Third Space physio Jon Codling explains that less is often more if you want to progress long term
Everyone is in such a hurry. Emails are sent before you get out of bed, eyes are rolled at those fumbling for an Oyster card at the Tube entrance (woe betide those standing on the left, too) and stomachs are pawed at disappointedly one week into a new training plan. The problem is, it’s this rush that could be slowing you down.
In the gym, the fastest progress is invariably the steadiest. Push yourself too hard, too fast and niggles will begin cropping up, sessions are missed and for every one step forward, you’ll end up two steps back. But there’s a solution.
Your body builds up a resilience to exercise. A new load or distance places a new demand on the body which it has to adapt to – this is how you progress. However, if you continue to overload your body without sufficient rest, or you increase the stress too quickly, then the risk of a progress-stalling injury rises dramatically. Suddenly add an extra 50 to your weekly mileage or put another 40kg on your deadlift and your body can’t keep up. It’ll break down, you’ll have to sit on the sofa for weeks, and the progress you worked so hard to achieve will slip through your calloused hands.
The perfect progression
According to Codling there is a simple formula.
For running: Take an average of your daily mileage over the last four weeks. If you ran an average of 10 miles a day, say, then your target for next week should be no more than 1.2x that.
If you want to progress safely then increasing your mileage by 1.2x (12 miles per day in this case) will help you to adapt and therefore boost endurance, but also minimise your injury risk.
Increase your mileage to 1.3-1.5x the average of the previous four weeks and you enter into the ‘high risk’ threshold. Some gym-goers may want to risk this for a short time to speed things up, but it comes at a cost.
Increase beyond 1.5x however, and Codling assures that this is unsustainable. Your body <will> breakdown. You will get injured.
For weights: The same simple formula applies, but the simplest formula to use it with is by calculating the average load you get through on your major lifts. If you’re looking to improve your bench press and have averaged 4 sets of 12 reps @ 50kg for the past four weeks, then that’s an average of 2400kg lifted per session.
That means the following week you can progress to 4 sets of 12 reps @ 60kg safely. It’ll be bloody tough, and you might need a spotter, but the potential for an injury that can keep you out of the gym is low.
And that, as they say, is that. Yes, it’s arcane. Yes, it’s bookish. But it’s important. When your time at the gym already comes at a premium and you’re juggling a million things to get there, it’s worth taking care. Slow progress may be frustrating, but it’s far more rewarding than another failed foray into the gym that ends in back pain or yet another shoulder injury.
For true performance on a tight schedule, slower really is faster.