See Big Results with Incremental Fitness – Part 4
A word to the wise:
Health and fitness is an incredibly hard journey. Getting into the habit alone is difficult to do. After making it a habit in your life, you will need to start making improvements. If you’ve ever worked out with weights you can imagine how difficult it can be to add 10-20 pounds to any lift. And if you are looking to run a marathon, you know how difficult it is to run an extra mile. Start small and steadily progress by increasing the difficulty.
Gain strength, size and confidence with a weight lifting regime!
If you are working out as hard as you possibly can, you will quickly wear yourself out. The trick to being successful is working out hard while properly recovering and resting. Use incremental progress to push your limits.
Let’s assume you don’t work out at all. Oddly enough, according to the Time Magazine article “The New Science of Exercise” written by Mandy Oaklander, approximately 80.2 million Americans do not do any type of exercise and only 20% of North Americans get the recommended amount of exercise. That is just crazy to me! Working out is not only good for your physical health but it’s good for your mental health as well. I can only imagine how people feel with zero physical exercise.
Now it’s time for us to start our weight lifting routine. The average human needs at least 2 strength and conditioning workouts per week. The reason this is important is because when we are old, we will still be able to lift a glass of water with ease, cut a steak without help, climb stairs without our legs giving out, we will have maintained bone and muscle density.
Here are two options I would like to propose for incremental progress:
- Start by doing 1 full body workout per week. Each month we are going to add an additional workout each week. In three months, we will be doing 3 full body workouts per week.
Month 1 = 4 workouts
Month 2 = 8 workouts
Month 3 = 12 workouts
During the 4th months, try adding an additional strength workout. It does not need to involve weights necessarily, but must be active and promote muscle growth. This could be yoga, rock climbing, body weight skill movements (handstands, pull ups, etc.) or going for an uphill hike.
- If you don’t like the idea of weight lifting, consider doing a strengthening exercise each day that involves only your body weight.
Week 1 = 10 repetitions of body weight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses each morning.
Week 2 = 15 repetitions of body weight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses each morning.
Week 3 = 20 repetitions of body weight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses each morning.
Week 4 = 25 repetitions of body weight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses each morning.
Keep adding 5 repetitions each week. By making a small amount of progress each week rather than each day, we allow out body to adjust and improve. If we started with 10 reps the first week and decided to jump to 25 reps, we would most likely struggle. By adding slowly each week, by week 4 we will be very comfortable with 25 reps and will exceed those numbers the following week!
Now you can argue that you will eventually reach a ceiling. Let’s say you can’t increase the repetitions anymore after 30 reps. If that’s the case, you could instead increase the difficulty of the movement.
Instead of doing 30 repetitions for another week. Drop the repetitions back down to ten. But this time, rather than doing a typical push up, lift one leg off the ground while doing a push up! You will need a strong core and more arm/chest strength to maintain good balance. Add 5 more repetitions the next week.
For the Intermediate:
If you’ve worked out regularly in the past, or are currently following a workout regimen you will notice the above example was fairly basic.
What you will also realize is that it’s much harder to see any gains after a certain point!
One way to combat this is to utilize incremental progress.
This is a concept I learned in high school when I stumbled across the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. Before starting the workout, you were required to fill in your 1-rep maxes (the total weight you can lift in 1 repetition) for all exercises: squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, bench press, and overhead press.
Once you figured out your 1-rep max, you took 50% of it to start the program. For example, if you could squat 200 lbs your starting weight would be 100 lbs for squats.
The reasoning behind this is that starting heavy will increase your chances of hitting plateaus, potential injuries and bad form. Instead we will start with 50% for large compound lifts and 75% for smaller compound lifts and increase the weight a little bit each week. Within 3 months the aim is to surpass your previous max weight and continue to progress.
The goal here is to surpass a plateau you’ve reach and hopefully with this strategy continue to progress further beyond!
- For large compound lifts such as Squats and deadlifts, the goal is to add 5-10 pounds per week.
- For smaller compound lifts such as bench press, barbell rows and overhead presses, the goal is to as 2-5 pounds per week.
- For isolation exercises (curls), the max you should increase at a time should 1-2.5 lbs per week.
Note: These weights are for example purposes only. Ensure that you are using a weight you can safely handle.
Squat (200 lbs 1-rep max) = 5 reps of 100 lbs
Bench press (185 lbs 1-rep max) = 5 reps of 140 lbs
Barbell Row (185 lbs 1-rep max) = 5 sets of 140 lbs
Curls (30 lbs 8-rep max) = 3 sets of 15 lbs
Squat = 5 reps of 110 lbs
Bench press = 5 reps of 145 lbs
Barbell Row = 5 sets of 145 lbs
Curls (30 lbs 8-rep max) = 3 sets of 17.5 lbs
Week 8 (2 months):
Squat = 5 reps of 170 lbs
Bench press = 5 reps of 175 lbs
Barbell Row = 5 sets of 175 lbs
Curls (30 lbs 8-rep max) = 3 sets of 32.5 lbs
Week 12 (3 months):
Squat = 5 reps of 210 lbs (5% increase)
Bench press = 5 reps of 195 lbs (6% increase)
Barbell Row = 5 sets of 195 lbs (6% increase)
Curls (30 lbs 8-rep max) = 3 sets of 42.5 lbs ((30% increase)
For isolation movements such as curls, you will quickly hit another plateau with the amount of weight you can lift. Another way to increase your results with these exercises it to play with the amounts of reps, speed in which you lift, different grips and etc.
Week 16 (4 months):
Squat = 5 reps of 250 lbs (20% increase)
Bench press = 5 reps of 215 lbs (14% increase)
Barbell Row = 5 sets of 215 lbs (14% increase)
It may seem like a slow process, but if you stay consistent and use the incremental process properly, you will not only break your previous record, but surpass it considerably in the long run.
For those of you who are skeptical, this is not a new concept. Using gradual progress is a cornerstone of weight lifting and bodybuilding. It goes by many names; loading, waving, pyramid, drop sets, ladders and etc. which are all techniques of using progression to increase weight.
What if I hit another plateau in my progress?
This will definitely happen. What I suggest is using your new max weights to restart the incremental fitness plan. Instead of 50% of your 200 lbs squat in week 1, you could restart the process with 50% of your 250 lbs squat on week 17.
Have you ever thought of running a marathon? I’ll be honest, I haven’t. But the concept is the same. And props to anyone who has the determination and will power to complete a full marathon!
A marathon is 42 kilometers (26.2 miles)! That’s a crazy distance if you are not running regularly. Instead of getting wild and joining the marathon that’s happening in your city next weekend, take a second to consider building up to that goal. You wouldn’t want to injure yourself or discourage yourself from ever running a marathon again!
Start small and build up:
Week 1: Assuming you are a new runner, go out for run to get used to moving around. Try starting with 1 kilometer for the first week.
Week 2-3: Add 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) onto your run each week
Week 5: You’ve now become more comfortable running up to 4 kilometers. Now it’s time to join your local “5k” race, which is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).
Week 12: You’ve continued to progress slowly, adding a kilometer a week after your last 5K race. Now it’s time to sign up for a “10K” race, which is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).
Week 16 (3 months): Once your cardio has increased and your muscles have developed enough to increase your distances considerably since week 1, you should be on your way to running your first half-marathon!
It may appear that I am repeating myself, but the concept cannot be emphasised enough. People all too often push themselves beyond their limits, by overreaching. There is a distinct line between pushing yourself and overreaching.
When it comes to skills, this can be even more important. This is something that I am personally dealing with right now.
I have always had a weird feeling about being upside down. I never learned how to do a flip on a trampoline or into a pool and I never learned how to do a cartwheel or handstand.
Because if this, I made it my 2018 goal to do a handstand! To manage this, I’ve started to use incremental progress.
This video is a great example. For me I started at my local CrossFit gym. On “skill” days we would practice pistol squats, toes to bar, handstand, cartwheels and etc.
We first started with assisted wall handstands. By partnering up, we would lift each others legs up until they were touching the wall. We would then hold that position as long as we could and, with assistance, lower ourselves down.
Once we had mastered that exercises, we would then practice getting into the wall handstand position by ourselves.
Next, the goal would be to gain a little strength and comfort in this position by doing some slight handstand presses and practice moving our weight around on our arms.
Once we become comfortable with the feeling of being upside down, and in the wall assisted handstand position. We then attempted to kick off the wall lightly and balance for as long as we could without any support. This is the step that I am currently on!
Gradually the goal is to move on to a freestanding handstand with someone’s assistance prior to attempting a solo freestanding handstand.
The reality is, you may be able to just start with the full-on handstand. You will likely fall a lot, possibly hurt yourself or get discouraged. You may succeed! However, the purpose of incremental progress is to eliminate those falls and discouragements and focus on steadily progressing to achieve the best results.
Hopefully you enjoyed the 4-part posts on incremental progress and how we can use the concept to create actionable steps immediately. Did you find this series beneficial? What will you focus on first by implementing incremental progress?