Advancing Linear Progression Schemes:
So with most beginner fitness routines, you will be on what’s called a ‘Linear Progression’ scheme. This basically means that every session, you will be trying to increase the intensity and/or volume of your training by a regular increment every session.
If you are doing my BWF Primer Routine, you will be familiar with this concept as you perform linear progression (LP for the rest of this article) in all your exercises, increasing by 1 rep per set every session within a range (i.e. starting at 3×8 one session, then 3×9 the next, then 3×10 the next until you hit 3×12.). You can call this Rep or Volume LP.
In weight training routines, the LP usually comes in the form of regular incremental weight increases (i.e. 45lbs one session, 50lbs the next, 55lbs the next, 60lbs the next, and so on). You can call this Weight LP.
The basics of an LP are simple: “If you did it, next session go up 1 rep/weight increment and do it again”. The slight complexity comes from what happens if you did not manage to hit your goal weight/reps/sets/etc.
One school of thought would be to say ‘You can only LP until you stop being able to add reps/weight every session. Then you need to move on to a more complex progression scheme with periodization, here is a book on complex training theory’.
However, this view above falls flat quite quickly due to the fact that individuals will rarely have perfectly consistent performance every single session of their lives. Bad days happen and they’re unavoidable. In fact sometimes bad weeks happen due to matters external to our training, where our performance is far below our usual capacity.
This can be due to all the usual factors like diet, hydration, sleep quality/duration and stress, but nonetheless, A failure to add reps/weight every session is not necessarily an indicator that you have exhausted your capacity to progress with an LP scheme. It simply means you need to add something into your LP scheme to account for fluctuations in performance, and allow you to keep progressing, if not at a slightly slower pace.
The first method we’ll go over will be regarding Rep LP. I will cover Weight LP in a later article.
Stages of LP
Rep LP, As I mentioned above, is a form of Linear Progression that uses increasing reps per set as the form of increasing intensity.
For example, in my BWF Primer, every exercise progression you start at 3×8, and will build up to 3×12 over a number of sessions before moving on to the next more difficult exercise progression at 3×8 again. Normally, you would progress this by adding one rep per set. For example:
Reps LP Stage 1: Rep per Set Per Session
|Workout etc. etc.||. . .|
However, you may find at some point that you simply can’t keep adding 1 rep per set. If you fail to progress by 1 rep per set in a session, then you can try the following method.
Instead of progressing one rep per set every session, i.e. 3×8 -> 3×9, progress by one rep total every session. For example:
Reps LP Stage 2: One Rep Total per Session
|Workout 2||3×10 (Failed)|
|Workout etc. etc.||. . .|
This will allow you to wring out a little bit more progression before the next stage.
Now say for example that you are progressing one rep total, but get up to the point where you feel you can’t progress anymore. If you fail to progress by 1 rep total per session, for more than 2 workouts in a row, then try the following method.
Take the total volume of the last successful sets and reps you did, and get close to matching the total volume with fewer reps, but 1 extra set. For example, let’s say you succeed in performing 3×10 in one workout, but in the next session you fail to perform (11, 10, 10). You try again in your next session and fail to perform (11, 10, 10) yet again. Dang it! How frustrating.
So your last successful workout was 3×10, which is 30 total reps. You could get around 30 reps with 4×7 (28 total) or 4×8 (32 total), or even with 8, 8, 7, 7 (30 total) if you wanted to be precise. It’s your call whether you go slightly under or slightly over the total volume based on how you feel. In any case, what you are doing with this is making each individual set easier to perform while maintaining the same total volume of work.
From here you will go back to progressing by 1 rep per set per session, or move on to 1 rep total per session if necessary. You will do this until you reach the same rep number that you originally failed at, and then drop back down to 3 sets again, and try to increase by one rep. For example:
Reps LP Stage 3: Drop Reps, Match Volume
|Workout 1||3×10||30 reps (Last successful total volume)|
|Workout 2||11,10,10 (Failed)||31 reps|
|Workout 3||11,10,10 (Failed))||31 reps|
|Workout 4||4×7 (a)||28 reps|
|Workout 5||4×8 (b)||32 reps|
|Workout 6||4×9||36 reps|
|Workout 7||4×10 (c)||40 reps|
|Workout 8||3×11||33 reps|
|Workout 9||3×12||36 reps|
|Workout etc. etc.||. . .||. . .|
With these 3 stages, you should be able to overcome any roadblocks to your progression as a beginner.
However, if you still find yourself unable to progress for more than 2 sessions in a row after you have dropped reps and gone up to 4 sets, and are progressing one rep total per session, you must do two things:
- Stay at the number of reps of your last successful session for 1 week, and perhaps seek to progress per week rather than per session.
- Look into whether you are failing to meet one or many of the following, in this order of priority:
- Adequate calorie intake
- Adequate protein intake
- Adequate sleep duration and quality
- Managing stress levels
- Adequate hydration
- Food Quality/Vitamin and Mineral intake
It is highly likely that one of these important recovery variables is not up to scratch if you are unable to progress.
If after all of that, you have determined that your recovery variables are all absolutely perfect, but you are still not progressing, it may be time to re-evaluate your progression scheme and go for a more intermediate progression scheme, something a little slower that allows you accumulate more sub-max volume before progressing less frequently.
The one important caveat to this, is if you started any individual exercise progression with poor form, or that your form worsened as you progressed to compensate for the added difficulty of the additional reps. You may very well find that your progress may “stall” at any given number of reps for a week or more , as you do it with progressively better form than before. This is not actually stalling, it is simply progression through form improvement and is something you will have to tolerate as a result of having poor form.