Client and coach dilemma.
A 40-year-old client tells his or her coach that it’s been months on end of constant frustration and still no progress in musculature.
His or her weights in the gym have also plateaued.
Coach tells the client “Just go heavier!”
Being that the client is coachable, he or she does what he or she is told.
We all know what happens next…..
Bang! The client gets hurt.
Let's go back for a second and go over what just happened here.
The coach told the client to go heavier. The coach knows this is a form of progressive overload.
Let's stop this story here and talk about this concept of progressive overload because most of us seem to think that true progressive overload is going heavier.
Going heavier is part of progressive overload but I like to look at the whole picture first before giving more load to a client.
In order to improve one's performance in the gym, training has to penetrate the target muscles to stimulate adaptation.
When it comes to this overload principle there are two important factors to take into consideration.
A single training session has to have enough intensity that it causes physiological adaptation to occur.
One’s training must get continually (progressive) more exigent (in load, volume, duration, frequency, tension, etc) in order to encourage adaptation.
What if going heavier isn't the answer especially if coaches are working with mature clients 40 years and over?
Where does constantly going heavier put us with our clients?
The coach could be at risk because we are going to be known for hurting people? Bad news does travel very fast in this industry.
Let's switch gears real quick. As a reminder what is our goal in Hypertrophy (Build muscle)?
It’s maximum efficiency (maximum tension) of varied time, provided that the particular joint is stable. An example would be a squat. The pelvis would need to be stabilized or, if doing a Tricep push down, the shoulder has to be stabilized. I always look at stabilization as the governing factor.
Back to this overload concept.
What if there are other alternatives for progressive overload as opposed to always going heavier?
Let's have a look at a few of them in no apparent order.
Distance (Specific to building quads as an example to help create a visual)
The further I can get my knees away from my center of mass the more “tension” I am going to create on my quads. This is a great way of challenging the muscle with less load, less spinal compression with a bar on your back. In order to get this position to create this distance, some people may need a heel elevation.
The yellow lines in the middle of the stick person below represent the center of mass.
The same thing applies to a glute dominant squat. Get your hips as far back as possible away from the center of mass to allow the glute muscles to be fully lengthened.
Let's look at distance in a more negative outlook in training.
See this picture in your mind of you doing a flat dumbbell press for your chest. You do the 100lbs dumbbells with okay form. You know the reps weren't perfect though. Deep down inside you know you could have done better.
The next set you decide to go up in load to 110lbs dumbbells giving you a 10% increase. However, your forearms are pushing the dumbbell inward on an angle which is taking the necessary stress that is needed for growth off your chest. The distance has been decreased. This is what happens when weight is increased. Form starts to break down.
See illustration below.
40-70 seconds (Time)
Most people you see in the gym who are trying to build muscle, pay attention and count how much time it takes them to complete a set. Usually, you will see 10-25 seconds max of time to complete a set. Research now shows that between 40-70 seconds of tension in a given set will give you maximum results for hypertrophy. This is contingent on form (execution). There needs to be enough load to create muscle damage without allowing your form to break down.
It's interesting to see when I start to get an online client to extend their time of tension to 40-70 seconds with an exercise. Their muscles start to respond.
The moral is, slow down your reps and make all the reps look identical.
As a coach, if you can prove to me that you can sustain control with the load, you’re stable with constant tension and a muscular contraction over a period of time. Now we can look at other means of progression.
This sort of intertwines with number 2, time. However, I wanted to separate the two to hit both points home individually.
I am a huge fan of pause reps. Why? Because you can create further tension on a muscle in the most extreme ranges.
Here is an example.
Let's look at a dumbbell RDL.
Is it harder to pause in the top end of the range?
Is it harder to pause at the fully lengthened rage?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. The answer is number 2. However, our brains don't like to do things that are hard. Our brains are hardwired to take the path of least resistance. So, we have to challenge ourselves and our brains in the gym and fight the urge not to allow things to get easier.
I have been saying throughout this blog, the goal is to place constant tension on the muscle. Pause reps are a great way of doing this.
Now, can you see you don’t have to keep going necessarily heavier in order to make progress? It is a method that works well in our twenties but once we reach a mature age we have to adapt and think about how we train.
Despite the undertone of the word, you do not have to achieve paramount output in training to attain Overload, but you need to confront your physiology gradually to stimulate changes in the body.
The principles I have laid out above will do just that for you.
In summary and as a reminder of what was said above. I’ll repeat it for you so it hits home.
As a coach, if you can prove to me that you can sustain control with the load, you’re super stable with constant tension and muscular contraction over a period of time on a muscle group. Now we can look at other means of progression.
Your joints will be so happy I shared this with you.
We hope this helps.
Coach Troy & Jasmine