You are in the gym, you look around at people, one of them is scrolling Instagram feed for five hours, another one is doing the stupidest exercise in the universe — burpees, another one is openly vomiting after completing four sets of Bulgarian split squats, and another one is just… big and strong. And so you wonder:
I will tell you how. It’s because he trained with progressive overload which simply means challenging muscles beyond their present capacity so that they would have to adapt and get stronger and/or bigger.
You can incorporate it into your training in a lot of different ways. My favorite way is the double progression system. It is a method of manipulating the volume and intensity of your training. It works with any exercise and pretty much anyone can use it to gain muscle and strength. Especially beginner and intermediate lifters.
Since you are 153 words into this article, you are probably close to achieving a critical level of “fuck this article, so far, Egis told me absolutely nothing while saying many many words” so let me explain to you how to train with the double progression system.
The double progression means adding repetitions within a certain rep range until you “fill out” that rep range. Then you add more weight. So you are adding volume (reps) before increasing intensity (weight) and you don’t progress the second variable (intensity aka weight) until you progress the first (reps).
Let’s say you got an individualized training program from me and you have a barbell bench press prescribed for 3 sets of 6-10 reps. Here is how you would go about training with the double progression system:
Through trial and error, you would choose a weight that allows you to perform no less than 6 reps and no more than 10 reps without hitting failure on your first two sets otherwise you will sabotage your subsequent sets.
I recommend leaving 2-3 reps in reserve for compound exercises and 1-2 reps in reserve for isolation exercises. That is for all sets except the last one — feel free to take it to failure on the last set (to the point where doing another rep would result in form breaking down or you openly vomiting).
Work in that 6 to 10 rep range and add reps each week trying to get to the top of that rep range. Take as many workouts and weeks as you need to achieve it (because you will not be able to add reps every workout).
When you get 3×10, in the next workout you increase the weight by the smallest possible increment, once again working back towards 3×10 with the new weight. Here is an example of what it might look like:
You can make pretty visible linear progress training like this for a long long L-O-O-O-N-G time (I am talking years here). But during that time, you will face a few obstacles so I will help you in advance so that you don’t DM me in three months and be all “Egis, you said this double progression thing is foolproof but I struggled with stuff you didn’t bother mentioning in the article. Fuck you.” So…
First, you will miss the bottom of your rep range sometimes. Like this:
When you find yourself in this situation (“when,” not “if”), just reduce the weight. You don’t need to stay with the same weight for all sets. If you need to reduce the weight to stay within the target rep range, do it.
So if I am targeting the same 6-10 rep range with 100 lbs on the bar and I manage to do 7,6,5 reps, I will reduce the weight for my fourth set to get back in my target rep range.
With experience, you will be able to prevent falling out of the rep range. Let’s say you complete the first two sets:
Since those 6 reps felt very hard, you will reduce the weight proactively otherwise the bar will crush your trachea. Just kidding, you will be forced out of the rep range.
Second, you might find that the jump in weight forced you out of the target rep range right from the first set.
Let’s say you are targeting the 8-12 rep range on a barbell bench press. You hit 12 reps on each set the week before so you increased the weight for this week. But the smallest increment available in your gym is the 2.5lb plates. So you are looking at a 5-pound increase in weight. For some people, that might be too big of a jump that would make them miss the bottom of the rep range.
What you can do is widen the rep range and instead of targeting the 8-12 rep range aim for 6-12 reps. This is especially true for the single-joint aka isolation exercises because it is unrealistic to increase weight as quickly as you would with the multi-joint aka compound exercises.
Widening the rep range will take a lot longer to work up to the top of the target rep range but who cares? As long as you are adding reps, you are training with progressive overload. Adding more reps tells you that the stimulus is sufficient to get bigger and stronger.
So let’s recap:
- Choose the weight you can stay within the target rep range with, without hitting failure unless it is your last set.
- Once you hit the top of the target rep range for all of your sets, increase the weight by the smallest possible amount.
- If you are forced out of the target rep range, reduce the weight. There is nothing wrong with that.
- Use wider rep ranges if you have to.
- If you would rather eat your own nose than go through all this on your own, hire me to coach you, maybe?
Originally published by me on Medium on May 10, 2022