Progress(ion)

Looking back on September ’07, if there is one thing that I took away from my week spent learning at Athletes’ Performance, it is the importance of progression in training.  Coaches, and even those without coaches, need to understand where each person/athlete is, and what the next step is.  Is it to add load or advance to another exercise variation?  What is the next variation as far as safety and skill are concerned?  Progression means making progress.  I want people to be successful with each movement skill and “own it” prior to moving forward to the next challenge.  Single leg squats are arguably the best lower body strength exercise but they may also be the most difficult.  Is it appropriate to prescribe them on day one of training?  There is no point to just diving just because they are challenging and look impressive.  If someone is appears to be strong does that mean 1-leg squats are ok to try?  There are pistol versions and 1-Leg squats to a box/target.  Which is best?  What about mobility restrictions?  These are all important questions to consider but just as important, as stated earlier, one has to earn that next step by “owning” the other movements that come first.

Progression is something that I value very highly as a coach.  Having that template of where to go next is very helpful, even in the case of regression.  Sometimes a step back can be just as important.  A typical example of progression for me is, hip flexor stretch before bridging, before kb deadlift, before learning to kb swing.  And honestly, this goes for everyone.  Many are aware that great athletes can be great compensators.  I don’t care how easy it is, I don’t see a problem with anyone doing a set or two bridges to fire up their glutes prior to learning a hip dominant exercise or simply as a warm up.  This is part of owning each movement prior to moving forward.  Another example, in reference to the first paragraph, is bodyweight split squats first, then add load.  Reverse lunges after that, followed by 1-leg squat progressions or my new favorite, airborne lunges.  All of that may take 6-8 weeks to progress through or it may take 6-8 months.  Either is just fine with me.  It’s more about doing each well and training smart.

 Prove to me more than once that you can make this look pretty

Then maybe you can try this

Another progression consideration with new clients is simply working up to a heavy lift.  I am aware of at least one trainer certifying organization that thinks testing a 1 RM bench press on the first day is a good way to kick off a training routine.  Imagine walking into the gym on day one, possibly a little intimidated and within 20 minutes or so you are trying to determine the maximum weight you can bench press for 1 one rep?!  That’s like attempting a brand new sport and on day one starting a game for the varsity team instead of, let’s say, I don’t know, practicing with the freshman team.  You’ll sure find out what you’re made of but who cares, it’s also a good way to get hurt.  Let it be known that I tend to disagree with that one.  Could it happen after a few weeks of training?  Maybe, but no point in doing that with a new person that the coach is unfamiliar with or in a movement the client/athlete may be just as unfamiliar with.  The experience of training is much more of a journey than just chasing numbers in the short term.  Whether you want to call it a lifestyle or just understand the big picture of health and performance, there is more to it than just this one training session.  Come back and try again soon.

Recently, with the help of some Max Shank creativity, my thought process has changed slightly in terms of how to progress in a more long-term scenario.  By that I mean, I’m thinking that beginners should use a lot of bodyweight training as they learn.  Personal body control seems to be rather important.  Next comes the adding of external load, a.k.a. some iron.  After that (the new part) comes back more bodyweight training, not for everything, but meaning 1-arm push up and 1-arm chin progressions as well as 1-leg squat variations.  Currently I’m thinking that this full circle is one of the best ways to progress as someone becomes advanced and has done many years of quality training.  Again, it doesn’t mean that you put the weights away, or that it’s absolutely for everyone, but possibly the addition of more bodyweight skills such as 1-arm work, handstands, pistols etc.  When it comes down to it, don’t skip steps.  Master each step and earn the next.

– Mike Baltren