I mostly work with athletes and older populations, so introducing various movement patterns and speeds in essential.
Week 1: We bench with 3 second hold at bottom
Week 2: We add bands or chains to increase resistance at top of movement
week 3: Heavy weights & low Reps
Week 4: Lighter weights and High Reps
Not only does mixing up your workout help improve strength gains, it reduces the risk of injury by training the muscles differently. Most people always lift the same … then when they fall or have to lift something heavy… they hurt themselves because they never trained their muscles for the real world.
This article will help you change your routine ASAP
15 Ways To Switch Up Your Routine
- Increase intensity. Intensity builds muscle. I have put this one at the top because I believe it is the most important. A lot of the techniques mentioned in this article increase the intensity of your workout. Drop sets, supersets, negatives and slow reps are all classic examples. Other ways you can increase the intensity of your workout are decreased rest times, circuits, forced reps etc. When you’ve been using the same routine for a while it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, you think you’re training hard but your intensity level has been dropping slowly without you knowing it.
- Switch up your exercises. Each muscle group has a variety of different exercises that can be used to train it. A lot of weight trainers get stuck into the same exercises week in week out. They cut out exercises they “don’t like”. To continue to grow you need to hit your target muscles with a wide array of exercises. You should be switching regularly. Many experienced bodybuilders never do the same workout twice.
- Introduce drop sets. Drop sets are one of those shock techniques that if done correctly can blast you through a tough plateau. Drop sets work by forcing more reps out by dropping weight off gradually, this forces more blood into the target muscle group and causes more muscle tearing, which promotes more growth after the repair of muscle tissue. Drop sets are simple. Do a set until you can’t perform another rep, drop the weight, do another set, drop the weight…and so on. You can do anywhere from 3-6 sets in total. One of the most popular types of drop sets is “down the rack” dumbbell bicep curls where you start off at a normal curl weight and move down the rack, going to failure on each set.
- Switch the days you work each muscle. Changing the order of your workout days can have a big impact on results. In general, you should work your weakest muscle groups at the beginning of the week when you have the most energy. But like everything else in your routine, you’ll benefit from change. One point to remember though when switching, always make sure you give each muscle group enough rest – keeping in mind that the muscle group may be hit as a secondary. For example, you shouldn’t do biceps Monday then back Tuesday – you need your biceps as a secondary muscle in all your back (pulling) exercises. You can also cycle your workout days so that on the first day of your workout week you focus on a different muscle group.
- Compound-isolation same muscle group supersets. One of the most effective ways to promote growth in a stubborn muscle group is to follow a big compound exercise with an isolation movement. One of the best examples would be bench press-flat bench flys. You complete your bench press as usual, but immediately after you hit out a strict set of dumbbell flys. You don’t need big weights on the second set, your focus should be on muscle contraction. This means slow down and squeeze at the top of the movement. Here are some good compound-isolation supersets:
- Weekly rep cycling. Weekly rep cycling works like this. Week 1 – hit out 12 reps per set, week 2 – hit out 10 reps per set, week 3 – hit out 8 reps per set, week 4 – hit out 6 reps per set, week 5 repeat. No one knows exactly how many reps you should be doing for optimum muscle growth. What we do know is, it’s between 6 and 12. So cover all bases by starting at 12 reps and over 4 weeks decrease to 6, increasing the weight as you go. If you’ve got your diet right (which you should have if you want any of the techniques in this article to work) you should find that by week 5 you can lift considerably more than you could in week 1 for 12 reps.
- Change the number of days you train. In muscle building, less is more. If you want to get bigger you don’t workout more. This is one of the most common mistakes of new lifters. You think that dropping back to 3 days from 4 or 5 will mean you build less muscle? You’re wrong. Your body will probably benefit from the extra rest.
- Negatives. Negatives are extremely helpful in building strength, working up to exercises/weight and beating plateaus. Negatives are where you focus on the negative part of a movement by using very heavy weights (more than your 1 rep max) and a very slow movement. Spotters are needed for almost all types if negatives, so if you train alone, don’t bother with these – you’ll do yourself an injury. Good examples of negatives are bench press, barbell preacher curl, close grip bench, pull ups (jumping up and slowly lowering) and leg extension. Tip: Can’t do pullups? Just do as many as you can then finish the set with negatives. You’ll build strength fast. Use a very wide grip to emphasize you lats and not your biceps.
- Slow (controlled) reps. Slow reps are all about control and contraction. Using a lighter weight, with a slower movement, for the same number of reps. You should be using a 3-1-3 count. Meaning count “1 one thousand” 3 times on the way down, pause for “1 one thousand” and count “1 one thousand” on the way up. Using slow reps you do the same number of reps as you usually do but your muscles are under strain for a much longer time.
- Alternating & keep under strain (AKA partial reps). Like slow reps, alternate reps work the muscle group harder by keeping it under strain for a longer period of time. What you do is, take an exercise and modify it by not completing a full rep. For example, alternating dumbbell curls. Instead of letting your left arm hang while your right arm curls you do not complete the full rep, keeping your left arm slightly bent and under strain. This does not let the blood escape from the muscle (keeps “the pump”) and makes it work extremely hard to hold the weight. After the set, your muscle has been under strain for twice the time as regular alternating curls. You can use this technique with loads of exercises like dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell bench, dumbbell tricep extensions and kickbacks.
- Change the order of your exercises. If someone asked me how they should order their exercises I would tell them big compounds first, followed by isolations. But like everything else in your routine, your body quickly adapts. Switch up your exercises…do dips first on your chest day, extensions before squats etc.
- Pre-fatiguing (or pre-exhausting) your muscles. Pre-fatiguing (AKA pre-exhausting) is another one of those plateau busting techniques that has been around for ages. Using this technique you pre-fatigue the muscle group you want to hit with an isolation exercise and then immediately hit it with a big compound exercise. Here’s some good examples:
- Forced reps. Forced reps are simple, do as many strict reps as you can without any assistance, then use a spotter to help you force another 2 or more reps out. You can use forced reps to get an extra 2 reps out (for example you hit out 12 on your regular 10 set) or you can up the weight by about 15% and use your spotter to help you force out your regular 10 reps.
- Pyramid sets. As the name suggests, pyramid sets start from a low weight and work up to a heavy weight and/or then back down. After completing a proper warm up, the first set in your pyramid will be with a weight that you can push out 12 reps with good form. Your next set will be 8-10 reps, then 6-8, then 4. Then you can always work your way back to 12 reps. Technique is important here, no cheating. You want to do slow and controlled reps on ALL sets.
- Take the week off. Rest is the most abused aspect of weight training. Bodybuilding is not like marathon running, less is more. Sometimes you’ll find that taking a week off from training is the best thing for you. Our bodies (and minds) need regular rest breaks from intense resistance training. Our training routines put stress on the entire body, not just the muscles. How do you know when to take a break? You’ll know it, your body will tell you. But as a rough guide, every 8-12 weeks.
So there you have it, time to get back into the gym and put some of these techniques into practice! If you need any more help or advice on muscle building and fitness head over to our muscle building forum and ask one of our experienced trainers or call me directly at 908-803-8019.
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:
- Single-leg squats
- Goblet squat
- Hanging leg raise
- Curl & press with dumbbells
- Inverted row
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.