We’ve all been there. There was a time in our training where the progress just seemed to stop. It became the un-bustable plateau. Maybe it’s getting stuck at a 225 pound bench press for 10 reps. Maybe it’s getting stuck at 150 pounds. Somewhere along the line that “beginner magic”, where the results came almost easy, just wore off. Now it’s been two years and you’ve gone to the gym consistently busting your ass but you haven’t made any noticeable progress from where you were. Why? How can all this work count for nothing? We’ll, I’m going to tell you.
Let’s keep it really simple.. I’ll start with a question. How do we progress? We make small progressions over time, right? We can’t expect to PR every workout over the lifetime of our fitness careers, but we can put a plan in place that lets us PR every time we plan to test our maxes. But what do we consider small progressions over time? If you’ve been stuck at 225 pounds for 10 reps on the bench press and you’re waiting to feel like you’ve progressed enough to add more weight, when is it time to do so? Well the problem that most of us have is that we spend more time waiting than necessary. Maybe it’s waiting for a day we have a workout partner who pumps us up and we add an extra 10 or 15 pounds. But how often does that happen?
The truth is that we all progress differently. But in order to adapt, we need to progress. So our plan of action needs to ensure that it does happen. Some people (especially if you’re new to working out) seem to progress every single week. They might add 5 pounds per week to their 8 rep max. Every single week they can do the same workouts and they just keep throwing weight on the bar. That’s progression.
But what if you can’t do that? We don’t want to go to failure every single set, and we certainly don’t want to sacrifice form to get more reps up because we had to add weight. So how do you progress from there? Maybe you couldn’t add 5 or 10 pounds this week, but could you do an extra set? Could you bump up your 3 sets of flat bench to 4 sets? Again, this depends. If you’ve been recovering well recently, you can probably add a set. That’s progression.
If you feel like you’ve been beaten to a pulp and there’s no way you can add a single set to your workout, you’ve got a couple things to consider. 1- When was the last time you de-loaded? Your cumulative fatigue may be at a point where you are best suited to take a de-load week to reduce it. And 2- Is your workout routine designed optimally?
There is a magical line that we should all recognize in the pursuit of our goals. It’s the line that tells us we’re working too hard or not hard enough. We want to work right up that that line to optimize our results as efficiently as possible. Going over that line is called overreaching, which is ok as long as it’s planned and usually followed up with a de-load. Staying well under that line means we are just spinning our tires and not doing enough work to progress and force adaptations within our body. Does this line have a name? Yep.. It’s your Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV). And unfortunately, this line is not universal. It depends on a long list of factors (like training experience) and is different for everybody. But it’s name is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the most amount of work that we can do that allows us to recover and not interfere with our next workout.
It’s not that hard to figure out your own MRV. It just takes some time to test it. Let’s say you use 100 pound dumbbells for 3 sets of 10 on flat bench. Next week do 4 sets. Then try 5 the following week. If during that week, your reps looked like this: 10, 10, 10, 10, 7- your MRV for that exercise at that weight was the 4th set. You failed on the 5th, so that was a little bit past your MRV.
Do we want to train to our MRV every workout? We suggest working up to your MRV over the course of three weeks, then overreaching on your fourth week, and then you would follow that up with a de-load on your fifth week. (FYI: when I say de-load, that doesn’t mean a week off. It’s a week at a calculated lesser volume). Then you could start the cycle over.
So that should help us in deciding how to maximize the efficiency of our workouts, but how do we parlay that back into progressions? Well, that will help us calculate what the overview of our program should look like. But in the day to day of each of our individual workouts, ON AVERAGE, each workout should have increased volume from the last. That doesn’t mean every single workout, but on average that should be the rule… Increased volume=progression.
This part can get pretty technical when it comes to designing your program. But for those of you who aren’t sure exactly what volume is: weight x sets x reps = volume. If you bench 100 pounds for 4 sets of 10, your volume is 4000 lbs. So whether you add 5 pounds next week, or increase that same load for an additional set, your volume is increased. The extra set increases volume a lot more than the 5 pound increase at the same number of sets. So both should be incorporated at different times in the program to ensure you are progressing, but not overreaching too often.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “Train insane or remain the same,” right? There’s a little more to it than that, but it’s true. If you train the same, you remain the same. You need an overload to progress. You need to progress to force adaptations. We need adaptations to go to the beach every summer or to leave a competition with something shiny. You have to train harder AND smarter.. We can help with that! Join the Evolution and find the success that so many of our members have already!