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Exercise Progression Explained (For Coaches)

What is Exercise Progression?

Exercise progression means tweaking a movement to make it more challenging or complex for your athletes. It’s an effective way to provide an overload, forcing trainees to work harder over time to continue making progress. Ways to apply exercise progression include slowing the tempo, adding weight, putting athletes in a less leveraged position to produce force, and increasing the range of motion.

Examples of Exercise Progression

1. Bench Press

For starters, encourage trainees to lower the weight to their chest. Those who already do that can increase the difficulty by adding a small pause at the bottom to reduce the help from the stretch reflex.

Bodybuilders interested in more chest growth can use a slightly wider grip so long as it doesn’t bother their shoulders. 

2. Bent-Over Row

Lowering the weight with a more controlled tempo can increase the eccentric load on the lats and hopefully stimulate more growth.

Additionally, reducing the weight (a form of exercise regression) but instructing your clients to get their upper body as parallel to the floor as possible makes it more difficult to use momentum, leading to a stronger back stimulus.

3. Squat

Like the bench press, adding a brief pause at the bottom can force the quadriceps and glutes to work harder.

Additionally, squatting more deeply (parallel or below) would increase the amount of work that needs to be done, making each rep more stimulative.

4. Push-Up

The simplest way is to add external resistance. This could mean placing a weight plate on the trainee’s back, having them wear a weight vest, or wrapping a loop band over their hands and behind their back.

Switching to a more challenging push-up variation is also a form of exercise progression. For instance, trainees can do plyometric, uneven, or decline push-ups if regular push-ups feel too easy.

When is Exercise Progression Appropriate?

Exercise progression is appropriate when a movement no longer provides enough of a challenge and trainees need to do an excessive number of reps to get close to failure. 

It’s also beneficial for trainees trying to master a challenging movement. This is particularly relevant for calisthenics athletes. 


1. How is exercise progression different from regression?

The goal of exercise progression is to increase the difficulty and complexity of an activity. In contrast, regression is the opposite: reducing the difficulty and complexity, making a movement better suited for a beginner or someone recovering from an injury.

2. Is exercise progression necessary for muscle growth?

Exercise progression is a straightforward way to increase the difficulty of a training plan and create the necessary overload for muscle gain.

Related Terms in Adaptation and Progression Category