5 Ways to Make Progress

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Does it feel like you’re never improving or getting stronger? We can sometimes get stuck in our own heads asking questions like “why am I weak” instead of asking “how do I get stronger?”.  This article takes a rational approach touching on 5 ways to ensure that you are making the best efforts towards progressing.


1. Make Training Non-negotiable

When it comes to work, why do you show up consistently every day… and yet the most important things in your life (assuming increasing strength and improving body-composition are important to you) treated this way? I’ll give you a tip, if you want to make that green OR get stronger, bigger and/or leaner you need to make time for it, no excuses. Life happens, I get it. Think about this, if strength training were treated like your job you’d have a 401k plan that allows you to deadlift over 600lbs by now. Keep in mind it’s never too late to start saving for retirement.  


2. Progressive Overload

Okay… so showing up isn’t an issue for you. You’ve passed the hurdle of making it into the gym to workout consistently every week. Does that mean you’re strength training? Or are you just punching a time card? (Wait a minute….do people still punch time cards these days?) In any case exercising and strength training are two different things. It’s sort of like this: do you work to just collect a check or are you looking to get promoted one day? Ideally jobs should have a training system that promotes growth, allowing you to climb the ladder if you choose to. Similarly, proper progressive overload of the main lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and row) provide you that ladder. Increasing training intensity and volume at the right rate allows you to step up the ladder. This can show itself on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or even yearly basis depending on your training age (see our previous article for more detail).


3. An Injury = Stalled Progress, Right? WRONG

I know what you’re thinking “Chris, that’s all fine and dandy but I’m injured, what do I do now?”. Let me answer your question with a question: “If you were injured but still had to make money, what would you do?” In case you don’t know the answer I would say you need a reasonable accommodation. This could entail light duty work until you’re back to normal. It’s in our blood to persevere. For example, if squatting is no bueno for your knees, but deadlifting feels fine, looks like deadlifting will be the focus of your program until your knees feel better. Ideally if there is a main lift you can still do, that should be the focus of your program. If you cannot perform any of the main lifts even with a different modality, find things you can do and do them often. Be warned though, removing indicators of strength (e.g. main lifts) will require new ways to track progress.


4. Note-taking is NOT just for Students

I’ll be blunt: stuff will always pop up and get in the way. Imagine on one snowy day you come into work late. There was a car accident on the route you normally take. The next time it snows out you find that you are late again. And a third time, you’ve guessed it, late AGAIN! The world must be against you! Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". This is where good note-taking comes in. With good notes you can create actions steps that can help you avoid and possibly fix problems. Here’s a strategy to get to work on time when it snows out. Watch the weather the day before. If you suspect bad weather the next day set your alarm 20 minutes earlier than normal. For extra measure, map out and take a different route to work. Now let’s relate this to strength training: You deadlift heavy every week and find yourself feeling really beat up. You suspect that this is causing your progress to slow down because bar speed is slow, and your form is starting to break down. You make an adjustment and spread out the deadlift overloading event to every other week. After a couple of weeks, you’ve noticed not only your deadlifts feel great, they feel the best it’s ever felt, but all your other lifts are moving great. This was a simple example of tailoring your strategy to improve your SRA (Stimulus Recovery Adaptation) cycle. Each lift will have its own SRA curve. So be cautious and use your notes to help you determine what works best for you.

5. Work with a Coach   

Strength training can seem complicated and overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to balance life in the mix as well. The amount of allostatic load (wear and tear due to repeated stress) in your life certainly plays a role in the amount of energy you can devote to learning a “thing”. The best coaches in the world have worked with coaches of their own for many years and I am no exception. Every person is unique, and no single approach works for everyone. To progress you need a systematic approach that is individualized, tailored, and monitored to allow you to keep moving forward. A system first begins to develop when a non-negotiable time commitment is established. From there the plan just needs to ensure progression and growth.

There will be time when the plan needs to change due to “bumps in the road”. That is a normal part of the journey. What doesn’t have to happen is stalled progress. There is only so much you can do yourself. Reaching out for help is one of the most noble things you can do for yourself. You cannot beat the wisdom of an experienced strength coach and athlete. This journey is all about learning how to get stronger and make progress, and they’ve spent the time in the trenches learning from their mistakes AND the mistakes of others.

If you feel you would like help, contact us, tell us your goals and let’s stop the cycle of stalled progress! 

Chris Harris