Exceed Your Own Expectations: How to Use the Principle of Progression to Overcome Plateaus

ingWhen you’ve been working hard toward reaching a fitness goal, plateaus can feel incredibly discouraging. After all, how can you continue to be this consistent and still not see the fruits of your labor? Enter, the principle of progression. 


What’s the Principle of Progression?

The principle of progression is the training principle that your body adapts overtime to different types of exercise and therefore, in order to see advancement, you must increase the intensity. 

Notice I said the word “intensity.”

This principle is not just about how much weight you’re stacking on. Sometimes referred to as “progressive overload” this principle outlines the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during a season of exercise training. 

This principle can be applied to weight training and endurance and utilizes increased resistance, frequency, and duration

Learning how to use the principle of progression correctly plays a large role in helping you blast past plateaus and on to achieving your goals. 


The continual progression of your training helps immensely with hypertrophy and body recomposition. On top of that, it’s also shown to increase heart health even more than consistent training does. 

You see, each time you begin a new exercise routine your body goes through three phases:

Shock: This is the phase where, despite lifting lighter weight, you experience performance decreases and DOMS. 

Adaptation: This is the phase when your form gets perfected and lifting that initial weight starts to feel easier. 

Staleness: Once you’ve reached this phase, your body has fully adapted to this exercise and will not see any new adaptations (muscle growth, higher developés, increase in endurance) until the stimulus is altered. 

How do we alter the stimulus? Well that, my dear, is where the principle of progression comes in!


How to Use the Principle of Progression

There are a few ways to progress an exercise. But it should be noted that there is an optimal timing to implement progressive overload and and optimal amount of increased stress to garner the best results. 

Increasing stress too soon or increasing stress by too much can lead to injury – and nobody wants that. 

Instead, opt to vary your exercises incrementally by adjusting one of the following variables.

Load (resistance)



Rest Periods



Increasing the load in an exercise refers to increasing the amount of resistance. This could look like adding a resistance band to a bodyweight exercise, or increasing the weight of an exercise by 2-5 lbs. 

Unless you are flying through your reps with perfect form and extreme ease, don’t increase the intensity by large amounts. Remember, incremental increase is the key to successfully using the principle of progression. 

This should only be done when you can easily lift 2-3 reps more than your current rep count.



If you’re not quite feeling ready to increase the weight due to form, lack of weight options, or any other reason, you can use the principle of progression by increasing the number of reps you’re performing. 

To do this, start small by only adding 2-3 reps – remember, incremental increase! You can always add more if it’s too easy. 

This typo of stress increase is also referred to as “increasing volume” because you have not increased the amount of weight lifted during a repetition, rather you’ve increased the overall amount of weight lifted during the workout. (increasing the volume!)

Again, this should only be done once you’ve fully adapted to an exercise. 


When using the principle of progression, tempo training quickly became one of my favorite ways to increase stress during an exercise. 

When tempo changes are applied to an exercise, the time under tension is increased. 

Usually a tempo change results in a slower pace during the eccentric portion of a lift. 

What’s the eccentric portion of the lift? This is the part of the lift where a muscle is lengthening rather than contracting. This portion of the lift is often the part where you are returning to the starting position.

For example: 

The lowering of the heels during heel raises.

Lowering the barbell to your chest during a chest press. 

The lowering of the barbell during an RDL, or Deadlift. 

The lowering portion of a push-up. 


Increasing time under tension has shown to increase protein synthesis (muscle growth) in athletes!

Slowing down also allows you to really focus on your form. This ensures the correct muscle groups are engaged and you’re not cheating!


Rest Periods

Another way to progress an exercise is to decrease the length of your rest periods. 

Now, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, your should inform your approach. 

To blast through power plateaus you’ll want your rest times to be between 2-5 minutes, between maximum power sets. (These sets are usually low rep, maximum weight.)

If you’re plateauing in your overall strength rest times should fall between 2-5 minutes. 

But if you’re looking to maximize muscle hypertrophy rest times are much shorter – 30-90 seconds. 

So, if your feeling good about your weight and reps, but want in increase the challenge level a little bit, think about decreasing your rest time by 10-15 seconds. 

Summing it Up

At the end of the day, the principle of progression is all about keeping your body from getting stuck in that “staleness” portion of an exercise. 

Our bodies are incredible and can adapt to almost anything. But once we’ve adapted to a certain level of stress, we won’t see the benefits of our workouts increase until we make adjustments to the stress load. 

If you’re working with a coach and you’ve hit a plateau, ask them which of these models might be the best place for you to start. 

I know for me, I was always weary to increase the weight out of fear of injury. It wasn’t until I had a coach tell me “You’ve got this!” that I increased the weight. Now, I know what it feels like to be lifting a weight “with ease” and how to gradually increase the weight.

If you don’t have a coach and this is all feeling a bit overwhelming, check out Body Mechanics. It’s a long term training program that not only gives you workouts and a nutrition plan, but it teaches you the why and how of your workouts. This leaves you feeling confident to make the adjustments on your own as your body needs! 

No matter what action you take toward your goals, know that we are here routing you on!



Want more? Check into the blog for workouts like, In and Out Fully Body Workout For Dancers, training tips like Training Tip Tuesday: Knee Hovers for Core Strengthening, and info dumps like, The Pros and Cons of Creatine: Busting the Myths and Revealing the Facts

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