Progression is the key to muscle and strength building. I often tell lifters to use the following approach during each workout:
Push yourself on every set. Try to perform as many reps as possible without training to failure. When you can perform the recommended maximum number of reps for a set, add weight the next time in the gym.
Let me explain exactly what this means by providing an example. After this example, I want to show you just how powerful the addition of a single rep can be.
Bench Press – Example of Progression
Bench press – the favorite lift of Monday morning gym rats everywhere. Perhaps you are using 185 pounds and a set calls for 6 to 10 reps. This is a pretty broad range, and you are unsure how to load weight and how to progress.
Start with a weight that allows you to perform at least 6 reps. Don’t worry too much about where you start. Even if you guess wrong with a starting weight and are unable to hit the minimum of 6 reps it won’t matter much after a few weeks.
You pick 185 pounds for this set and are able to perform 6 total reps. The last rep was hard, so you wisely stop the set at that point. (Again, there is never a reason to train to failure as long as you are progressing).
Your next three workouts look like this:
- Workout One – Bench Press, 185 x 6 reps
- Workout Two – Bench Press, 185x 6 reps
- Workout Three – Bench Press, 185 x 8 reps
You had a frustrating first three sessions and felt like you were making no progress at all. Finally, on the last workout, you were able to comfortably add 2 reps. Amazingly, the week after this you nail 10 reps:
- Workout Four – Bench Press, 185 x 10 reps
Recall that the rep range for this set was 6 to 10. After 4 workouts you finally achieved 10 reps, which was the recommended maximum number of reps. So, the next time you perform the bench press, you add weight and use 190 pounds.
This is progression.
Only a Rep?
Looking again at the bench press example, our lifter was able to add 4 reps in 4 workouts. This is an average of one rep per workout. You might not consider the addition of one rep per workout to be important. In fact, I would wager that many of you would have considered this paltry progression to be a plateau – especially because the lifter was stuck at 6 reps for the first 3 weeks.
Is it a plateau? Is it really slow progress? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s excellent progress. Think I am joking? Let’s look at some simple math.
Remember that out trainee was able to add an average of one rep per workout. This translates into the addition of 5 pounds every 5 workouts, or a single pound per workout. For example, adding 5 more reps in 5 more weeks would look something like this:
- Week 1 – 190 pounds x 6 reps
- Week 2 – 190 pounds x 7 reps
- Week 3 – 190 pounds x 8 reps
- Week 4 – 190 pounds x 9 reps
- Week 5 – 190 pounds x 10 reps
And again, continuing with the average addition of one rep per week. The following 5 weeks would look like:
- Week 6 – 195 pounds x 6 reps
- Week 7 – 195 pounds x 7 reps
- Week 8 – 195 pounds x 8 reps
- Week 9 – 195 pounds x 9 reps
- Week 10 – 195 pounds x 10 reps
Obviously no one will add a single rep each week in this manner. But the important point is to remember that our lifter is adding an average of one rep per week.
By adding “only” one rep per week, and by jumping up in weight by “only” 5 pounds at a time, our lifter is able to:
- Add 52 pounds to his bench press in a year.
If this “minimal” rate of progression is maintained, in two years our lifter will be benching 285 for reps. This is a HUGE number, and equates to a bench press one rep max somewhere between 335 and 375 pounds.
Too many trainees are impatient. Don’t be one of them.
Even if your rate of progression is only half of what was achieved in our example, your bench press max would still be close to 300 after only two years. Add in another couple of years at this rate and you could easily be close to a 350 pounds bench press max.
A true plateau occurs when you are unable to add a single rep to a lift over a 2-4 month period. Slow progression still adds up to big numbers. More than this, unless you are a rank beginner, you probably WON’T experience fast progression.
Learn to be satisfied with just “one more rep.” In a few short years these small increases will help you to become one of the biggest and strongest lifters in your gym.
I guarantee it!