One of the most common questions that my clientele ask is when they should progress to the next level of intensity. Usually, what the client is referring to is when to progress to the next weight increment during traditional muscular strength training. However, it may refer to any of the five components of physical fitness (i.e. cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength/endurance, flexibility and body composition).
This week, five progression strategies will be featured which will help you identify when, how, what, where and why you should progress. Strive to answer all of these questions in order to determine if it is the right time for progression. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Strategy 1: When should you progress to the next level of intensity? The simple answer is when you have reached the point where you are able to complete a set of repetitions (using the example of muscular strength training) and feel that you could have performed one or two more repetitions without reaching momentary muscle failure. If you are able to do so, then it may be time to progress by increasing the weight increment, approximately 2.5 percent. Now, the caveat is that eventually, your structure will not permit you to infinitely increase the load without negative consequences. Therefore, periodization is also an important concept to understand so that you continue to improve safely.
Strategy 2: How should you progress to the next level of intensity? This varies depending upon the physical fitness component you are progressing. In the above example of strategy one, you are increasing the weight increment to continue improving your strength level. However, the next level of intensity may also refer to performing HIIT (i.e. high intensity interval training) during one or two of your workouts weekly. The key is the progression should be measured, gradual and allow for the stress and then adaptation. Some examples of adaptation include failure to achieve momentary muscle failure or completing a HIIT interval recovering with ease. For example, the HIIT is a 15 second hill sprint on your road bike with a 45 second active recovery and you recovered in 10 seconds. If this is the case, it is time to kick it up a notch.
Strategy 3: What should the intensity progression include? As mentioned in strategy two, you must apply the cause and effect principle. Is the action you are performing directly leading to the effect you seek? For example, if your end game is to perform an unassisted pull up, your program progression should allow you to do so. Perhaps beginning with lat pull downs, TRX inverted rows, assisted pull ups either with a pull up pro device or your trainer assisting you leading to performance of unassisted pull ups.
Strategy 4: Where should the intensity progression occur? This is a critical question to answer as it is best to make modifications in intensity to one physical fitness component at a time. Otherwise, you may be unable to determine whether the progressions you are applying are actually the cause creating the effect.
Strategy 5: Why should you progress? Well, this one is pretty simple to answer. If you do not continually improve, you may plateau and eventually begin to lose fitness.