5 Methods for Exercise Progressions to Avoid Plateaus and Boredom

by | Aug 7, 2015 | Articles, For Fitness Pros | 1 comment

(Last Updated On: September 24, 2019)

If you’re going to run your training business off systems and processes (especially a training system) then you need predictable ways to progress exercises for your clients. This holds especially true for group training programs where you need to individualize the exercise for each client without spending tons of time teaching every client something new.

It’s not enough to simply adjust the load and have various levels of exercise progression. When you have these 5 exercise progressions at your disposal you’ll be able to avoid client boredom and plateaus.

Exercise Progression #1: Loading

This is the most obvious exercise progression. Simply add a little more weight to make the exercise harder.  The challenge with only using load as your progression, especially in a group setting is that you may run out of load increases.  When I was running a bootcamp our heaviest kettlebell at the time was a 32kg and we only had one.  That meant for many of our stronger clients you had to get a little more creative.

You can also change the load of bodyweight exercises by changing angles or body positions.  For example an incline push up –> regular push up –> feet elevated push up.

Exercise Progression #2: Base of Support

You can change the base of support by adjusting the body position and reducing the points or base of support.  For example you can move from a parallel stance to a staggered stance to a split stance and then to a single leg stance for lower body movements.  For upper body you can have 4 points of support, 3 points, 2 points or just 1 point of support.

Check out my PT On The Net article for some ideas on changing the base of support.

Exercise Progression #3: Tempo

Changing tempo is all about adjusting the speed of the exercise. You can either increase the speed or decrease the speed to make this an exercise progression.  Increasing the concentric phase of the movement such as doing a regular push up to a plyo push up is a good example.  Decreasing the eccentric phase of the movement will intensify the exercise for example going from a regular push up to a 3 second eccentric.

You can also add in pauses between the concentric and eccentric phases to increase the intensity of an exercises such as adding a 3 second hold at the bottom of a squat or a 5 s hold at the bottom of a push up.

Exercise Progression #4: Combinations

Putting two exercises or movements together can make an exercise more challenging, especially when you are trying to create a bigger metabolic demand.  You can pair squats with presses or rows to create a combination movement.

I’ve got lots of great combos on the 8 Advanced Single Leg Exercises blog post.  They also tie into the next progression…

Exercise Progression #5: Add Movement

There are various ways to add movement, which also changes the stability in many cases of the exercise.  For example a side stepping swing is a great way to intensify the kettlebell swing.

Here’s one with the push up:

Exercise Progression #5: Change the skill level

Training for skills vs simply strength is a great way to progress a movement.  For example the Ultimate Sandbag Clean to Fist is a great way to increase the skill of a movement from the basic clean.

Other skill based movements are kettlebell snatches or Turkish Get Ups. For example you can increase the skill of the KB snatch by doing a swing –> high pull –> Snatch or the get up by going from bodyweight –> sandbag –> kettlebell.

These 5 methods of progressing exercises should give you near limitless options to keep your clients from getting bored and help them avoid plateaus in their training.

Give them a try and let me know if you have any exercise progressions that you use in the comments below.

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