If you want to become stronger and see results from your exercise regime, it’s important to focus on progressive overload (one of the principles of strength training). This means overloading the muscles at regular intervals so that they grow, and you become stronger.
Many people think the only way to do this is to lift heavier and heavier weights. Sure, that is one way, and it may suit those who have been exercising for a while, but sooner or later even they will reach a plateau. If you are fairly new to exercising, it may be too early for you, as your joints may not be ready to be overloaded. Yet.
So what do you do?
There are many other ways of overloading the muscles.
- Use heavier weights occasionally – try an increase of 10%. The fitter you are, the less often you should increase the weights (I assume you know how much you can lift in each exercise without taking it too easy. For example, if you increase by 5 kgs for a particular exercise from one week to the next, then you are probably not using heavy enough weights)
- Vary the number of repetitions
- Vary the number of sets
- Use different tempos One example is squats. Lower yourself down for 3 seconds (count 1–2–3), stay down for 1 second and rise up for 1 second, i.e. explosively. Or shoulder presses: lift the dumbbells in one second, lower in 1–2–3 seconds. There are many variations!
- Reduce the rest period between sets
- Change the order of the exercises If you usually exercise your shoulders at the end of the session, but want to focus on getting stronger shoulders, exercise your shoulders at the beginning of the session while you are feeling “fresh”
- Divide up the body in the same way. What I mean is that if at the moment you exercise 4 days a week, where you exercise your upper body twice a week and your lower body twice a week, you can divide it up like this instead: Day 1 glutes/legs/stomach. Day 2 back/shoulders. Day 3 glutes/legs/stomach. Day 4 chest/arms. There are many variations here as well!
- Choose more advanced exercises. When you have learnt (AND practised!) the basic exercises, it’s time to move on to more advanced exercises. For example, from squats with a bar to single-leg squats or from deadlifts to single-leg deadlifts.
However, there is one important thing to remember: it’s all about technique. There is no point in increasing weight or reps and pushing yourself if your technique is wrong, as this increases the risk of injury. If you get an injury, you will have to go back several steps and you don’t want to have to do that. Focus on gradual increases!