Progressive Training in Bodybuilding - Maintaining Progress to Goals

Progressive Training

Slow and Steady Weight Increments Does It

Ever wish someone would come along with a method of training that would result in perpetual progress? Well, someone has.... Read on.

When I was 18 and just beginning my lifelong obsession with weights, I made phenomenal gains the first year or so. The strength and size gains were constant. It seemed as if adding two and a half to five pounds a week would goon forever. Slowly, though, the gains came to a dead stop. Even when! tried to add a mere one and a quarter pounds to the bar to increase the intensity, I would either fail to lift it for the number of reps I had chosen or I'd end up sacrificing form by cheating. Either way the intensity on the target muscle was not being increased, and therefore, neither my strength nor size was improving.

Through the next 30 years I tried every high-intensity technique Tread or heard about. After all those years of stagnation I finally decided to go back to increasing the weight for my main mode of increasing intensity. That decision and the system I worked out to accomplish it have provided me with steady gains in strength and size over the last four years. The system I'm about to describe is designed for the person who has reached a plateau and can no longer increase the resistance or the reps of an exercise without cheating.

There are three keys to this program of perpetual progression. One pertains to exercise selection, another involves very small regular increases in resistance, and the third aspect has to do with performing the exercise to failure without cheating.


First you need to pick enough exercises for a particular muscle group so that you do not duplicate any for at least one to two weeks. You should never work the same area with any of the specific exercises you used the last time you trained that bodypart. For example, if you worked biceps with incline curls on Monday. you would not do incline curls again for at least a week. Similarly, if you do flat benches on Wednesday, the next time you're scheduled to do benches, try inclines. The greater the variety of movement for each muscle group, the more successful you will be with this system.

Progressive Increases

The second aspect of this program involves constant progressive increases in the weight for each exercise you do. The increases will be so small that they will be almost imperceptible. However, over the long haul you will be stronger and bigger.

The key to the second part of the perpetual progression system is in the size of the increases. Each and every time you do a particular exercise, you must increase the weight. The increases will range from one-sixth to one-fourth of a pound. To create tiny increases like that, you need to buy some washers at the hardware store. One-inch washers fit exercise bars nicely, weigh about one-sixth of a pound, and are excellent for increasing the weight on a dumbbell. One-and-a-quarter-inch washers typically weigh about one-fourth of a pound and are good for increasing the weight on a barbell or a machine where two hands are involved. I was even able to find some weird two-inch aluminum washers that weigh one- third of a pound and fit Olympic bars.

Once you've accumulated one pound of washers on the bar or machine, your next increase would be a one-and-a-quarter plate. Then you would begin to add washers again.

In order to use washers and free-weight plates on selectorized machines, you might have to create a device to hold the washers or free weights to the weight stack. (In my opinion, the weight jumps on selectorized equipment are too great for continual progression for anyone except a novice or drug- enhanced bodybuilder.) To hold washers and free weights to weight stacks, I took some three-eighth-inch metal rod and welded a T shape with the long vertical part of the T about eight inches long and the short horizontal part about three inches long. Then all you have to do is put the long part of the T through the washer or weight and insert it into the weight stack where you'd normally put the selector pin.

Exercises to Failure

The third aspect of this system involves doing 8 to 10 reps to failure without cheating for each set. You will find that when you are exercising to failure, increasing the weight by one-sixth of a pound (one-hand exercises) or one-fourth of a pound (two-hand exercises) can be accomplished, while trying to add a rep each time you do an exercise will not always be possible without cheating. You must be obsessive about not cheating if you are going to force the target muscles to work harder. I am so determined not to cheat that I do my two-hand curling by lying on the floor and curling from a low pulley. I also do my triceps pushdowns by lying on my back with a pulley that is behind my head and off the floor by about 14 inches.

Obviously, for this program to be successful, you must keep a detailed log of the exercises and weights you're using. Here's an example of an entry I've used; Incline curl -45 + 2w/3x10

The entry indicates that I used 45 pounds of weight, along with two washers on each dumbbell, and that the exercise was done for 3 sets of 10 reps.

The variations you can do with this system are infinite. To get different exercises, you can vary the angle on a bench, vary your hand spacing or position, use a barbell, use a machine ... anything to create as many different exercises as possible.

Advanced intensity techniques are also possible with this system. For example, I have put together five sets of adjustable dumbbells so that I can do a down-the-rack set on my seated incline curl. You are limited only by your imagination.

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