05 Oct The Case For Milking A Weight: How To Progressively Overload Without Adding Weight To The Bar
In my guide ‘How To Continually Progress in Your Workouts, Avoid Plateaus and Stay Injury Free’, I discuss a number of progression models I like to use to allow progressive overload to occur.
One thing to remember when using these models is that it’s not always clear-cut.
For example, if you’re using a ‘zig-zag’ progression, a 9 week cycle may look something like this:
While it’s important to have a progression model in place, the pace at which you move through it will depend on the person.
Some with great recovery capacities and adaptability will be able to race through it. Others will need to take their time and be more patient.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Gains
When you think of progressive overload, you typically think only in quantitative terms – adding more weight, more reps etc. This of course is overload on your muscles, but it’s not to the only way.
The essence of progressive overload is that if you make your muscles work harder over time, they’ll respond and adapt through growth and strength.
If working harder is the goal, then there is a strong case for making improvements via qualitative means as well.
In fact, to enable long-term progression and stay healthy on the course, you need both.
What I’ve found with many people is their eagerness to increase weights and reps as per the progression plan means technique and mind-muscle connection often disappears – which then leads to injuries and plateaus.
So instead, I like advising people to focus on ‘dominating’ a weight before adding extra load.
This often means repeating the same workout (in weight x sets x reps) but improving your execution, technique and mind muscle connection of a specific load.
Your muscular system is highly adaptive with a great potential for sustained growth compared to the other bodily systems (hormonal, nervous, tendons).
By staying at a weight, and milking it for what it’s worth, you allow the body to grow stronger together, rather than being limited by nervous system burnout (while it initially adapts rapidly, this slows down) and tendon/ligament strength that ultimately leads to injuries.
If you’re prone to joint problems or injuries in general, you shouldn’t add load until you can dominate a weight. This will allow your tendons and ligaments to adapt at the same rate as your muscular system, and keep you safe.
By doing so, you’ll be able to extend progress beyond the typical 6 to 8 weeks most cycles usually allow progress to occur within.
How Do You ‘Milk’ The Weight?
If you look back at the zig-zag cycle, this cycle could potentially be doubled if you stayed at each ‘week’ in the progression for twice as long.
The best ways I’ve found to focus on ‘qualitative’ gains are:
- Improved technique
- Less ‘intra-set’ pauses
- Better mind-muscle connection and pump
- Improved control of the weight
- Less grinding of reps
When you feel you can tick all these boxes on a weight, which may take 1-4 weeks depending how far into a progression cycle you are, then bump the weight.
Early in a training cycle, you may go up in weight every week or two. Four months later when you’re still trying to squeeze out PBs on your indicator lifts, you may take a little longer.
You want the weight to feel good before you go up. But when approached in this patient manner, you’ll be able to keep the progressive overload on the muscles without taxing the joints, tendons, ligaments and nervous systems as hard.
I know that serious trainees love adding weight to the bar, and feel ‘cheated’ if they haven’t added weight or reps to a load in a session.
But believe me, it’s worth the wait. You’ll be able to progress for longer, build more muscle, avoid burnout, lift with better technique and most importantly: drastically reduce your injury risk.
Remember, progressive overload isn’t just about increasing weight or reps. Any way you can place more stress on the muscle and make things harder will adhere to this principle.
Building muscle and improving your physique is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Those who keep showing up and plugging away slowly are the ones who’ll make the biggest gains!