If you do not plan for progressive gains in a training cycle than you will undoubtedly fail to maximize your results. And worse yet - you could take two steps backwards! You are probably thinking to yourself, “No **** Sherlock!” Its true everyone engaged in some sort of training routine plans for progress. Right? Unfortunately many - and I do mean many - do not. It is disastrous how many trainees actually fall into the monotonous routines that produce little to no results. But this unfortunate occurrence is something dietary supplement companies thrive on, they lead you to believe that you need supplement X for further gains.
A sure fire way to make sure you are planning progressively is to consider three variables per workout: load, repetitions and time. Every workout should show an improvement in one of these areas. The load, or the total amount of weight used for a movement, can reflect an improvement even if it is very little. Let’s say during your last training session for a muscle group you pushed 315 pounds, 10 times. Simply adding two more pounds to the bar per session would be an improvement. It may not be a lot, but it adds up in the long run. Sometimes a training plateau develops merely because gains have slowed down and you are currently attempting to add too much, too soon. And it’s better to add two pounds per week to the load rather than not improving at all. Two pounds per week for six months would be more than a 50-pound improvement in your limit strength!
The other two factors, total repetitions and total time are seldom given there due respect. Instead of increasing the load you can attempt to increase total repetitions per workout. Over subsequent workouts you could begin at eight reps and work up to 12 before increasing the load. On the other hand, you could plan to finish a workout in shorter period of time by decreasing rest intervals. For instance, you push 315 pounds for five repetitions and five sets using three-minute rest intervals. If next time you used the same load, reps and sets but used two-minute rest intervals, you progressed!
INTEGRATE NUTRITION AND TRAINING EQUALLY
Training publications frequently make statements suggesting that proper diet is 90 percent of success, or some other obscure number stating one is more important than the other. In reality, both are equally important. You can have the best nutritional advice available but if you don’t train progressively than your body never finds the need to make an improvement in its efficiency. On the flip side, the best training theory will produce little if your diet fails to provide the right nutrients to fuel your body for added lean body mass. A proper integration of sound nutrition and training is paramount to continued success.
TRAIN YOUR CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
Many of the old Eastern Bloc training circles provide heavy emphasis on your Central Nervous System’s (CNS) ability to cope and recover from exercise. This is something unique to each athlete and dependent on different variables, such as athletic level, training intensity, rest habits, nutritional practices, as well as other contributing factors.
One of the first adaptations for a beginner bodybuilder is purely a strengthening of the CNS rather than the actual muscle groups. Big gains in limit strength made in the early days of training come from your body simply getting in better condition. This includes a stronger mind-muscle connection. Advanced trainees can recall the days when free weight movements were wobbly and their body would tend to shake. This is one example of a weak CNS (as well as underdeveloped connective tissue). This preliminary adaptation to exercise usually strengthens in the first two to three months on a regular routine. After this phase, free weight movements become more fluid, as your ability to recruit your muscles becomes second nature.
ONLY WORK AT YOUR LEVEL
Turn the pages of many bodybuilding magazines today (in between the many pages of advertising fluff) and you will undoubtedly see a lot of high volume, and sometimes high intensity, training routines. A magazine may say a professional endorses the routine as his or her key to recent gains. But the fact is, even if it was something that helped that particular person, you need to tailor the advice for your body. Take what you have learned about what keeps you training progressively and away from a state of overtraining, and apply it. And certainly do not try to use a program that an advanced trainee uses if you are still a beginner. This could put you at risk for serious overtraining or even injury. Working one body part per day is common practice at the advanced levels since greater loads are used which tax the ability to recover at a greater degree. In other words, pushing 135 pounds for 10 repetitions puts less stress on your body than pushing 315 pounds for 10 repetitions. Your muscles grow, but your CNS and internal filtering organs do not.
IF IT’S NOT WORKING - FIX IT!
Take a moment and sit back to reflect on your last year of training. Are you actually making progress or are you caught up in a disastrous plateau? If your gains have been at a stand still for more than two or three months - what you are doing is not working. It is surprising how many people can continue for over a year without seeing a significant change for the better. And usually it is not a lack or genetic potential but rather a lack of training knowledge. If it helps, get a training diary to help you plan your progression by recalling what was completed in previous sessions. No great battle was ever won without a mapped out plan of attack.
SET OBTAINABLE GOALS
Setting goals for yourself helps to keep you focused on what it is you are intending to accomplish. Without a goal and a timeframe to commit to, it is easier to fall into that endless training vertigo of zero results. Professional athletes have a training competition to focus on, which certainly provides an adequate stimulus to keep them pushing for greatness. But if you are not a competitive athlete you can make up your own competitions. They can be things as simple as a scheduled summer vacation or a date with the 35mm - progress photos can be a valuable dictator of if your training is paying off.
The word obtainable should be held at high regard. If you are beginning a new training cycle with 17-inch upper arms and your goal is to have 20-inch guns by the end of the 12-week cycle - you set yourself up for disappointment. Set realistic goals to keep you motivated for future progress. But at the same time, large and obscure short term goals (read: very short term, as in goals for a single set) can be beneficial, such as getting under a load equal to your one rep maximum weight yet going for 10 rather than one. This helps to keep you motivated and thinking past your previous limitations regardless of the fact you know you won’t make it. This short term thought process also helps you to rid the ideas in the back of your head that are telling you, “****, this is a lot of weight!”
IGNORE DISTRACTIONS AND DISTRUCTIVE INFLUENCES
What is or isn’t a distraction or destructive influence to your training goals is subjective. But the fewer things that stand in your way of being a champion, the easier the road is to travel. Friends that continue to hound you to skip scheduled training sessions for several sets of 12 ounce curls at the local pub certainly qualify as a destructive influence. Having a social life, to include time at the clubs, is absolutely necessary to a rounded off life. But getting so sloshed that you wake up under the porch every weekend is not.
But the bottom line is: what you let get in your way will do just that. Like that cute neighbor that always gives you the eyeball doesn’t qualify as a distraction since you certainly can’t plan future workouts with a blindfold! You have to learn how to effectively channel some things out in order to succeed.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Take the time to read about new, and old, training theories to see what helps you and how it can apply itself in your routine. If your current training split includes a few sets of this, followed by a few more of that and then finished off with some of those - than you certainly are in need of some new theories. Great advice from credible coaches is available online and at the local bookstore to help you add some missing spice to your training routine. As well as getting you back on a much needed growth spurt.