The gradual increase of the difficulty of your training (progressive overload), is the only guaranteed method to increase your fitness. This works whether your goal is to get stronger, get bigger, get more endurance, etc. Your body changes because it adapts to the changing levels of stress.
Every change or shock in the environment is perceived as stress and the body tries to adapt to it. If the stress is too small, it won’t cause a disturbance and no adaptation will occur. If the stress is too big, you simply die.
Small Increments Work Best
Weight training can induce this stress and so can other sports. The body reacts to this by restructuring in order to be better suited the next time the stress occurs. It is best however to allow ourselves to adapt easier by increasing the difficulty just a little bit at a time. So make sure to not be greedy and lift just a little bit more next time.
The smaller the working weight on an exercise, the smaller the progressive overload jump. This is kind of obvious but here goes. If you lift with the whole body – such as in deadlifts, you can get away with bigger increases in poundage. If you are training your biceps with barbell curls, you should use smaller increments because they constitute a bigger percentage of the total weight.
The Longer You’ve Been Training, the Harder It Gets
You have to understand that the longer your training experience, the harder and slower you will progress. This is because the initial adaptation to the stress of an exercise program is a result of a drastic change. From no training to some training. No such change can ever happen again.
From untrained to trained is the biggest jump you can make. Sure you can train like there is no tomorrow in order to induce a bigger stress, but you will fail, because the body has limited capacity for adaptation.
Just Keep At It
Nothing will give bigger rewards than persistence and consistency. Just being there every week will make you more successful than any fancy technique or program. All programs work if you keep hammering. Don’t miss workouts. It goes without saying – if you miss scheduled training, you are sabotaging your progress.
Alternate Between Strength and Size
For best results, alternate between training for size and training for strength. The body is like an engine – when training for strength, you tweak and tune it to run faster. When training for size – you just build yourself a bigger engine that you can later tweak and tune again to run even faster.
Rusty Moore has the best course that implements this strategy: Visual Impact. This workout rotates between size and strnegth, but features a bonus phase designed to visually enhance the appearence of the mucsles by “shrink wrapping” the skin around them super tight.
When Training for Strength with Heavy Weights, It Is Easier to Progress on Sets
When training heavy, each new repetition is difficult. It is easier however to add another set. Like so:
Workout 1 – 3 sets of 3
Workout 2 – 4 sets of 3
When Training for Size, It Is Easier to Progress with Repetitions
Training for size is done with a moderate weight, so you can fatigue the muscle by focusing specifically on it. The sets are longer and it is easier just to add reps. Just like that:
Workout 1 – 10 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps
Workout 2 – 11 reps, 9 reps, 8 reps
Muscles Adapt Fast. Connective Tissues Adapt Slow
People who gain muscle mass fast with steroids sometimes end up injuring themselves. Their muscles are stronger, but the ligaments, joints and bones have to catch up first. When you have build some new size, you have to gradually allow your body to the new strength of the muscles
Measure Your Progress Objectively
Either execute the movements with perfect form or choose ones that you can’t cheat on – dead lifts, pullups, etc. There is of course place for some creative cheating. Just don’t fool yourself that you are progressing when in fact you are adjusting the exercise to make it easier.
Dumbbells by Marta