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How do I safely progress a resistance training program?

Before starting a resistance program, as a precaution, it is ideal to get a medical clearance from your healthcare provider.  Another important precaution is having the correct body posture/positioning and range of motion during our workouts.  Resistance training offers wonderful benefits to our overall health and fitness, but we need that solid body positioning to start.  A Nasm CPT/sharecare coach will be helpful in assessing and determining your posture and flexibility for a proper and safe workout.

If you are at a point of progressing your weight training program that means you have been working out. Congratulations on the fact that you are sticking with your program.

You should progress when the weights you have been doing are no longer feeling like a challenge (you know what is coming and so does your body). As you add weight, progress slowly with 5-10lbs for upper body and 10-15lbs for lower body. Do use a spotter, especially as you start. 

Add body weight super sets or slow your tempo to your existing regimen if no spotter is available.

There are many variables that you can safely change your exercise program.  You can change either your sets, reps and weight.  If you are concerned that you might not be able to handle an increase in weight sets and reps are always a safe bet.  Just listen to your body and it will let you know if what you are doing is too much.  As for a lot of my clients I have noticed that they will be able to handle about a 5-10 pound increase in their upper body and about a 10-15 pound increase in their lower body when they are ready to increase their weight.  Lastly if your are concern about what to do with your program based on your goals it would be a great idea to see a certified personal trainer in your area to help map out what you should be doing and how to progress.

The easiest way to progress safely with your resistance program is to add repetitions and sets instead of increasing weight for the first  weeks of your program. Choose a weight that you know you can perform 10 reps easily, but do 12 reps and exhaust your muscles. Start with one or 2 sets of 12 for week one, then 2 sets of 15, then 2 of 20 and for week 4 3 sets of 20 repetitions. You will be surprised how challenging it is just to add sets and reps.

Resistance exercises should be progressed slowly, in order to avoid putting too much strain on your muscles or joints. For arm exercises, keep weight increases around 5-10%. The weight for lower body exercises can be increased 20%. Only change one variable of your program at a time. Here are a few more examples:
  • Switch from a bar to dumbbells
  • Move to a cable machine
  • Add a superset
Remember to have a spotter available whenever you try a heavier weight.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.