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Simple Ways to Challenge Yourself for Continued Progress

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

There are a few key principles that go into a successful training plan. One of them is the principle of progressive overload. In short, progressive overload is the concept of incrementally increasing the difficulty in your training. This is needed so that you are continuously experiencing a greater training demand, so that you can keep your body adapting to the training stimulus. Otherwise, if you fail to challenge yourself, you may fall into a training plateau because your body is not being exposed to a new training threat.


This brief post is going to provide some examples of how to increase the training threat so that you continue to make progress in your training.


I guarantee many of you that training consistently are already doing this without knowing. However, for those that need some guidance, this is for you. This can also spark some new ideas for those that have a few years under their training belt.


Load

Increasing the training load (aka weight) is one of the more common methods of applying progressive overload. What increasing training load will do will increase the recruitment of muscle fibers, which can be very beneficial if you’re looking to build strength or muscle. Determining when to increase the weight can be tricky. However, if you have hit you prescribed number of sets and reps, and it begins to feel easier, you can probably increase the weight. This topic will be covered more extensively in a separate post to come.


Sets/reps

Increasing sets and reps is another simple and effective way to increase the training demand. This is a way to add more total work to your training session, which could be beneficial if you are looking to increase more training volume. You can progress through your training weeks by adding more reps each week. Going from 10,12, and then 15, or you can add sets. Starting with 3, and moving up to 4, 5, 6, or higher. For those looking to increase their strength, adding more sets will allow you to obtain more training volume while training with heavier loads.


For those looking to put on muscle, adding more sets and/or reps may be more beneficial. This may lead to things such as metabolic stress, mechanical tension, and or muscular tissue damage. All of these could result in muscle growth.


Increasing work times

For those looking for more metabolic training affects or cardio adaptations, increasing the amount of time you are performing work can be helpful. As an example, let’s say I am doing a circuit that has 6 exercises, and each one is performed for 30 seconds of work with a 1 min rest. As you progress through the training weeks, you can increase the work periods as follows. 30 sec, 45 sec, 60 sec, 75 sec.


This can also be applied to interval training as well. If you are on a treadmill or an assault bike doing sprints, a week-to-week progression may look like this. 10 sec of work, 15 sec of work, 20 sec of work, 30 sec of work. With all of them followed by a 2-minute rest. When using work times as your primary training variable, consider using a heart monitor. This will allow you to better monitor your training progress.


Rest time

In contrast to increasing work times while keeping rest times the same, you can flip them as well. If you are looking to create a training adaptation that is more metabolically taxing, reducing rest times will do just that since it forces you to perform work with less than full recovery. This will force the energy system to work in a less than optimal environment, leading to a great increase in training demand. Let’s say you are doing repeat squat jumps for 15 seconds, you can start with a 60 sec rest, and week by week reduce the rest time to let’s say 45 sec, 30 sec, and then 15 sec.


This manipulation would be helpful for those that need to train for repeatability, like those that participate in team sports (soccer, hockey, basketball). Similar to increasing rest times, it is a good idea to monitor your heart rate when performing this type of training. For example, if your heart rate is decreasing at a faster pace during your recover periods week by week, you know your ability to recover has improved.


In summary, making your training more and more difficult over the course of a training program is key to its success. Many people either may not know how to do this or may need a little spark to generate some new ideas into this. These are suggestions that could help to keep your training progressing forward.

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