Just What is Progressive Resistance?

Anyone who does strength training has heard the term “progressive resistance”, and most of the experienced weight training folks have a pretty good idea of what it means.  In its simplest form it means to add resistance or intensity either to each workout or periodically.  Three examples include:

  1. Adding a repetition to your set – so this week I did 9 reps instead of 8 last week.
  2. Maybe you added a another set – this week I did 3 sets instead of 2 last week.
  3. Adding weight – I added 5 pounds to my curl bar, or 10 pounds to my bench press
This is not me

This is not me

So why do I care about progressive resistance?  The answer is really pretty simple in that muscles will not grow unless they can be stimulated beyond the capacity that they are accustomed to.  Adding repetitions to sets, adding sets, and increasing the weight you move all help to stimulate your muscles and they are forced to adapt.

Now as anyone knows who has been involved with weight training over a long period of time there are ceilings you hit along the way.  For instance you may get to the point where a 50 pound dumbell is too much for you to curl, where you have kind of maxed out on the adding weight approach.  A typical approach by most people involved with strength training is to do 2 or 3 sets with a weight that they can handle for 8 to 12 repetitions per set.  Once they get to 12 repetitions they may decide to start adding weights or optionally keep the weight the same and add another set.

So what about that ceiling that we all seem to hit in terms of how much weight we can safely hoist?  Well you can add more reps and sets, but eventually this to can come to a halt and really how much time to you want to spend on this method.  So here are a couple other ideas to keep pushing your muscles, making them work harder:

  1. Do each repetition considerably slower – this puts extra strain on the muscles without having to add reps, sets, or weight
  2. Spend less time resting between sets – instead of resting say 90 seconds drop it down to 60 and you will feel the burn

There are yet other ways to ramp up the intensity, but I’ll save those for a future post.  Let me know what you do to increase the intensity of your strength training workouts.

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