briefly.
The essence of progressive overload is that your body adapts to a stimulus and slowly grows stronger or more efficient, depending on the goal. For example, if you can currently do 10 push-ups in a row, you would try to do 11. You would try to complete 11 push-ups until you can achieve that goal. The stimulus of attempting to do 11 forces the body to adapt and grow stronger. When you can complete 11, you begin working toward 12.
This is a very simple version of linear progression. Linear, meaning one variable, constantly moving in one direction. Many experts turn their noses up at this basic concept because progress eventually stagnates with most people, but it is a simple way to understand the underpinnings of progressive overload.
The story of Milo of Croton is another simple example of linear progression. Milo was a 6th-century Greek wrestler who picked up and shouldered a young calf when he was a young man. He picked up the calf every day as it slowly became a full-grown bull. Because he had lifted it every day, he gradually became stronger and was able to impress crowds of people by picking up bulls as an adult. The slowly increasing size of the bull provided a constant challenge that his body adapted to, and the concept of progressive overload was born.
Many athletes were developed through rough versions of this basic concept, and this was the inspiration for the adjustable barbell where small weights could be added to a bar in order to provide increasingly challenging stress.
Many coaches still take advantage of this simple strategy with relatively new trainees as they have athletes perform as many reps as possible of a single set of certain exercises. The results are recorded each day, and they are asked to “beat their score” in the next training session. This has the potential to turn into high-rep sets, but it works well when there is limited equipment and/or beginner lifters who will respond to even the lowest volumes. A basic workout for a young athlete could be one set of each of the following:
Hanging leg raise
Curl & press with dumbbells
Something as simple as this routine could be a great way to teach beginner lifters how to slowly progress, execute quality reps, and push through the discomfort of strength exercises. Many coaches use a “20-rep set” where they prescribe one set of 20 reps of each exercise. Instead of giving the athlete a weight that can be lifted 20 times, they pick a weight that can only be lifted 10-12 times. Once fatigue sets in and no more reps can be completed, the athlete puts the weight down, rests for a few seconds, then attempts a few more reps. This is repeated until the athlete has performed all 20 reps. Only the first “set” (when the weight was put down the first time) is recorded, but the athlete stays with the exercise until all 20 reps are performed. If the athlete performed 13 reps on the first set today, the goal is 14 at the next session.
This is a way to utilize linear progression but also add extra volume to the workout because the athlete is essentially performing multiple sets. When the athlete can complete all 20 reps in one set, weight is added, a new exercise is prescribed or something else changes to increase the demands placed on the athlete.
This system gets at the essence of the “double-progression” method of progressive overload in which the resistance is increased when a certain number of reps is attained. A typical example would be to select a range of 8-12 reps. You could choose a weight that could be lifted at least 8 times, but no more than 12. Let’s say you can complete 10 reps today, but cannot do 11. In the next training session, you attempt to complete 11 reps. Once 11 reps can be completed, you attempt 12 reps at the next training session. When 12 reps can finally be completed (which is the top of the rep range we selected), the weight is increased the smallest amount possible, and you start the process over again, gradually trying to perform one more rep than you were able to get in the last workout.
This is an excellent way to help young athletes choose appropriate weights for their workouts, which is actually a very common issue in many weight rooms. Beginner lifters usually have no idea what an appropriate weight would be for each exercise, so they end up choosing weights based on what others are using. Testing is another way to help athletes choose weights for certain exercises, where a 1RM is established and percentages of that number are prescribed. But, this takes a lot of time, can be dangerous with inexperienced lifters, and often isn’t very accurate with young lifters. It’s also difficult (and not recommended) to establish 1RM’s for every exercise.
So, this system of gradually increasing the number of reps performed, then slowly increasing the weight, is a great way to help athletes learn how to choose appropriate weights.
Multi-Set Double Progression
Another way to implement this system is by using multiple sets of each exercise. Using multiple sets gives athletes more opportunities to practice technique, and the additional volume can provide a great training stimulus, especially for athletes who cannot push themselves hard enough to get maximum benefit from a single set.
In this case, prescribe a number of sets and reps for each exercise, for example, 3 sets of 8 reps or 3 x 8. In this example, athletes will use the same weight for all three sets and attempt to perform 8 reps on each set. When all 3 sets of 8 reps can be completed, the athlete gets to move the weight up the smallest amount possible at the next workout. If an athlete using 100 lbs can only perform 8 reps on the first set, 7 on the second, and 6 on the third, he/she will stick with 100 lbs on the next workout.
Many coaches will encourage athletes to perform as many reps as possible on the final set as a way to challenge athletes to push a little harder. This will also help you determine when they’re ready to increase the weight and how much the increase should be. In the above example, an athlete who performs all three sets of 8, but cannot do 9 reps on the last set, should increase the weight the smallest amount possible. On the other hand, an athlete who performs 15 reps on the final set is probably ready for a slightly larger increase in order to provide a more appropriate stimulus.
Different versions of this scheme have been used by intermediate and advanced lifters for many years with exceptional results. The idea is that the first set should end up being fairly easy, and allows for some technique practice. The second set becomes more challenging, and the third set is where the hardest work is done.
It’s also important for athletes to record their results somewhere so they can look back at how many reps they performed in the last workout as a way to set goals for the current session. Most young athletes aren’t going to remember they did 7 reps on the second set of bench press with 115 lbs. Most young athletes already have enough on their minds, so that needs to be recorded. A workout card or training software like TrainHeroic are great options for recording workout results.
Teaching athletes about progressive overload is also an excellent way to teach the value of slow progression so they begin to understand the concepts of gradual adaptation, recovery, and super-compensation. Many young athletes think that they are going to get big and strong very quickly. Teaching them the value of consistency and gradual adaptation is an excellent concept for young athletes to understand so they begin to value small gains and how to schedule their workouts.
The graph below should be drawn out and explained to every athlete beginning a strength training program so they have a basic understanding of how the process works and why consistent training is so important.
Teaching athletes about progressive overload also gives coaches the opportunity to explain the value of recovery in the process of adaptation. Understanding how the cycle of stimulation – recovery – adaptation – super-compensation works is an invaluable lesson for athletes to learn. Most young athletes simply do not understand this cycle, and they end up either training inconsistently or too often. This also gives us the opportunity to explain how performance training fits into their overall schedule with sports practices, competitions, and other commitments. They need to see that all stress should be accounted for so they can create schedules that lead to progress in all areas.
Speed, Plyometrics, and Conditioning
While most of this discussion has been about strength training, progression should also be used with speed training, plyometrics, and conditioning. With plyometrics and speed training, progression is not quite as simple and easy to explain because technique and volume are so important to progression. You’re not adding another rep in every workout or increasing the number of repetitions every day.
Conditioning programs are a little easier to quantify because coaches can easily manipulate variables such as number of reps, work;rest ratios, and total volume to gradually increase the demands placed on an athlete. It’s important to gradually build this volume rather than creating dramatic spikes just to make it extra difficult. Of course, there can always be a case made for making training difficult, but coaches need to be aware of how athletes will respond to large spikes in volume or intensity, and ensure that there is adequate recovery after this kind of session.
As athletes get more advanced with their training, or enter their competitive seasons, we need to think about the concept of periodization. Through the years, I’ve seen coaches try to overcomplicate periodization and progressive overload with crazy set/rep schemes, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, and percentages that require a calculator. While certain systems of periodization can get very complicated for advanced athletes, we can (and should) keep things more simplified for most athletes who haven’t even entered college.
Most of these athletes would be considered beginners in the world of strength training, and some could be considered intermediate lifters at the very most. These trainees don’t need overly complicated programs, but we should definitely change the demands placed on them throughout the year. Off-season training programs (when athletes are not engaged in daily sport practice) can include a higher volume of strength training and the overall demands can be greater. During the pre-season, the amount of conditioning and sport-specific work will increase. Once daily practice begins during the in-season phase of the year, it’s important that we continue to train, but in a way that does not induce unnecessary fatigue.
This phase of training is difficult for both coaches and athletes to understand. Both groups often feel like brief training sessions are difficult to schedule and not worth it. Education is crucial here so they understand the importance of maintaining their strength gains without overly taxing their bodies. Inducing unnecessary fatigue will have a negative impact on both practice and competition performance, so the volume and intensity will be reduced. For example, an in-season athlete who has been training consistently for several months may still be able to squat during the season, but instead of doing multiple sets at a high rate of exertion, he/she may do only 1-2 sets, stopping each set before maximal fatigue sets in. This athlete also won’t train as often during the in-season phase. 1-2 training sessions per week are about all that’s possible during a demanding season.
Once athletes have a substantial training base, periodization becomes much more critical because experienced lifters will not make progress as easily as beginners. Complete books have been written on periodization, and many popular training programs have been devised, but most of these programs are unnecessary until athletes have trained consistently (without interruption) for at least a year and are no longer seeing significant progress. That doesn’t often happen before college, so we can do a much better with young athletes by simply monitoring training volume and intensity and understanding that strength training is meant to supplement a sport, not be the sport by itself.
Keep It Simple
When working with young or inexperienced athletes, it’s important for coaches to teach them about the training process so they have a better understanding of how they will make progress. Teaching athletes the basics of progressive overload, and using basic systems of progression, will give them an understandable framework in which to work from. They’ll be much better able to make consistent progress, choose appropriate weights, and train safely. They will also be much better prepared for more complex systems they may encounter if they advance in their athletic careers. It will also help them understand how to train for the rest of their lives.
Most coaches also see themselves as teachers or mentors, and teaching athletes the value of progression can be a gift that will pay dividends for the rest of an athlete’s life.
Major League Baseball starts in full force today with a full slate of games. The college baseball season has been underway for weeks and high school baseball is about to begin for the non-warm weather states. Most baseball players have been diligent in their strength training during the off-season. Strength Coaches and Baseball Coaches understand that it’s important for players to continue their strength training exericse while the season is going on.
Many of the gains made during the off-season can start to diminish if proper in-season training is neglected. For baseball players, maintaining strength throughout the spring is crucial for their performance on the field. With the right approach to training, players will be primed and ready for each and every game.
A recent article on VeryWellFit.com, written by personal trainer Paul Rogers, provides tips on in-season baseball strength training. Rogers emphasizes that for baseball players, maintaining arm strength is everything—and not just for pitchers. “Training must be designed to strengthen and protect the throwing arm and shoulder at the same time,” he writes.
• This Wrist-Throwing Exercise: 1) Include your forearm at 90-degrees to your shoulder and hold a baseball in your hand; 2) Support your elbow with the other hand; and 3) Throw the baseball by using only your wrist.
• Long-Distrance Throwing: Practice 20 to 30 throws on 30-feet distance, then 20 to 30 throws on 60-feet distance and then the same on the 90-feet distance.
• 45-Degree Raises, in which you hold a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand so that your arms are extended on your both sides and the hands are facing inward, then raise each hand at a 45-degree angle and bring your arms to shoulder height without losing the fixed position of the elbows.
• Push-Ups: 3 sets every day
• Fast Tossing: Work with anothe player, stand about 10 feet apart, and rapidly tossing a baseball to and from between each other
According to O’Neal, Rates of Force Development (RFD) are a key factor in athletic performance, and athletes with more weight are generally more likely to produce greater force. That means it’s very important to maintain weight throughout the season. This can be difficult for some players, so they should bring food to the field, stay properly hydrated, and potentially have something to eat mid-game.
2. Manage Stress
It’s important to balance time on the field with time in the weightroom. During the season, players will often be practicing out on the field, which doesn’t leave much time for other types of strength training. O’Neal recommends sneaking weightroom sessions in on the same days you have extensive on-field work in order to balance high-stress days with low-stress days. That means certain days will be more demanding, but it will still allow for the same amount of off days for rest and recovery, which is key to reducing stress on the body.
3. Keep Sessions Short
It can help to keep weightroom sessions short during the season, for multiple reasons. For one, you want to allow for adequate on-field training. Secondly, three or four 20-40 sessions throughout the week are enough to maintain strength without over-exerting your players. Be sure to design full-body workouts so that athletes can hit all the key areas.
4. Know the Right Intensity
Athletes don’t need to be sore after a workout in order to build or maintain strength. In fact, during the season, constant soreness will only limit a player’s ability to perform at a high level. In order to reduce soreness, try to avoid brand-new exercises during these sessions and avoiding high amounts of eccentric stress. This might mean slightly modifying certain exercises so that it reduces some of the stress being put on the athletes.
5. Don’t Waste Energy
The season is a grind and having enough energy to both train and perform in games is key. When it comes to in-season training, focus should be put on quality over quantity. As players become fatigued, they are likely to start using bad form and technique, so it’s important that you stop doing reps once technique starts to suffer. This is just as true for on-field reps, such as swings and throws, as it is for exercises in the weightroom.
6. Condition Correctly
Baseball is a sport of short, quick action with a lot of rest in between. Therefore, endurance running will do little to help players prepare for the demands of the game. Instead, focus on keeping speed work fast with adequate rest time between reps. This will help to mimic the actual nature of the game.
7. Maintain Mobility
To translate training in the weightroom to performance on the field, players will need to have adequate mobility. According to O’Neal, having a mobility/stretching routine before and after every practice can go a long way in helping to keep players healthy and performing their best. These only have to be about five minutes each for players to reap the benefits.
For six weeks, starting on April 13th and ending on June 1st, we’ll work on all the areas of our well-being—like nutrition, mobility, and exercise, for starters.
The Whole Life Challenge is basically a game that challenges us to “try on” a whole life of health and fitness for six weeks. As a team, we can win points and lose points (hopefully we’ll win more than we lose). And the prize is … Well, it’s who you are on June 1st.
I hope you’ll watch the videos and join my team. In fact, I WANT you on my team!
Recovery can change your life… and should be incorporated into every workout program
1. Cycle Your Workouts
You can’t always go hard. It’s a recipe for injury, regression, and pain, which are just a handful of the many agonizing symptoms associated with overtraining. Split up your routine to avoid working the same body parts on consecutive days and be sure you’re mixing in a variety of exercises, modalities and training tools.
2. Commit to Active Recovery
I suggest two active recovery days a week. Now active recovery doesn’t mean complete rest. Instead focus on low-intensity activities like walking, yoga, meditation and stretching. These will encourage repair, regeneration and recovery, without further muscle breakdown and energy expenditure.
3. Take Time Off Each Week
Take one day off from all exercise per week. While active recovery is a great way to initiate recovery, your body does need time off (even if it doesn’t feel like it!) During those rest days, be sure you’re eating right and fueling up on fluids for maximal recovery.
4. Foam Roll Pre-Workout
All it takes is five minutes before your workout to lengthen your fascia and soften hardened tissue. And let’s be honest: No recovery routine is complete without a foam roll. Hit your hips, glutes, IT bands, adductors, chest, lats and back. I assure you, this minor commitment will pay major dividends.
5. Stretch Before Bed
Increase your flexibility and mobility with a short stretch sequence before hitting the hay. There’s no better time to lengthen and strengthen than right before bed. Poses like Down Dog, Up Dog, Pigeon Pose and Savasana (this one may actually put you to bed!) will relax your mind and prep your body for major recovery as you start snoozing.
6. Practice Breathwork and Meditation Daily
There’s nothing better than quieting your mind, listening to your spirit and tapping deep inside your soul. That is why I practice breathwork for three minutes every morning and three minutes every evening—and frankly, that’s all you need for success. *Don’t get hung up on the word “meditation.” Any quiet time with intention qualifies. So whether it’s through prayer, meditation or breathwork, take three minutes minimum (more is better here!) twice a day for deep focus on YOU.
7. Soft Tissue Work Is a Must
I suggest receiving a massage or bodywork at least once a month. When it comes to soft tissue work, the more, the merrier! Heck, my goal is always one massage/bodywork session per week.
8. Use Recovery Hacks & Tools
Other elite recovery tools include infrared saunas, cryotherapy tanks, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec boots massagers.
9. Sleep Is Crucial
Did you know your phone has an OFF button? Ditch your devices one hour before bed, invest in blackout curtains, find the right room temperature, read and practice gratitude journaling for superior slumber. It’s not about the hours. It’s about the quality.
10. Practice Great Nutrition & Supplementation
Glutamine, protein, fish oil and CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine are all excellent supplements to expedite recovery and amplify performance. These are the techniques I practice, preach and have endorsed for years. Invest time in recovery and you’ll feel and perform better than ever! #RecoveryRules
You can train hard and eat right, but if you do not recover, you’ll never be your best.
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– Become Quicker, Faster, Stronger
– Develop first step quickness
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– Jump Higher and Further
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Do you breathe with your belly or your chest? If you are not sure you should make this priority number one.
Diaphragmatic (Also known as belly) breathing is essential for optimal results in the gym, on the field or anywhere else you exert yourself
Watch this video now if you are unsure.
The bottom line is that you need to breathe with for diaphragm and not your chest.
Our breathing muscle (the diaphragm) coordinates our deep core muscles which include the pelvic floor, transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscle), and multifidi (spinal stabilizers). These muscles form a “canister” around our abdominal organs. The top is formed by the diaphragm, the front, and sides by the transverse abdominis, and the bottom by the pelvic floor.
Good posture is the precursor to all essential movements in the body, which includes breathing. Breathing may seem like the action that must take place first, but without good posture we are physically incapable of breathing effectively….and vice versa.
Try sitting in a slouched position and take a big breath in, it should feel more taxing to breath in and then exhale as compared to sitting in a nice tall position. This is because our posture sets the stage for coordinating the foundation for all stability in our body….the CORE!!
This canister system is activated as soon as we start to allow air to fill our lungs. On an inhale our diaphragm goes down as our lungs fill with air, the pelvic floor relaxes and creates natural pressure into the core. When we exhale air begins to leave our lungs, the diaphragm goes back up and the pelvic floor contracts with the release of the pressure. When we use this system of deep breathing we will naturally strengthen the core and pelvic floor.
When we exhale to exert ourselves we can harness strength and power from our deep core muscles to help us perform better. Now go get yourself into a good position. keep yourself there, and breath deeply!
More breathing info will follow, but feel free to contact me directly with questions.
Periodization is a controversial topic within our field and has been since I started training back in 1992. Whether you believe in periodization or not for your athletes, this article will shed some light on the topic. Enjoy!
Below are some of the critique points that I have come across in recent years:
Periodization is not scientifically proven.
Periodization is overrated and over studied.
Periodization is too rigid and does not work for our athletes.
Periodization is too time-consuming.
Periodization is too complex and only for people in lab coats
These critique points may be true if your understanding of Periodization is limited to Periodization as a tactic. However, Periodization is fundamentally a strategy.
From my personal experience as a strength coach, author, and lecturer over the last 25 years, I have found it incredibly useful – even absolutely necessary – to distinguish between principles, strategies, and tactics in order to really understand a particular topic.
Thus, the purpose of this article is to
Highlight the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics as it applies to Periodization.
Show that you can reject any one example of Periodization as a tactic, but you cannot reject Periodization as a strategy (and this insight will be extremely helpful)
What is a principle?
A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (thefreedictionary.com). A first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.
What could be deemed the first principle of athletic development? I recommend that you answer that in detail for yourself in a way that resonates with your work.
My background is strength and conditioning, not coaching a specific sport. Thus, here is a suggestion for the 1st Principle of Athletic Development as centered on the physical side:
Optimal development of bio-motor abilities (physical qualities) to support the ability to practice and compete (the specific sport/s) – with maximal quality – at the desired level, at a given age.
You could say that a principle is vague. However, the above phrase invites critical questions and consequences:
What does optimal mean? It is the balance of all involved abilities that support the young athlete’s ability to practice and compete.
Supporting the ability to practice and compete with maximal quality implies prevention of injury and the nourishment of motivation, joy and confidence.
Thus, the 1st Principle defines the overall objective of our work as coaches.
How are we going to achieve this objective?
Figure 1: The overarching task is defining the 1st Principle. The strategy is chosen to achieve the 1st Principle. Tactics are used to execute the strategy.
A Strategy is Chosen to Achieve the Objective That is Defined by the 1st Principle
A strategy is the larger, overall plan designed to achieve a major or overall aim. The strategy will be comprised of several tactics. A strategy is broad, big-picture and future-oriented (1)
The training literature contains multiple but related definitions of Periodization. (2) Fundamentally, the word periodization means “a division in to periods.”
If you do a web search with the word periodization, you will find books on sports training, history and geology.
Thus, “periodization” is a word similar to “categorization” (dividing items – for example, apples divided into categories) or classification (for example dividing athletes into age groups, levels or weight classes).
From the definition of periodization as a ‘division into periods” it becomes clear that, fundamentally, periodization is a strategy for organizing long-term training by dividing the training into shorter periods.
We can take this definition a step further and suggest a more training-specific definition of periodization:
“Periodization is a division of a longer training cycle into periods with different goals, structures, and content of the training program. When these periods are sequenced in such a way that the training adaptations in one period prepare the athlete for the training in the next period, then the selected physical abilities are optimized at the goal-attainment date.”
The above definition highlights why periodization as a strategy is virtually unavoidable unless your training programs always:
Are geared toward the same training adaptation
Have the same structure
Have the same content
Clearly, there are more decisions to be made before we have a finished program. These more detailed decisions are the “tactics.” The strategy can be executed with different tactics. Tactics are plans, tasks, or procedures that can be carried out. Tactics may be part of a larger strategy.
So far, Linear Periodization, Reverse Linear Periodization, Undulating Periodization, and Block Periodization are the only systems that have been researched in controlled studies. These systems are all periodization tactics.
I have never seen a critique of periodization as a strategy. When I have seen a critique of periodization, the critique has been of a particular periodization tactic.
As a trainer, you can look at any one of those systems and decide whether or not they are not ideal tactics for the athletes that you work.
However, once you make that choice, you still have to decide how are you going to organize your long-term training?
This article described a hierarchy of 1st principles, strategy, and tactics. It made the argument that periodization is fundamentally a strategy. Yet, the critique of periodization is typically centered on tactics rather than principles or strategies.
A “next step” in exploring periodization is the question about how to divide the long-term period into shorter periods as well as a deeper look into the characteristics of the mentioned periodization systems. More to come….
Jensen, K. Appendix 1. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on the Fly. www.yestostrength.com
Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.
Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.
Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII). Find more information at www.yestostrength.com