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Double Progression: An Old-School Progression Perfect for New Exercisers

Double Progression is a time-tested way of programming your exercise to ensure long bouts of progress. First, let’s define some terms. WIth weight lifting, intensity can be defined in many ways, be it effort level, percentage of your max, etc. but it all boils down to the amount of weight being lifted. Whether your deadlift max is 200 or 800, a jump from 100 to 110 is still an outright increase in intensity.

Now volume is how many total pounds or total reps at a given intensity (or weight) you have lifted. This can certainly get more complicated with different loads in different working sets but let’s keep it simple. Let’s say you did 3 sets of bench press with 100 pounds. In set 1 you did 6 reps. In Set 2, you did 5 reps. In Set 3,you did 4 reps. That’s 15 total reps at 100 pounds so 1500 total pounds of volume. Now imagine the next time you get one more rep the next time you do this workout. That’s 100 extra pounds of volume you performed.

Many beginner programs will increase in just total reps or intensity, usually the latter. A prime example of this is the Starting Strength program where you perform 3 sets of 5 reps and add 5 pounds each workout. This is where double progression has some advantages.

You now know how to increase intensity (add weight) and volume (increase total reps or total weight lifted), Double Progression allows you to not choose one but actually alternate each in the same program. With double progression, you have a set number of sets but a range of repetitions to complete in those sets. When you are able to maximize the rep range for all the prescribed sets with a given weight, that is when you increase the intensity.

Let’s use a heavy example first. This will be more commonly used compound strength moves like the barbell back squat or overhead press. It can also be used for movements you can’t do many reps of, think pullups when your current max is 7 reps.

Our heavy double progression set and rep scheme will be 3 sets of 3 to 6 repetitions. You can start with a weight you know you can do for 6 reps, then complete the next 2 sets to the best of your ability without risking rep failure. Let’s say in set 2 you get 5 reps and set 3 you are getting more tired and only get 3. That is more than okay because when you return to this workout, you know what reps to beat. Perhaps this time you get 6, 6 and 4 reps. And the next you get 6 reps for all 3 sets. The volume increase has served its purpose, now it’s time to up the intensity! Your next workout, you will add a small amount of weight and perform 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps again. Continue this back and forth climb of volume and intensity.

This heavy rep range makes sense for exercises that can be loaded heavily and still make small weight jumps that aren’t huge percentages of the total weight, but what about smaller movements such as tricep extensions or bicep curls? We certainly will have a tougher time adding just a little weight for these small muscles. These accessory movements, as they are called, are meant to target areas a little more specifically to improve weaknesses, make the area look better, etc. Think dumbbell rows for back and posture, hanging leg raises for lower abs and machine chest flies for larger pecs. To serve this purpose better, we need a different double progression scheme. One of my favorite ways to do this is to steal the cliche yet classic 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps with 45 seconds of rest between sets. This is the most typical muscle growth set and rep scheme you will ever find but our double progression allows us to standardize and regiment it much more. Let’s say you have already done your heavier barbell bench press work and want more hypertrophy work now to back up the strength work. You choose an incline dumbbell bench press. Perform 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps keeping that 45 seconds of rest strict. This makes sure you don’t rest all day just to sneak out a few more reps. Once you get 12 reps for all 4 sets, you get to increase the weight of the dumbbells! If you used this steady progression with all your accessory moves, imagine how much more you get done in totality session after session. That is why double progression has been used by lifting legends for well over a century.

Try programming in this way for your needs, let us know if you have any questions!




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