Today I want to talk about something I see a LOT of in the gym, and that’s people not earning their progressions.
What I mean by this is that I see many people advancing an exercise despite not having mastered it in its simplest form yet.
Sometimes I also notice other trainers trying too hard to add all this fancy shmancy stuff to their clients’ programming without realizing that what they are asking their clients to do is actually not scaled appropriately.
If you do a pushup from the floor on your toes, but your low back sags, you should not be doing that version of a pushup.
If you deadlift with a barbell, but your shoulders consistently round forward, you should not be doing hinge work with a heavy load yet.
If you press dumbbells overhead, but you select weights that cause you to really arch your back, your elbows can barely straighten at the top of the press, and you are constantly looking up, you should not be lifting that weight!
If you want to get the most out of an exercise, it needs to be scaled to what you are ready for, EVEN if that means swallowing your pride and taking it down a notch to the unsexy variations. Yep!
I coach and train a loooooot of perfectionist women, and I totally get it. It feels good to do the “badass” version of things, and the feeling when we can just add, add, add weight is super empowering, especially once we’ve gotten over the fear of lifting heavy things! However, there’s definitely a fine line between realizing that holy moly we are actually a lot stronger than we think (good-bye five-pound weights!) and pushing too much too soon and ultimately compromising quality and form.
Yes, a lot of the time we can go heavier than we think, and we don’t give ourselves enough credit. But we each need to earn the right to move up! We can’t just keep adding, adding, adding for the sake of adding weight. We have to master the basic versions first and remind ourselves that basic and simple do not necessarily equate to EASY.
If your back sags in a pushup from the floor, then it’s best to regress it to an incline and work on not only keeping the lower back neutral, but it also means keeping the glutes tight, keeping the arms bent at 45 degrees, going through the full range of motion (chest to box/bench), driving the shoulder blades apart at the top of the pushup and bringing them together at the bottom, keeping the core braced, etc. The whole body should move as a singular unit… and once it does, your core will get a heck of a lot more out of the move than it will from doing it incorrectly off of an unstable bosu ball with your legs hanging from a swing or whatever circus trick is all the rage these days. 😉
These are a lot of form considerations for something as seemingly “simple” as a pushup, but I wouldn’t call all these cues EASY by any means, would you? I actually remember back in the day trying to bust out high volume decline pushups with my feet elevated on a bench or even a stability ball. I’d do these with a plate on my back because hardest variation! Beast mode! No pain, no gain! I didn’t want to be caught doing “lame” pushups on my knees or on an incline bench.
But in reality, it was actually more appropriate and beneficial to REGRESS to the incline version and get the form right there first before even considering moving on to more advanced variations, including regular bodyweight floor pushups! I needed to earn the progression.
Think about it: would you rather suck horribly at a more difficult variation of an exercise and not get much out of it aside from a potential injury and maybe looking kind of funny, OR would you rather regress an exercise to the point where you can safely work on mastering it while targeting the muscles you are supposed to target? Isn’t that where the gains will happen?
If a client of mine has trouble mastering the hip hinge, then I will program band pull-throughs instead because the band pulling back essentially teaches my clients to sit back in their hips while still keeping their center of mass over the tops of their feet. No additional weight added until the band pull-through form is mastered, but they are still getting the benefits of hinging!
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t challenge ourselves. By no means am I saying to keep things EASY! We definitely need progressive overload in order to see results with our fitness, whether that be with volume, intensity, frequency, time, etc.
You just need to start where you are (or maybe a little reality check to remind yourself of where you are?), and honor that. If you aren’t sure, then any qualified and knowledgeable trainer should be able to help you.
There’s no shame in regressing. In fact, I’d argue that regression can sometimes progress you faster. So check your ego at the door, and modify what you need to. In the end, the results will be better.
Slow and steady always wins the race.
Readers, let’s chat! What are your thoughts on earning your progressions? Do you agree that sometimes regressing can actually equate to progressing? What exercises do you see people doing in the gym that make you cringe sometimes?
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