Single progression is the gradual addition of weights over time. Yep – that’s about as sexy as it gets. In a single progression model, you select a fixed number of reps (or time) – say, 5 reps (or 60 seconds). Select a weight. Lift it. If you can successfully lift that weight for the target number of reps or the target time, then add a little bit of weight to the bar. You can use percentages (1% per workout, for example) or fixed weight increments (2.5 pounds), but what’s important is the gradual increase of weight over time.
What happens when you can’t increase the weight? You get stuck at 175 lbs for 4 reps, and you can’t seem to get that fifth one? First, determine if you’re really stuck. If you’re not making progress weight-wise after three consecutive workouts, then on the fourth, it’s time to decrease the weights slightly. In an exercise involving multiple muscle groups (e.g., squat, pulldown, deadlift), take the weight down by 20%*. Then work your way back up. What should happen is that you’ll squeak a little bit past your previous plateau point, then reach a higher plateau. At that point, you’d repeat the process (known as “cycling” the weights).
Single progression is the simplest method of improving strength and muscle. Combining single progression and cycling will probably net you as much strength and muscle gain as you can get, provided you use a sensible program.
Single progression is largely poo-pooed by the strength sub-culture as being too simplistic: “Only beginners use it”, “It doesn’t work”,”You plateau too quickly”, and the like. Try it. Worry about the plateaus when they come.
P.S. – Quitting because the weights feel too heavy to lift isn’t plateauing.
*It doesn’t have to be 20%. I will typically lower clients’ weights by 10% first and see if that does the trick.