I may be beating a dead horse here, but if you’re not progressing in the mirror it’s because you’re not progressing with your weights.

Let me know if this sounds familiar.  You go to the gym for your arm day and hit 35 lbs. with Dumbbell Curls for 12 reps at a intensity factor of 8 on a 1-10 scale.  You proceed with your workouts as normal and when you come back to the gym the following week you reach for 35lbs. again for an intensity factor of 8.  Maybe you even go as far as doing 13 reps this week as opposed to the normal 12!

The problem here is that if you want those arms to grow you’re going to need to progress in weight.  You’ll need to push the limits in the gym even if it means that you can’t hit your comfortable 12 reps and maybe you even fail at 7 (OH NO THIS IS NOT OPTIMAL FOR HYPERTROPHY!!!!).  Stop freaking out.  I’d rather have you fail at 7 and attempt a heavier weight than doing something that isn’t going to convince your muscles that you need to grow.

What I’m trying to get at is stated perfectly by someone who was pretty far removed from weight lifting, but I believe it still applies.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein

Correcting the Progression:

Weights in the gym 25 lb and 30 lb

There are a number of ways that will facilitate your growth in the gym, but I think a combination is necessary when it comes to progression.

The Routine:

This is one of the most crucial elements on your progression in the gym.  Reason being is that if you don’t use a routine that DEMANDS for your to progress then you’re never going to do it.  One of the most motivating things for me is using the calculations on a properly structured workout routine like a 5/3/1 and seeing how much weight I’m expected to do in the following weeks. Routines like a 5/3/1 are fantastic for demanding growth because you type in a “max” number and then it projects what weight your expected to do over the coming weeks.  After each cycle your required to move your max up by 5-15 lbs. which forces you to lift heavier week after week.

I can guess that the majority of the gym goers just copy and pasted workout out of Men’s Health magazine or their favorite internet site that contains not a single lick of progression guidelines. I know that almost every natural bodybuilder out there utilizes some form of progression in their routine and I won’t even investigate a new routine fad further until I see the nice progression scheme at the bottom.

A good indicator of a routine that requires progression is seeing this somewhere on the page:

  • 100 lbs x 8-12
  • 105 lbs x 8-12
  • 110 lbs x 8-12
  • 70% x 8-12 (deload)
  • 105 lbs x 8-12
  • 110 lbs x 8-12
  • 115 lbs x 8-12.

This is not telling you that you HAVE to do a hundred pounds on a particular exercise.  It’s just saying that each time you go do the workout you want to do 5lbs more and then on each additional cycle your expected to start at 5lbs heavier than the previous cycle.

Fantastic for progression, fantastic for growth and hypertrophy.

A picture of sticky notes saying 1 2 3

The Notebook:

Believe it or not, watching this amazing chick flick with Ryan Gosling will not make you buff. Kidding, it’ll make you JACKED!

Listen, if you want to progress, one of the best ways to do it is making sure you know where you were in previous weeks.  I know that everyone reading this article is a genius with striations all through their brain….but us geniuses need to save that room for saving the world…and stuff like that.

Invest in a notebook, use excel, use your favorite iPhone app  (Check out my article on my favorite apps). Please record your weights, not only does it help keep you progressing in the gym, but it also reinforces your progress.  It feels amazing to know that a year ago my max deadlift was in the low 400’s and now it’s in the 500’s.  Working out, especially for those that aren’t assisted, is a slow slow process.  Give yourself a way to track the progress even if it isn’t reciprocated in the mirror just yet.

In conclusion

If you don’t go to the gym and at least strive for 5lbs. heavier than the week before….you’re only wasting your time.

I can agree that there comes a point where the human body maxes out,  you’re going to hit plateaus, you’re going to get to a weight where if you go heavier you lose your form, but you’re never going to get there if you don’t progress. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but I promise that if you try to progress in the gym, you’ll progress as a bodybuilder.