Progressive Overload


Raising the Bar ( How Much)

At some point, after getting started lifting, everyone wonders when to up the ante. After all, we aren’t going through the motions for the sake of it – we want results. For those looking to build solid, lean muscle learning when to add weight is key for muscle hypertrophy. (Growth)

Sensei Says 

Building muscle requires a combination of variables, all fine-tuned and adapted to each of our metabolisms and body types, based around specific goals. Proper diet and nutrition, intervals, workout splits, and rest days, just to name a few. If I had to pick two of these to live by they would be a. protein intake b. progressive overload. For those who may question my choices, protein for the obvious – our bodies require it, and progressive overload because without providing constant tension, the muscles simply will not grow.

I remember the days when, after spending serious time in the gym and giving it my all, pushing out those last few reps and feeling proud of myself – someone would inevitably walk in and warm up with the weight I had just pushed that last set out with. Ego check.


Check Your Ego At The Door

Forget the weekend warrior who tells you to, “go big or go home.” You, my friend, want actual results. Go bigger, but do it smartly.

Slow and steady wins the race.

NASM defines progressive overload as: “The Principle of Overload is that in order for a tissue (bone, tendon, ligament, etc.) to adapt to a demand, it must be progressively overloaded.) Sounds simple enough, right. Not really. The body has an amazing ability to adapt to what ever it is we are doing to it. Perhaps you have noticed those at the gym who seem to go through the same routines week after week. I make it a habit not to criticize others, especially when it comes to gym time – they are there and that speaks volumes. After all, “A little progress everyday adds up to big results.” At some point though, we want the muscles to grow.

So When Do I Add More Weight?!

Conventional training advice, which I still believe to be true, says to add ten pounds once you can comfortably perform three sets. Three sets of ten repetitions that is. But lets expand on that.

As we work out we make tiny tears in the muscle fibers. (micro-tears) Those tears heal themselves, and the muscles grow.


Gaining Muscle

The pumped look you get after a workout is one thing.  That’s  blood rushing to the muscle. That will go away. Dem tears tho, their another thing. When they heal they build new ones. And abracadabra, muscle.


Giving the muscle a significant amount of time to adapt and then adding more weight is key for achieving results. Start small. Start with a 4 – 6 week plan. OR, when 3 sets of 10 reps with near perfect form are easily performed. Then up the weight by 1olbs. And remember:

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying breaks everyday”

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“You must do the things you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Flair Out & Stretch Your Lats


I was told once way back when, as a lanky, ectomorph of a gym newbie by a yoked lifter, “If you want to show everyone up, just walk in and do 20 unassisted pull-ups before you workout.” I was on a serious mission and had he told me to stand on my head and whistle old lang syne I probably would have. None the less, “lat work” became a big part of my training. And still is. Over the years I’ve trained back several different ways. It has never been enough for me to “just do deadlifts.”


The latissimus dorsi muscles, or the “Lats,” are one of the widest muscles in the body and are commonly referred to as “the wings.” Triangular in shape, the lats flair our from either side of the upper spine along the scapula to the humerous, or upper arm, and down to the lumbar.  Swimmers, rock climbers, and bad-ass physique competitors all have lats worth a little envy.


Building a nice set of wings need not be an arduous task or futile. It simply requires a little fine tuning and getting out of the comfort zone of standard, cookie-cutter routines. As in daily life, making the smallest of changes can have the biggest impact. Alternate between these three exercises so baby can get some back.

Short Grip Lat Pull-Down

The Pull-down is a standard in any back workout. Switch the grip often and target the lats a more efficient way. Perform the exercise with hands slightly shoulder width apart.

Tip (switch it up) 


Wide Grip Lat Pull-Down

I incorporate the wide grip at the end of a workout using a high rep/low weight formula. My goal here is to exhaust the muscle. Grow baby, grow.

“When looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing something right”

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows


Form is always the game-changer with any exercise as targeting the muscles correctly is the ultimate point. I equate it with a nutrition plan that’s on point. It also helps seperate the truly serious from the knuckleheads. Here, focus on keeping the elbows tucked in. Avoid letting them flair out.

And of course don’t forget bro-mans advice from earlier. Throw in as many unassisted pull ups as you can, whenever you can. Trust.


Balance and symmetry. Strength and agility. Get it right, get it tight.

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“The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm in form as well as in sound, is one of the most inveterate of human instincts” – Edith Wharton 

Upright Cable Rows

Symmetry is a hallmark of smart training. Known as “Mr. Symmetry” Frank Zane once said, “Understanding symmetry will help you achieve it and maximize your body’s potential.” Mr. Z is correct, however yes, there are times when we get into the cycle of training what we want to – all the time. No bueno. Before you go straight into “Sun’s-Out, Guns-Out” bicep day take a moment to assess what muscle groups will really help fill out the bro tank and give you a defined and well rounded out look.

Upright Cable Rows


“The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm in form as well as in sound, is one of the most inveterate of human instincts.” – Edith Wharton


Unlike a barbell or pair of dumbbells which hang directly below you, the cable is in front of you adding an angle to the motion. This will activate certain muscle groups differently, specifically, the teres minor and lateral deltoid. (Think Boulder Shoulders)

Raising the bar

#1 Standing in the starting position with the feet slightly shoulder width apart and firmly planted, grasp the attachment bar with knuckles facing forward.

Side note: Be sure to focus on two thingsa firm stance and a tight core.

#2 With a steady and controlled movement raise the bar until your hands are chin level and your elbows are raised slightly above the shoulders. Hold for 1 count, then lower to the starting position.

There is no need for whackadoodle modifications or variations here, it is a pretty straigthforward exercise. If you are a beginner, or even an intermediate lifter, start with a conventional routine and tailor it to help achieve your overall goal. For example, someone looking to build more size may use a higher weight/lower rep range, say, 8 – 10, while someone looking to build leaner muscle would focus on a lower weight/higher rep range, say 12 – 15.


If you are a beginner, start with a weight you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions while still executing very good form, and go from there.

Not exactly your everyday, garden variety exercise, upright rows are an excellent move to incorporate into any upper body strength building routine.

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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle


Tips for Dips

Once, awhile back, when I was a true gym rookie longing for gains, (we all start somewhere) I asked a regular I’d seen around, for some tips on improving my bench press. He summed up his advice with this, “You should be able to bench your body weight.” It stuck with me. After all, who doesn’t want a well defined chest? (Insert Tarzan yell)



Body weight exercises are effective muscle and strength builders for a number of reasons. Mainly, they utilize multiple muscle groups putting them in the category of compound exercises. Working the chest, the shoulders, and the triceps, the dip is to the upper body what the mighty squat is to the lower.

No gym?

Dips are one of those exercises that can be performed anywhere, anytime. (Even your office.) Like pushups, there is no need for stack slamming, or sophisticated broscience – just do them.


Body weight exercises also target muscle groups extremely well. Unlike a machine, (no, I do not hate on machines) which tend to force you into a position, body weight exercises utilize both primary and secondary muscles, stimulating all those fibers down deep. Booyah – Gains.

“It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a habit of performing such actions.” – Aristotle 

5 Tips for Dips 

1. Activate the Lat’s. This is like posing. Once you activate the muscles, and “feel” it, it becomes second nature. The lattisimus dorsi help support the upper body.

2. Don’t over-extend. As with any exercise, proper form is essential. Hyper-extending puts unnessary stress on the shoulder joints. “Going lower” isn’t going to make the difference. Stay at a 45° degree angle at the bottom.

3. Chin up. “Keep your chin up” has been a phrase I’ve been told my whole life. For good reason, too. Here, Keep your head level, with eyes focused and straight ahead. The form will follow.

4. Keep elbows close to side. Again, form is key. This helps to target all muscle groups, and as well as reduces stress to the shoulders.

5. Slow and controlled. Trying to pushout as many as possible in an effort to feel like a beast isn’t going to help achieve the gains faster. Execute these controlled and in a methodical fashion.

There are all sorts of “variations on a theme” but the biggest tip of all – start small, master the basics, and build.


For more on dips, body weight workouts, and ways to keep your chin up;

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