9 Ways to Progress an Exercise to Keep Getting Better

Exercises produce the best results if they become more challenging over time. Most usually just think to increase the weight they use, but there are other approaches as well. Here, in no particular order, are nine ways to progress an exercise to maximize results.

  • Number of Sets: This one is pretty easy. Research shows that beginners actually get the same positive effects from doing one set of strength exercises as they do with doing three sets. The group that does three sets gets more soreness for no extra benefit. Intermediate and Advanced lifters get more benefit from more volume.
  • Reps/Distance (Strength/Cardio): Again, this one is obvious. Doing 10 push-ups is harder than doing five. Riding five miles on the bike is harder than riding one mile.
  • Resistance: This is the most common way to progress exercises, but it’s not always the best way. When the weight used is too heavy, or poor form is used, it can take off stimulus to the muscles and increase the risk of injury. Good form is necessary anytime resistance or weights are increased.
  • Range of Motion: In physics, Work equals Force multiplied by Distance (W=F x D). So, if the range of motion is a little bigger, the work becomes bigger. For example, starting with half a push-up could eventually lead to full push-ups. Then, blocks or handles could be added to get extra range of motion. This is most common with yoga poses, deadlifts, and push-ups.
  • Tempo: For strengthening, slower movement can be tougher. On the flip side, for cardio, faster movement can be tougher. Changing the tempo can be a great way to make an exercise tougher and make progression without adding more weight to the joints and connective tissues. It’s also a good alternative for home workouts without having to purchase bigger dumbbells.
  • Time: How long does the set or workout last? Forty-five minutes on the bike is tougher than 20 minutes on the bike. Same with strength. When first starting, maybe the workouts only last 10 minutes, but over time they slowly extend to longer and longer workouts.
  • Rest: What is the right amount of rest time between exercises, sets, or intervals? Longer rest will be a little easier, shorter rests will make them feel harder and be more challenging on cardio and respiratory systems.
  • Variation: Some versions of exercises are easier than others. A TRX Assisted squat is easier than a bodyweight squat, which is easier than a dumbbell squat, which is easier than a barbell squat.
  • Frequency: How often should one exercise? Twice a week will be an obvious progression over once a week. Three times is even more than that. Changes in the frequency of workouts can be applied in general or specific styles (strength, cardio, upper body, squats, etc.).

Before racing to slam bigger and bigger weights, or longer and longer cardio sessions, look to see if one of these options make more sense.

Force Multipliers plus Compounding Interest allows my clients to get more results with smaller efforts. If you want to see what this looks like in action, I encourage you to check out The Health REBELs Podcast or send me an email at Steven@HealthREBELs.us.

By Steven Hicks