Alternate Ways to Progress Exercise

Its Not All About the Weight!

When people think of improving and getting stronger with exercise, they typically think of pushing out more repetitions, or increasing the amount weight they were able to lift. People neglect to think of the different ways they can progress exercises and make them more challenging to perform. Diversity in training is key for success, not to mention the following concepts have plenty of research to back up their effectiveness for weight training.

Time Under Tension

You can think about time under tension as the number of seconds you were able to hold and control a certain amount of weight throughout the movement of an exercise. If the weight stops moving (i.e. at the top or at the bottom of a particular movement) the muscles are considered to be under passive tension and will not add to your time under tension. It’s best to keep the weight moving and avoid resting at the top or bottom of each rep to maintain active tension. Implementing this technique within weight training allows you to measure your progression by time of effort rather than counting each rep made regardless of how quickly you were able to get the weight up.

This concept is also backed by research.  A study in 2012 demonstrated that subjects who performed an exercise to failure by performing slower repetitions showed significantly more protein synthesis (muscles growing and repairing) vs. the subjects who lifted weights to failure by performing quicker repetitions. This technique is also safe to perform. It discourages the use of heavy weight because it is challenging to move even light weight slowly for a long
period of time. This technique also discourages ballistic (quick) movement with each repetition because the goal is to increase the time under tension with each rep, not total amount of repetitions.

Woman Squatting

Training Volume

Simply put, training volume is (sets x reps x weight). For instance, say you are bench pressing at the gym today. You pick a weight of 185 pounds which you are able to lift for 10 reps in 4 sets. Your total volume would be (185lbs x 10reps x 4sets) = a volume of 7400 lbs. Now say that you want to lift heavier weight and are able to lift 225 for 4 reps in 4 sets. (225lbs x 4reps x 4sets) = training volume of 3600 lbs. The technique of training volume using 185 lbs for 10 reps and 4 sets is much higher compared to using the heavier weight for less repetitions.

Research has shown that people who performed volume training with light weight vs high intensity training had no statistical difference in growth of muscle mass. Also, volume training elicited slightly greater levels of growth hormone which could lead to greater long-term gains of muscle mass. Taking this concept into consideration, one can see how training for volume helps to prevent injury by using lighter weight to create the same response that heavy weights elicit.
Remember, there are more ways to progress each exercise than just counting reps and the total amount of weight. Focusing only on lifting heavier weight is not just closed minded, it’s dangerous. Try adding these techniques that produce similar (if not superior) benefits in your exercise routine without increasing your risk for injury. Remember the key to training is consistency. Stay injury free to keep a healthy routine!

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