When it comes to training, you want RESULTS! You don’t want to waste your time with ineffective workouts…And you want to make sure (guarantee) that every time you go to the gym, you are leaving with a sense of satisfaction knowing that you “just got the job done”. But what does that mean anyway?
Success is “stimulating the response”; putting the growth “wheels in motion” to potentially take you closer to your training goal..
And I’d say for the vast majority of gym members, we train for compositional goals; more muscle and less fat. Easily agreed upon, the fastest way to get there is training with progressive overload.
The progressive overload principle essentially states, for a muscle to grow larger and stronger, it must be subjected to a progressively increased demand to what it was previously exposed too.
Typically, we think more weight! But there are many ways to overload a muscle; by load, volume or performance.
Back in the day, I sheepishly admit I was the quintessential bro! I’d routinely do my 6 plate partial squats, and thought the name of the game was to simply move as much weight as possible from point A to B, with zero concern for how I actually did it.
As long as it moved, it was a rep!
I’m reformed though. Like many athletes, as I get older I am forced to find new ways to ‘overload’ the muscle (by increased weight alone) because my days of “no concerns given” are long gone.
That’s when less can become MORE.
When it comes to overload, I generally have 3 rules I follow:
- Aiming to increase the weight each time I perform ‘x’ number of reps
- Aiming to increase the reps as I lift ‘x’ amount of weight
- Aiming to handle ‘x’ amount of reps for ‘x’ number of repetitions, more effectively.
Rules 1 and 2 are pretty self-explanatory.
Easy to track and account for, as the result is pretty much black or white. You either lift more weight, or you don’t. Or you lift it for more reps, or you don’t
Rule 3 though can be a little trickier to tangibly measure, because it is more of a personal assessment. “Do I feel I did a better job on that set”?
As a trainer, my day is spent assessing performance. Even with my own clients, I need to play “good cop bad cop” from time to time when assessing their rate of progress.
Because progressive overload is KING and it's damn near addictive walking into the gym knowing you will be slapping more weight on the bar, however, we must always take a step back and remember “why are we there” as well.
I’m just a stickler for form!
Load + Volume + Performance = Long Term, Sustainable Gain!
So why is it common for someone’s form to break down?
Watch anyone train through a periodised training program, and especially one which linearly progresses from higher to lower rep ranges and you will see what I mean.
At the start of their new program, their form will be tight and well controlled…
And as the week’s progress, the weights become heavier, the reps become lower and the momentum builds (not just in progress, but what is required to move the bar), and the tight, controlled form becomes a memory.
Always chasing the extra kilogram of weight, or trying to squeeze out the last rep that isn’t there.
I don’t see this as overloading the muscle. I see this as minimising stress as other muscles are recruited into play, and opening the window for potential injury (change in training performance).
So how do we get around this?
This is where either a well-versed training partner comes into play who can offer training instruction during your set (instead of just yelling “you got it bro”) or a little training maturity.
Or in the age of social acceptance and where cameras seem to be ok in the gym, you can film your set and watch it back for assessment (become your own coach).
I know for me, sometimes I “feel” a set was right on the money and I watch it back and can clearly see it was a mess (though I know what to fix up).
As progressive overload is king for gains, increase the weight ONLY when deserved (not expected).
…and going back?
You know, if you are feeling the strain and feel some bad habits have crept into your training, pull yourself up. And I am the first to admit, it can be harder said than done. As we experience a sense of pride and accomplishment as the weights go up each week, we can easily feel that dropping the weights back can be a letdown, step back or failure. Never!
What you are doing is re-establishing a connection with quality! We don’t want to reduce the weight so much where you aim to make a light weight feel heavy. No, definitely not!
Rather, reducing the load just enough so that you can maintain your best performance whilst handling the greatest weight possible for the targeted number of reps.
This is something I recently did myself, with shoulder presses.
A habit I have when I re-introduce an exercise is to always refer back to my best performances and aim to kick things off there; regardless of the phase of training I am in.
Currently, only a few weeks out from competition, seeing that the last time I consistently performed military presses I was in the middle of my offseason; surely that should matter?
In the end, it did. I just feel I was handling the weight the best I could (hitting my delts), as I was sliding forward on the seat of my bench and reducing to where I was lowering the bar.
Essentially, I was changing my form to ‘move’ more weight.
So after a couple weeks of this, I reduced the weight, corrected my form and have been having my best shoulder workouts in ages!
When you can hold yourself to this standard of performance week after week, without letting those bad habits creep in; that is what I call great work!
And if that means going with less to achieve MORE, so be it…because it’s all about the gains!