How to progress your home workout

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For a workout program to be effective and bring you the results you’re after, it must be focused, structured, and progressive.

Progressive means that over time, you increase the demand being placed on your body.

Many people believe that the only way to progress a workout is by increasing the amount of weight you lift. And right now, with gyms closed and people isolated in their homes, there is much concern about the best way to keep progressing with workout programs done at home, given that most people don’t have racks of weights readily available.

But we’re here to show you how you can make the most of your home workout program, and how you can continue to progress your workouts, even if you don’t have access to the usual equipment.

In order to illustrate how to progress your workouts, we’ll be using dumbbell bicep curls as an example.

If you performed 2 sets of 8 reps using 5kg dumbbells and rested for 90 seconds in your last workout, here are 8 ways you can progress that movement.

1. Load

The most obvious way, and the first thing that most people think of is increasing the load. In the example above, this means performing 2 sets of 8 reps using a heavier weight — for example, 6kg dumbbells.

However, it’s very important that you are performing this exercise with the correct form and a full range of motion before progressing with extra weight. Otherwise, you increase your risk of injury.

2. Volume

By increasing the total number of reps using the 5kg dumbbell, you’ll be increasing the volume of your training. For example, you could perform 2 sets of 10 reps (for a total of 20 reps) or 3 sets of 8 reps (for a total of 24 reps). Once again, be sure that you are performing this exercise with correct form and full range of movement before progressing.

Another way to increase your volume is to increase the number of exercise sessions you do in the week. For example, if you currently do 1, you can increase it to 2.

3. Density

You can also progress your workout by increasing the density. This means performing the same amount of work in less time. Using our example of bicep curls, this may mean doing 2 sets of 8 reps, using the 5kg dumbbell, but only taking 60 seconds rest in between sets, instead of the 90 seconds we were taking beforehand.

4. Range of motion

In a bid to increase the weight they lift, many people don’t focus on their range of motion when performing an exercise, and are very quick to add extra weight. But performing your exercise with a full range of motion, and engaging all the relevant muscle groups will lead to better results without the risk of injuring yourself.

In our example, you can increase your range of motion by making sure your arm is fully extended when on the downward movement.

5. Stability

Improving your stability is one area that many people overlook because they’ve been led to believe that more weight is better. However, being more stable will reduce the risk of injury, improve your coordination and will help you activate more muscles efficiently.

You can work on your stability by making your exercise more challenging by introducing a slightly unstable surface. In our example above, this may involve sticking with the same weight, but sitting on a Swiss ball to do your exercise.

6. Tempo / Time under tension

The final way to progress your home workout is to slow down your exercise and increase the time your muscles are under tension. This will make your exercise more difficult, even if you perform it at the same weight with the same amount of reps. As you slow down your movement, try to maintain a steady tempo, and not rush through any part of the movement. Slowing down the tempo will help you focus on engaging the right muscle groups, but it may fatigue you, so pay attention to your form. Ensure you do your reps with a full range of movement.

7. Complexity

When starting with weight resistance training (FIRE), it’s important to start with the simple exercises before progressing to the more complex exercises.

Auxiliary or accessory exercises are simpler exercises that focus on minor muscle groups or individual muscles. For example, bicep curl, tricep extension, or lateral raises. Mastering these will help you with the more complex exercises called compound exercises.

Compound exercises are those that require you to use multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. Examples of compound exercises are squats and deadlifts. While they might target a specific muscle region, they also engage most of the entire body as well. In the case of deadlifts, you need to use your quads, hamstrings, glutes, triceps, shoulders, core and scapula. Because of their complexity, it’s important to be able to master the auxiliary exercises first.

An example of progressing with complexity is starting with bodyweight split squats, progressing to split squats with weight, and then progressing to Bulgarian split squats.

8. Focus

It’s normally the most under-rated aspect of training, but focus is the most important. Focus will help keep you safe from injury and will help you get better results from your training. Increasing your focus on your reps each session is also a way to keep progressing your workout.

Build up over time

It’s important that you don’t rush into a full program of training, if you’ve never trained before. Once again, you need to progressively increase your volume. This means that if you’ve never trained, you can start with one session a week. After a few weeks, add in another day, so you’re training 2 days a week. Once you’ve done that consistently for a few weeks, you can add in another training session. Going too hard, too soon will only be a recipe for disaster and will put a whole load of stress on your body, or cause you to burn out.

Track your sessions

An important part of being able to progress your home workouts is to track data. For every session, write down what exercises you do, what your weights and rep counts were, and note down anything that you need to work on. For example, using our example above, you might record that you find your left arm weaker than your right.

You should also make notes about how you feel before and after your training, and note down any things that you need to focus on while exercising. This might be switching your core on, or not rushing through your sets. This data will help you to understand when you’re ready to progress your workout, and which type of progression might be best.

The more data you have, the better your workouts will be, and the better your weight loss results.

Refuel your body

In order to keep progressing with your workouts, it’s important to pay attention to your pre- and post-nutrition.

What you eat before your workout will determine how well you perform. Just like a car needs fuel before it can perform, so does your body. In order to burn fat and change your body shape, you need to prime your body with the right nutrition.

Recovery from your workout is just as important. The best results don’t happen to those who smash their workouts, but to those who consistently recover from their sessions, so they can put in their best effort the next time they workout. Part of that recovery is eating the right food after your workout as well. To find out more about what to eat, be sure to read our blog What are the best workout meals?

Once again, record what you eat before and after your session, and how that impacts how you feel during your session, and how well you recover from it. This will help you tweak your pre- and post-nutrition in order to know what works best for you.

Allow time to rest and recover

Finally, you need to allow enough time to rest and recover, so you’re ready to train again at your next session. Strength training causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. While these aren’t harmful, it’s the healing process that builds muscle. If you don’t give yourself enough time in between workouts, you won’t maximise your results. You also won’t be giving your best at your next session, which means you’ll increase your risk for injury or burnout.

Adequate rest and recovery is just as important to progress your workouts, as the workouts are themselves. Remember, the best results come from consistency, and the better you recover from your sessions, the more consistent you’ll be.

Exercise the right way

At Imani Tribe Transformations we help our clients reach their goals by devising personalised exercise plans that involve different levels and styles of progression. This enables us to help our clients get closer to their goals, regardless of limitations such as injuries, inability to get to the gym, or lack of workout equipment. There is always a way to make progress!

Knowing when and how to progress your workout can be tricky, especially if you’re unsure whether you’re performing your exercise correctly. That’s where we can help. Even if you’re training at home, by videoing your sessions and sending them to us, we can provide expert guidance on your technique, and give you things to work on, or advice on how to keep progressing with your exercise. That way, you can be sure that you’re continuing to get closer to your goals.

If you’d like help with your training so you can reach your weight loss goals this year, and want to know that the workout you’re following will get you the results you’re after, our online coaching program can help. This program, delivered completely online includes guidance on exercise, nutrition, and habit and mindset change. Find out how it works and then, click the link below to see if you qualify.

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