progressive overload

Why you should use performance based goals to track progress

Something that has become quite apparent to me in more recent years, is that most people make the decision to join the gym and start training as a way to make changes to their body.

And while there are certainly some exceptions to this rule (there are no doubt a select few who want to get stronger, or improve athleticism), you can guarantee that the vast majority of people who enter the gym want to feel better about themselves, and ultimately, look good naked.

And there is nothing wrong with this.

Improving body composition is a worthy goal, and working hard to make changes to your body can be extremely rewarding.

The issue is that when trying to improve body composition, people often measure progress through the use of weight related goals - for example: I want to lose 10 kilograms. And while I admit that I am not in the position to determine whether your individual goal is acceptable or not, I can say that in my experience weight related goals rarely provide any value at all.

Although it may sound like a good idea at the time, most people don’t realize that our weight tends to fluctuate massively in accordance to what we have eaten the past couple of days, how much fluid we have consumed, and how much exercise we have performed (among a myriad of other potential factors).

Moreover, if we are using weight training (as ideally we should be) to promote fat loss, then we will most likely see increases in muscle mass that coincide with reductions in fat mass. This would result in a relatively unchanged scale weight, despite actually losing fat tissue.

As a result, if your goal is ‘to lose 10 kilograms’, you might become disheartened despite actually making some pretty serious changes to your body composition.

In this situation the scale is not really indicative of all the progress you have made.

So what can we do instead?

 

Performance based goals

Performance based goals pretty much describe goals based around improvements observed in the gym or on the field.

For example, completing 5 strict chin ups, deadlifting 1.5X body weight, or performing 15 strict push ups are all fine performance based goals. These performance based goals have much more merit than weight related goals because they don’t rely on something as variable of body weight to track change.

And more importantly, these goals are truly indicative of the hard work that you put in.

If you start at the gym and can’t perform either a single chin up or a single push up, and then after 3 months of training can complete 3 chin ups and 10 push ups, you can be certain that you have made progress. These improvements are a tangible measure of all the hard work you have put in to your training over the last 90 days.

And seeing the cumulative results of your hard work is extremely rewarding.

Furthermore, I can guarantee that some serious changes in body compassion (aka a loss of fat mass and an increase in muscle mass) will have come along with these performance based changes.

And while these changes may not be identified as clearly by the scale, you can certainly see them (in both physical appearance and improvement in performance).

 

So In Summary

It’s unfortunate, but too many people seem to think that a reduction in scale weight is progress. I say unfortunate, because realistically speaking, I could go to the bathroom and see more weight loss in 10 minutes than most would see after 2 weeks of solid training.

While the scale does measure ‘weight’, it can be extremely deceptive. How do you know that you have lost fat and not muscle? or just fluid for that matter?

But if you see genuine improvement in your performance, then you can guarantee you are making quality progress.

Seriously, the sooner you make your goals performance based, the better off you will be (trust me).

 

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How to Guarantee Results From your Training

The greatest piece of programming advice I have ever heard came from the great man Dan John (unfortunately I didn’t hear it in person, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I still got to hear it…).

It went something like this: “Everything works. Nothing works forever”.

While it does seem to be an extremely simplistic view on programming, it holds a huge amount of truth, and does encompasses the principal of progressive overload quite well. Ultimately suggesting that programming doesn’t have to be perfect, and as long as someone is training they will see results.

They will eventually adapt to this training stimulus, and it will stop working.

Now obviously, by making slight adjustments to exercise selection, or increasing the weight we are using or the reps we are performing, we can continue to improve, irrespective of the programming quality. While a ‘better’ program may yield slightly higher results, it can be easily accepted that we would likely see increases in strength, size, of performance.

Unless we aren’t putting in the effort required to make change.

 

Effort

While I think that Dan Johns saying is very accurate, it does make one very large assumption.

That we are working hard.

Which, as I spend more and more time in gym settings, I am starting to think is not as common as we would like to think.

Too often I see people performing the exact same exercises, with the same weights, without even breaking a sweat. They are merely going through the motions, performing their favorite exercises and then going home. And while they might feel as if they have done something, they are not seeing any substantial change.

So really, I think it might be better to suggest that: “Everything works, if YOU work hard enough”.

And ultimately, I think this holds a huge amount of truth.

If you went into the gym and did nothing but deadlift 10 sets of 6 reps (at your 6 rep max) 3 times a week, you would undoubtedly get stronger, probably get bigger, and ultimately improve.

Now from a programming standpoint, this would be absurd. It would be brutal, there is absolutely no periodisation (and subsequently no programmed recovery), and you would potentially burn out after only a few weeks.

Furthermore, there is no consideration for muscle imbalances, single leg strength, or core stability (among a number of other things we love to consider).

But you would still improve.

Because you would be working hard.

In comparison, if you had the perfect program (whatever that may be...) but just went through the motions (following it down to the most minute detail, but without putting in any substantial effort), you probably wouldn’t improve at all.

 

Train with Intent

Ultimately, all I am trying to say is while the perfect program may not exist, we can guarantee improvement by putting in the work.

This means training hard, lifting heavy, and building up a sweat.

Train with the intent to improve, and you will.

 

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Muscle Confusion is a joke - How to Actually see training results

We have heard it all before.

The suggestion that constantly changing our exercise selection is good because it either;

1) ‘confuse the muscle into growing’
or
2) ‘keeps the muscle guessing’

The thought process behind this is that by constantly changing exercises, workloads, sets, reps etc. the body cannot ‘get used’ to a specific training stimulus. And , as a direct result, we see greater muscle growth, greater increases in strength, and a greater rate of fat loss.

Funny fact.

Muscles don’t have the capacity to get ‘confused’ or make ‘guesses’. They are muscles.

They can contract, causing them to get shorter, which creates movement at a joint.

The End.

Ok so maybe not the absolute end.

BUT.

There a couple of big issues that come with trying to 'confuse' our muscles through excessive variations:

1) It doesn’t allow the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt to movements. By allowing the CNS significant time to adapt, we become stronger at those movements, which results in greater improvement in strength and hypertrophy.

2) It doesn’t involve any specificity. We normally train towards a specific goal. Whether that goal is to improve athletic performance, increase lean mass, jump higher or bench press a Mack track, it doesn’t matter. Each goal is specific, and as such needs a specific, individualized exercise plan that leads us towards that goal. By changing exercises every week we lose that specific, goal orientated, aspect of training.

muscle confusion, hunter bennett performance, strength, fat loss, muscle

 

The real way to progress.

Fortunately, there is something that we can do to ensure consistent results from our training.

Unfortunately, it isn't new or sexy, it doesn't have cool catchy name like 'muscle confusion', and it will require ACTUAL effort.

But, on a positive note, it works.

In fact it is arguably the only thing that can cause legitimate, long term change.

 

Progressive Overload.

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise over time. This allows the body to gradually adapt to this increasing stress, growing bigger and stronger.

A great example of this:
step 1). Pick 1 big exercise (think deadlift) that you can perform twice per week.
Step 2). Find a weight you can lift 5 times.
Step 3). Do 5 sets of that weight.
Step 4). Once you can lift that weight for 5 sets of 5 reps, increase weight by 2.5kgs.
Step 5). Repeat step 3 and 4 again, and again, and again.

Now I realize this is a very simple example of progressive overload, and in regards to specificity, is probably only going to work towards someone’s goal of deadlifting a shit ton of weight (which is a pretty solid goal). But I can guarantee if you did this for 6 months (with the occasional deload programmed in) you would be bigger and stronger at the end of it than if you had changed exercises every week.

Now how would you apply this to a more complex goal? For example improving someone’s acceleration?

You might start using unloaded box jumps as a way to improve power, and split squats to improve single leg strength. Over time we can increase the external load added to these exercises to stimulate strength and hypertrophy (progressive overload). Once you feel the individual has ‘maxed out’ these exercises, you can then progress them to more complex exercises (for example, squat jumps and a reverse lunges). The external load used during these new exercises can be increased gradually ('progressively', even......) until we start to plateau, and then we repeat the process. Change the exercise SLIGHTLY and continue to add load. 

This way we can progressively overload an exercise that is aimed at achieving a specific goal, and we only vary an exercise when progress stalls on that specific exercise. Additionally, the exercise variation should be small (for example a split squat to a reverse lunge). This allows continual and gradual progress, as the new exercise builds on the components of the exercise that came before it.

See, it shouldn’t be confusing. It should be simple and logical (and actually produce RESULTS).

If you want to get in contact me, or are interested in training with me, please fill out the form below. 

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