One question I get all the time is, “How do I know when I’m ready to make an exercise harder?”. Usually that’s followed up with another question, “How do I safely make an exercise harder?”. These questions are really important! When you’re working out consistently, it’s important to continue to challenge yourself so you stay on track to make steady progress. Today I’m going to list 6 tips to help you answer these questions and make sure you keep making progress.
1. Have a goal
This is really important because a goal helps determine what we are prioritizing in your exercise program. For example, if you goal is to lift heavier weights the program should be built around improving strength. If your goal is to run a certain distance, your program will look completely different! So, first thing you have to do is figure out what your goal is. It could be focused on strength, endurance, or even just burning calories to stay fit. Keep that goal in mind as we go through the next few tips.
2. Understand the different parts of an exercise
Every exercise can be broken down into a few specific things. We have the movement itself, the how much weight you’re using (intensity), how many times you’re doing this (sets and reps), the speed of the exercise (fast or slow), and how many days/week you do this (frequency). So for example if you’re doing squats as part of your program, think about those different components. Are you doing bodyweight squats or are you adding weights? How many reps and sets do you regularly do? Are you moving fast through each squat or are you intentionally moving slow? Also, how many days per week are you squatting? Each of these different factors can be changed to make an exercise harder or easier. The fun is you can pick and choose which one you want to use!
3. Which of these do I pick?
Think about your goal for your exercises. If you’re trying to build strength, I would probably recommend increasing the weight of the exercise. If you’re more focused on endurance, it might make more sense to add more reps or sets. If you exercise to burn calories and stay fit, you might try to increase the speed or even add an extra day of the week you’re exercising. Having balance is important here so make sure you only pick one of these factors at a time!
4. Things to track during a workout
Tracking a few small things during a workout can be really helpful in deciding when you’re ready to progress your exercises. First off, keep a workout log and write down what you do each day and how you felt doing it. For example, you would write down that you did squats on Monday, 3 sets of 10 with a 25# kettlebell and at a smooth controlled speed. You also would write down how that felt, “They were definitely challenging, but I felt in control and by the end of each set I felt as if I could do probably 4 or 5 more reps”. The key things here are writing down exactly what you did and then how you felt in that moment. A great way to do this is writing down how many more reps you could have done at the end of a set. Another thing to record is how tired you were at the end of the exercise. I recommend using a RPE scale that measures how hard you’re working from 1-10. Here is the chart, so you can see where you fall on the scale after each workout.
So make sure to keep track of these few things and they will help you know when you can make an exercise harder.
5. How do I use this info to know I’m ready to make the exercise harder?
So you wrote down the workouts you have been doing, how many more reps you feel like you could do at the end of your sets, and you scored 1-10 for how tired you were at the end of your exercises. If you feel like you can 5 or 6 more reps at the end of each set, you’re probably ready to make the exercise harder. If you’re scoring less than a 7 on the 1-10 scale, you’re probably ready to make your exercises harder. The key is NOT to score a 10/10 or to feel like you can’t do any more reps at the end of each set. The idea is to work hard, but feel like you’re not draining yourself.
6. Keep up with your program and tracking your workouts
Consistency is the most important part of every exercise program. If you get used to tracking your exercises and making them more challenging, you will get a lot better at it! You will also get great results towards your goals.
This can be a lot of information to process but using it can really help you with your exercise programs. These tools will give you the ability to safely make progress towards your goals. If you want to talk this over with us so we can get specific about you and your goals, let us know!
We also did a webinar on this topic in a little more detail last week, so if you want to check that out you can see the information presented online too.