I, note the "I," define it as how the work given for an exercise is arranged - arranged referring to the manipulation of stress or variables. This is typically seen as weight used in an exercise, which is certainly one method. Aside from adding weight, there are a number of other ways to increase the challenge or vary the training. To avoid complicating the topic, this post will be limited to a few simple strategies.
But why would we make it harder? To keep it short, we adapt to previous loads. To retain strength that's fine, but we can always get stronger, build bigger muscles, and drop fat if we improve the body's performance.
I've posted about certain progressions before, but I'll include them again. For all options listed, weight would remain the same from week-to-week unless otherwise stated and sets x reps notation will be written with abbreviations provided as we go along.
Rep Progression [RP]
- Often I've seen this prescribed as add one rep to each set for the next week. If week one has 4x2, then it would be 4x3 next time.
- Conversely, the opposite can be done where a rep can be subtracted. Here the emphasis would be on quality of movement or weight can be added - 5x5 to 5x4.
Note: Weight can be increased for subtracting reps but is not mandatory.
- Week 1: 3x4
- Week 2: 3x5 or 3x3
- Week 3: 3x6 or 3x2
Set Progression [SP]
- Similar to RP, rather here a set can be added or subtracted. 4x6 can become either 5x6 or 3x6 in the second week of training.
- For either RP or SP, they can be incorporated whether the reps and sets are high or low. However, I personally like to use RP with heavy loads when volume is low as opposed to SP for when reps are somewhat higher (five to six and up) with single-limb exercises such as lunges or dumbbell rows.
Note: Weight can be increased for subtracting sets but is not mandatory.
- Week 1: 5x5
- Week 2: 6x5 or 4x5
- Week 3: 7x5 or 3x5
Rest Intervals [RI]
- Resting ten seconds is not the same as resting two minutes between sets. Always time rest periods. Time IS a variable. Despite it being very simple, I hardly see anyone clock themselves. (The stopwatch on an old cellphone is handy.)
- To take advantage of RIs, start off either at one, two, three, or four minutes. Anywhere from 10s to 30s can be added or subtracted each week. Typically, 15s is an easy number to use.
Note: Weight can be increased for adding time but is not mandatory
- Week 1: 2:00
- Week 2: 1:45 or 2:15
- Week 3: 1:30 or 2:30
- One form of volume is the total reps performed for an exercise. If 36 reps were the total volume it can be broken apart into various protocols - 1x36, 2x18, 3x12, 4x9.....9x4, 12x3, 18x2, 36x1.
- Another method is to perform as many sets necessary to complete the total reps. Twenty pull-ups might be done in a fashion of 4, 2, 4, 3, 2, 2, 3.
- Week 1: 4x6
- Week 2: 6x4
- Week 3: 8x3
*I did this Monday with hang snatches.
- 10 reps split as: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1.
- Range-of-motion [ROM] is the better known term, but calling it height makes it a bit more visualable (yes I made that word up [copyright nielpatel.blogspot.com 2011]). Either increase or decrease the height of the exercise.
- Squat: Lower a box you can sit on to every week or the following month.
- Deadlift: Start in the rack from under the knee, then mid-shin, then two to three inches above the floor, pull from the ground, and eventually perform from a low platform.
- Benching: Powerlifters have boards, but if you can bench in the squat rack then lower the pins every week.
- Pull-ups: Begin off a high box you can touch and go then decrease the height of the box.
- Basically for any exercise, begin at a reduced ROM then increase it every week.
- Ian King calls this prioritization by sequence and explains that "the exercise done first in the day or first in the week gets a superior result."
- Taking this information and applying it to your own plan, what do you wish to improve most? Slide it up to the front of the workout week as the first exercise. A squat done first in the session is not the same as a squat done at the end. Put what you're bad at early in the week and workout.
- This is the speed at which you perform reps. Instead of explaining it here, I suggest Mike Robertson's excellent article: 6 Questions About Tempo Training.
- I'd like to advise that certain exercises lend themselves well to tempo work. I would not recommend deadlifts and overhead presses. The lockout position in overhead presses held for time would be the only portion I'd suggest.
Give it a shot.