Whether you are a competitive athlete looking to gain the edge on the competition, or you are a general population athlete looking to feel better, look better and have more confidence, gaining lean muscle mass and losing some excess fat is most likely going to benefit you. 

In order for this to occur you must challenge your body past it’s current condition and threshold. 

If you do not, your body has no reason to change.

 

 

So the key to continuing progress and transforming your body is what is known as the principle of progressive overload.

You have to continue to challenge your body with a stimulus that surpasses that of its current condition.

The most common way to do so is to add more resistance to the exercise. It is a quantifiable measure that is easy to see progress with…the more weight you are moving = the more your are progressing.

While this is a good and something I do encourage (so yes the title of this article is not completely true), it is not the only way. And I would argue that for some of us, it is not the best way. 

Gaining strength and adding weight to the bar will never hurt…until it does!

Many times we are so focused on increasing the amount of resistance used that we lose focus of the quality of movement, especially for beginners, or when we are trying a new exercise. 

 

 

And if you are more veteran to the training game, you will reach a point where the resistance added to the movements will begin to plateau and you will find it very difficult to continue to add weight to the exercises.

At this point there is a greater risk of injury as you will be working more and more closely to your max effort. 

So, instead of always focusing on adding more and more resistance to an exercise, what are some other ways you can progressively overload your body to entice more muscle growth and burn more fat without increasing the risk of injury??

Glad you asked! 

**First a disclaimer: this doesn’t mean I am condoning slinging around pink dumbbells and doing reps of 25+ for all eternity.

 

 

You will find these efforts unrewarding. Being strong, lean and athletic takes more than tricep kickbacks and thousands of bodyweight squats. 

OK, now let’s get to it…

Use tempo and isometric pauses

One of the best ways to learn new movements as well as increasing the intensity of an exercise, and therefore challenging the body to progress, is to slow the movement down.

Slowing the movement down gives you more time under tension, or time when the muscles are working. More time under tension results in a greater metabolic environment and hormonal response for muscle growth and fat burn.

Let’s take a squat for example. 

Instead of lowering at a regular speed, slow the decent (eccentric contraction) down using a 3-5 second count, or tempo. 

You can also add an isometric hold at the bottom of the squat. Let’s say a 2 second hold.

Lastly you can return to the top of the squat with a slower tempo as well (3-5 seconds) or you can explosively return to the top position.

Using tempo and performing a rep over a longer period of times places the muscles under tension for a longer duration. This increases the challenge of the exercise without adding resistance. 

You can add tempo work like this with pretty much every exercise, slowing down the eccentric, pausing at the bottom of the range of motion and then returning to the beginning using a slower tempo, or explosively.

 

Use rest pause sets

Rest pause sets allow you to move more weight overall and increase volume without adding weight to the bar, or adding an additional set. 

Using the trap bar deadlift as an example, let’s say you can perform 6 reps with 225 before you reach technical failure.

(Here is a video where I am using a double rest pause with 335 pounds)

 

 

Using a rest pause set you can hit 225 for 6 reps, rest 20 seconds and hit another 1-2 reps.

Or you can use a heavier weight such as 235 or 245 pounds for example and break the 6 reps up into hitting 3 reps, resting 20s and hitting another 3 reps.

Both approaches allow you to move more weight overall than one straight set of 225 for 6 reps.

The extra weight moved again challenges the body more and results in an environment that is more conducive to furthering progress. 

Use drop sets

Drop sets, like rest pause sets, allow you to do more work without adding another full set. 

A drop set consists of hitting an exercise for the prescribed reps (let’s say 6 reps of a squat) and immediately reducing the load by 10-30% and then completing as many reps as possible with the reduced load…keeping perfect form of course. 

This again allows you to increase the intensity of the set, and add more volume without increasing the resistance or adding another set.  

 

Reduce rest

One of the easiest ways to increase the challenge without adding resistance is to reduce the rest period.

If you usually take 45-60s in between exercises, try to rest for only 30s. With the reduced rest you are increasing the amount of work done in a shorter period of time. 

 

 

Completing the work in a shorter period of time results in more favorable metabolic and hormonal responses for muscle growth and fat loss.

You do have to be careful though as you don’t want to reduce the rest period so much that the movement, or the desired outcome becomes compromised.

This consideration is most critical when you are working with heavier loads (6 reps or less). 

If you are working on gaining strength you will want to take adequate rest…but adequate means just that, ADEQUATE! That doesn’t mean sitting around for 3-5 minutes in between each set.

 

You Don’t Always Have to Move More Weight To Progress

A few years ago I would have told you that you must move more and more weight if you want to make progress towards your training and fitness goals.

Building more muscle and burning more fat does not rely solely on moving more weight, especially for beginners and those of us who are more advanced or have a previous injury history.

By utilizing tempo work, isometric pauses, rest pause sets, drop sets or a reduced rest period you will experience continued progress and a reduced risk of injury as a result of not needing to add more and more weight to the bar.