With all the talk about progress in training, it’s easy to get roped into thinking that there’s only one way to achieve it. This is especially true in the weight room – when your focus lies in lifting weight, one tends to think that adding more weight to the bar is the definitive measure of progress. Unless you’re a powerlifter or weightlifter, there’s no real need to obsess over not being able to add 10kg to your squat within twelve weeks. Instead, try utilising some of these alternatives as goals instead:
1. Doing more repetitions
Building more volume at the same weight (or rep PRs) is a time-tested method when it comes to building both muscle and strength. It might seem easy at first, especially when you’re used to keeping a few reps in the tank during training. You’ll change your mind pretty quickly when you’re pushing your 10RM for 20 repetitions.
2. Slowing things down
Tempo training is a good way to overload movements without increasing the load and thereby taxing the joints further. Prescriptions are broken down into four segments: eccentric, bottom of the movement, concentric, top of the movement. So, a 4210 tempo would translate into a 4-second descent, a 2-second hold at the bottom, a 1-second concentric and an immediate transition into the next rep.
3. Completing workouts quicker
While training to a timer might seem very reminiscent of CrossFit, it can certainly be applied to non-CrossFitters as well. If your workouts typically last an hour, try bringing it down progressively. You can achieve this by either taking shorter breaks or completing your sets earlier. The flipside of this is to try and accuamulate more training volume within a specific time frame. Known as density training, this entails chasing rep PRs in limited time blocks (e.g. 15-20 mins). Whichever you choose, be sure never to sacrifice technique or form for results.
4. Incorporating pauses
Pausing movements, particularly those that begin with an eccentric phase (e.g. squats, bench presses), is a good way to gauge your body’s “true” strength due to the elimination of the stretch reflex. A common starting point is a 2-second pause at the bottom of a particular movement, although this can be changed based on preferences. Pauses also test your ability to remain stable under load, which carries over pretty well into contact and combat sports.
5. Increase range of motion
Training your body in an increased range of motion not only improves its mobility, but also increases its resilience to injury. The increase in movement also translates to increments of time under tension, which can prove beneficial to muscle hypertrophy as well. Through either the use of elevation or limb placement, most exercises can be modified to utilise a larger range of motion while continuing to work the same muscle groups. For example, a snatch-grip deadlift instead of a conventional one, or a bench press with a closer grip.
Even if your goal is to get stronger, know that strength can be expressed (and built) in a variety of scenarios. It doesn’t have to be a 1RM all the time, every time. Using different methods not only helps to keep things interesting training-wise, but also ensures that there aren’t any weak links holding your overall progress back.