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What is Progression and Why Do You Need it?

When I meet new members and guests, I hear a lot of “I just want to learn a routine I can do for  (insert number of weeks, months, years or... forever)."

While I totally understand the idea of learning a program that you can just show up and do over and over again, unfortunately that’s not the best option for improving your fitness and reaching your goals.

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When it comes to how we find success at the gym, long term variety (or more specifically, progression) is key! 

What is Progression and Why Do You Need it?

When you’re getting started with your fitness, the simple fact that you’re adding physical activity (cardio, strength training, flexibility, etc.) will offer physiological benefits. But if you continue to do the same exercises, time after time, your body will eventually become accustomed to them and you’ll hit a plateau where you no longer experience improvements. Your body, now comfortable with an exercise or a routine, simply doesn’t work as hard, and the benefits, including calorie burn, fat loss, and muscle strength, start to slow.

Some simple examples of progression would be:

Weight training

  • Adding reps
  • Adding sets
  • Increasing weight
  • Reducing rest time

What is Progression and Why Do You Need it


  • Training at a higher heart rate
    • By increasing speed
    • By increasing resistance or incline
  • Increasing the length of time you work
  • Incorporating intervals
  • Reducing rest time
  • Progressing from simple machine-based cardio (e.g. treadmill, elliptical, bike) to more functional and dynamic cardio (e.g. battle ropes, sled, circuit training)


  • Working (safely) to a greater range of motion
  • Adding traction (using a band) or PNF contractions
  • Progressing from targeting a small muscle to a position that targets more muscles at a time
  • Incorporating balance or stability (ie. Certain yoga poses)
  • Progressing from static stretches into dynamic flow stretches (we sometimes use movements with animal names because they mimic how an animal moves, like a bear crawl, crab walk, monkey hops, duck walk, etc.)

As personal trainers, it’s important that we focus on each client as an individual.  Before we start on your goals, we want to start someone out with a strength training program that addresses:

  • Current ability
  • Level of fitness
  • Experience

What is Progression and Why Do You Need it

How do we do this?

We start off with movement assessments like overhead squats, hip extensions, shoulder mobility and stability, rotation… some of our clubs even offer the TRX Maps screen! This lets us identify tight and/or weak muscles and look for faults in movement that can cause injury if not addressed.

I often see people tighter in rotation on one side than the other. If they go load a heavy back squat (or even just run often) without addressing their symmetry, they put certain muscles and joints under strain that can result in back pain, hip pain, knee pain, etc.

When it comes to strength training progress, we want to start our clients with a version of an exercise that they can complete successfully.

As they adapt and get stronger, we can progress to more challenging versions of this same movement. This gives us more options for progression than weights, sets, reps, or load. That’s great news for people that don’t feel particularly motivated to “lift heavy,” and it’s also an important lesson for people who DO want to lift heavy! 

Sign up for a FREE Goal Assessment with a Personal Trainer

Even if you like your own workouts, getting started with a personal trainer can help teach you the right exercises and how to progress properly–without injury! And here’s a friendly head’s up: even my clients who strike out on their own and workout solo for periods of time find it beneficial to check in with me in the future to redo their assessments, and see where movement imbalances or opportunities have popped up. They'll spend a little time with me to tweak and adjust their program to get them working on new things, moving past a plateau, and learning new skills to take back into their independent workouts.

There are always new things popping up in the fitness industry and as trainers we live, eat, breathe, and sleep this stuff – we love showing you new things to keep you inspired, motivated and always moving forward!

Find out if a personal trainer is right for you with a free personal training session!