From my experience, within the fitness industry there is a huge emphasis on progression, and so there should be! If you are not progressing then what is the point! Right? However, whilst this is hugely important, if you only focus on progression, i.e. lifting heavier, going faster, lasting longer, this may be in detriment to the bigger picture. I believe that it is just as important to regress an exercise program as it is to progress it. I get the feeling from being and working with personal trainers, that many fitness professionals out there are afraid of regressing an exercise program as it may seem like failure and that they are not getting clients the results they have paid for. So a lot of time clients are lifting heavier than they should, training harder than they are able to, and consequently running the risk of injury and overtraining. I believe there is a real skill in knowing when to reduce the weight or volume of training to suit the client and when to increase it.
The first part of this article is focused on regression so I’m going to try and cover the bigger aspects of regression so not only will we know when and how to regress but more importantly, why!
So when should we regress an exercise or an exercise program?
1. If the client is overly fatigued or stressed: In my opinion, how a client is feeling on the day of training should determine now hard we can push them. For example, if the client is overly stressed from work then pushing them through a tough session may not be the best way forward. A hard training session will inflict further stress on the body and could create a serious hormone imbalance, and if that client is wanting to lose weight or even bulk up, then this could be very detrimental to their success.
2. If the client has trouble performing an exercise: Another more common example is if the client is struggling with a particular movement or exercise. Squats are a prime example – many clients do not have the range of movement to perform a squat well, so we can break the squat down, look at all the movements necessary to perform the exercise and focus on the week links, then build the program back up to where the client can squat with much greater ease. Asking your client to just push through it will result in an unusual loading pattern which, more than likely, will lead to an injury at some point.
3. If a client has reached a plateau: Another instance that you may wish to regress a clients program is when they reach a plateau in their training. This may seem strange but if you are looking to increase a clients bench press and you reach a point where they cannot lift any heavier then try taking down the weights and move through all the planes of motion (sagittal, frontal and transverse). Drive dumbbells in different directions and use other pieces of kit like cables, ViPR’s or a sled. Basically, work the same muscle group in as many ways as you can think of – it may be the key to breaking through the plateau and getting some phenomenal results.
HOW should we regress an exercise or an exercise program?
Now I’m going to go into a little more depth on how to regress a single exercise with the view of improving performance. There are many, many ways to regress an exercise and the most obvious one is to decrease the load of an exercise. But within that we can also decrease the length of load, decrease impact of load, decrease emphasis within a single plane in loading, or you can change the exercise completely and attack the joint from a completely different point of view.
In the video below I have used the lunge as a common example – often clients will struggle with technique or experiences pain in the knee when lunging. Part 1 of this video shows a few examples of how to regress the lunge, but also demonstrates a workout in which improving performance of the lunge is central to the program.
Ok, this is only the first part of the workout, in which no real improvement can be seen (YET), but what I have done is:
(i) looked at many different aspects of the lunge; and
(ii) regressed them down so that they can be done with proper technique and good movement patterns.
As you can see from the first few demos of the lunge, the technique is not good and the client (in this case, me) is struggling with the weight of the dumbbells so pressing on with this is more than likely going to end up with injury.
In Part 2 of this article I will move on to progression of an exercise and really work on re-enforcing the good new movement patterns and getting the client lunging well with the same weight without needing to lower the weights and sacrifice the training program.