When Is It Appropriate to Increase Load?

One of the most common questions I receive as a coach is regarding when to increase the weight you’re lifting on a given exercise.


People may be comfortable with a specific weight but are unsure if they can increase it without hurting themselves or losing control.


That being said, if you’ve been doing a similar weight on an exercise for more than 3 or 4 weeks, you need to explore increasing challenge in some way.


Once your body adapts to a specific stimulus, you need to give it a reason to continue adapting further. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, your body has nothing to adapt to and you’ll see a plateau in your progress.


A couple of things you can look at are:


  • The speed of the lift (how quickly you can move the load)

  • Your technique (how consistent your reps look from start to finish)

  • The level of fatigue you feel at the end of a set


If you’re still not confident that you can increase load, here are a couple of strategies you can use to see if you’re ready for it:


Do a set to failure


We often stop far from where our actual maximum tolerance is. What we think we can lift and what our actual potential is can be two very different things. Clients are surprised when the weight they thought was challenging for 10 reps, can actually be done for 15 or 20 at failure. That means they were leaving 5-10 reps in the tank on every set.


You don’t need to go to failure on every set, (this is a good way to burn out over time), but doing one every once in a while can give you a measuring stick for your progress.


Expose yourself to a new load at a lighter volume or increase overall exposure


If you really are stuck on a certain weight, try lightly exposing yourself to a higher load. If you’ve been doing bicep curls with 20lbs for 10 reps, try using 25lbs and go for 6-8 reps.


Just exposing our neurological system to a new demand can be enough of a stimulus to drive progress.


Once you’ve done 25lbs, 20lbs feels a lot lighter.


Alternatively, if you can’t complete the set of a heavier weight to your satisfaction, you may need more practice with the movement. That means doing more sets and volume over a given week.


If you only do squats once every two weeks, it’s going to take you a very long time to progress compared to someone that is doing them twice a week.


Realize that there are more ways to progress than just adding weight


What you may perceive as a plateau may be no such thing.


If you can move the same weight for more volume (reps) than you could before, then you’ve gotten stronger.


If you can move the same weight with greater speed and control, then you’ve gotten stronger.


If you feel less pain and discomfort with a movement at the same weight, then you’ve gotten stronger and more durable.


If you feel less fatigue after finishing a set of a given weight, then you’ve gotten stronger.



Consistent progression is a good sign that you’re on the right track in your training. You should see some marker of your strength increasing if you’re getting your lifts in consistently.


Don’t get too comfortable with your routine and make sure you’re always challenging yourself.


To your good health,

-Coach Stephen


P.S.


If you're looking for a qualified coach to help you bust through your plateuas, click here to inquire about coaching options.

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