There are numerous ways to create a progressive overload; add weight, add reps, add sets, reduce rest time, etc. but to ensure that you are testing yourself in every single set the above easy formula should be used when it comes to weights training. If you want to make the best possible progress in the shortest possible space of time you have to challenge yourself on every single set and to do that you have to find your level.
Form is key. Its the start point of your training and the item that you must learn to master on every single exercise. If you are lucky enough to have a coach or a personal trainer then they will help you here. The best coaches are obsessed with form and you should be too. Even if you do not have a coach or PT you should be familiar with the various phases of an exercise, start position, end position and transition phase. The desired range of motion between start and end position is also key to know. Use the mirrors, use the diagrams present on all gym machines, use Google, use whatever you can. At an absolute minimum you should know where you should be feeling the exercise, the machine diagrams will usually highlight these but for free weights you should become familiar with what body part is being primarily targeted during an exercise and what body parts are being targeted on a secondary basis. If you are feeling the exercise anywhere else or indeed not feeling it at all in the primary target area then it’s usually a good indication that your form may be off. This is something that I constantly ask my clients during a PT session to ensure the correct muscles are being worked.
Performing exercises without proper form and/or without full range of motion is your biggest blocker to success. You must get these right before even thinking about increasing the weight you are lifting.
When your Form is perfect (or near perfect) and you can perform the exercise for its full range of motion, you next need to look at your reps. For simplicity lets imagine you are doing 10 reps at the same weight for a set. You must pay attention to your form and rep range for ALL 10 reps. It usually happens something like this:
- Reps 1-5: Form Good & Range of Motion Good
- Reps 6-8: Form Ok & Range of Motion slightly less then full
- Reps 9-10: Form lost & Range of Motion halved
If the above is the case, you need to look at lowering the weight you are training with to ensure that you have correct form and range of motion for the entire set.
However, if you make if from 1-10 perfectly then you must immediately review the weight you are lifting!
If your Form is correct and you maintain that Form for the desired Rep range then on the very next set the Weight must be increased. I repeat, THE WEIGHT MUST BE INCREASED. Otherwise your next set becomes sub-optimal. Your form is good, you’ve hit your reps, you are comfortable. Get straight back out of your comfort zone and increase that weight immediately on the next set.
Once you have increased the weight, you are immediately back to step one. You need to ensure your Form is maintained with the increased weight and you need to ensure that Form is maintained through-out the entire rep range. If not, you now know that your current limit for that particular exercise is between the weight of the first set which was comfortable and the second set which you could not maintain form for the entire rep range.
If the second set is also comfortable, then increase the weight again and immediately come back to checking your form for the new weight.
Challenge yourself on every single set!