How To Build A Progressive Weightlifting Program


Hey, bro. Have your gainz, like, stalled, and stuff?

Are you lifting, but still weak and puny? That’s lame. No one will ever love you if you’re not totally jacked to sh*t. So click my steroid-infused internet ad to find out why trainers hate me and you too can be awash in enough lady parts to choke an interstellar sandworm.

Why you no click? Is it because your brain is more evolved than that of a stegosaurus and you don’t actually need a separate ass-brain to control the lower part of your body? Good stuff. Let’s write something up about the basics of weightlifting progression for those who don’t think the moon landings were faked.

If you want to grow, not just bigger, but stronger, you need to work for it. You must quest to progress. You can’t just keep doing the same thing day after day and expect things to change. Nevertheless, there aren’t any “secrets” that you’re going to learn from some $89 ebook sold by someone whose writing skill makes me think he grew up in a house coated in lead paint.

Not secrets, but simplicity based on improving in three key areas: intensity, density and volume. Improving in any one of these areas = progress. Let’s define them. (Warning: Involves math.)

This is the percentage of your 1RM — your one-repetition maximum. Also known as intensity of load. If you can bench 200 pounds once, then benching 180 is going to be at 90% of 1RM. Benching 160 will be at 80%, and so on.

And because 180 is at a higher percentage of your 1RM than 160 is, it is therefore deemed to be at a higher intensity.

Does this mean you should always quest to lift as close to 100% of 1RM as possible? Absolutely not. However, pushing the intensity of the load is what enables you to get stronger over time, and getting stronger is an integral component of getting bigger.

It’s worth noting that some will also refer to intensity of effort. This is in relation to going to concentric failure. In English, if you could lift a weight 10 times (without cheating, like throwing your back into it and using inertia), and you only lifted it eight times, then you went to 80% intensity of effort. High intensity of effort and going to concentric failure is generally a good thing, but not necessarily something to be pursued all the time. Always going to failure can lead to injury and mental exhaustion with one’s lifting routine.

Time for more math.

Say you squat 200 pounds five times on a certain day, and on another day you squat 100 pounds ten times. Which was the higher-volume workout? Answer: They’re the same. 200X5 = 1,000. And 100X10 = also 1,000. The total volume for each workout was 1,000 pounds.

But that’s just one set. There should be a lot more volume than that in a typical workout. I just did a chest, shoulders and triceps workout, and I’ll lay some of it out for you to show you the volume math:

Incline dumbbell bench press using 2X90-pound dumbbells
o Set 1 = 10 reps
o Set 2 = 10 reps
o Set 3 = 9 reps
o Set 4 = 8 reps
o Total volume = 37 reps X 180 pounds = 6,660 pounds

Barbell bench press of 225 pounds
o Set 1 = 6 reps
o Set 2 = 5 reps
o Set 3 = 5 reps
o Total volume = 16 reps X 225 pounds = 3,600 pounds

There was some other stuff after that, like dips, overhead press, TRX pushups, lateral raises, skull crushers… they all add to the total volume of the workout and I’m not going to bore you with those numbers, but you can see that from my two major chest exercises I lifted a total volume of 12,260 pounds.


To progress, you need to push the volume. Intensity is an important part of this, because working on improving your load intensity makes you able to lift heavier weights, which contributes to overall volume of weight lifted, and increasing intensity of effort by, for example, lifting a weight 10 times instead of nine, will also increase the total volume. If you can lift a 100-pound weight 10 ten times, and you do, then that’s a volume of 1,000 pounds. But if you only lift it nine times, then that’s only a 900-pound volume.


Density is a matter of time, and the less, the better (within reason).

That volume I showed you up there? It doesn’t work as well if you take 10 minutes between sets. It also makes your workout last forever. The need for high-density workouts is one reason why you don’t want to get too chatty at the gym and take long breaks between sets.

If it takes you 10 minutes to get through three sets of squats, and then the next time you do those same three sets (same weight and same reps) you do it in nine minutes, then you increased the density. That’s good, because it’s forcing your body to adapt.

But there are a couple of qualifiers with this. First off, you’re not lifting the weights faster, because you don’t want to decrease the time under tension. Instead, you’re taking shorter rest periods in between sets. The other qualifier is making sure the rest period is sufficient enough that your next set doesn’t suffer. If you don’t take enough time to recover then volume suffers, and so what was the point?

What Else?
These three aspects of progression are the big ones, but they’ll matter for naught if you rarely lift, so frequency needs to be what your body, your schedule and your psyche can handle. What’s more, if it’s all biceps curls and the abdominal crunch machine, then just get off my article.

Do the big stuff. Focus on the compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench, pull-downs, overhead press and rows.

And stop clicking on those stupid ads.

James S. Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribuneand author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. Visit his site at for a free weight loss report.


Source: Askmen

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