Progressions and Regressions at the Heart of a Good Training Plan

Every workout should be part of a quality program of movements. That has to include the intelligent use of progressions and regressions to help you achieve your desired goals.

In order to be able to execute complex movements with correct form and in a manner that delivers the best results during training, a breakdown of the movements has to occur so that the trainee can progress from basic to complex through engagement in variations of the ultimate movement. It’s like when you were a kid and started off by learning the alphabet before progressing to words, sentences, and eventually, being developed enough to read complex passages in a book or report. So, what is the true rule of progression and regression in programming workouts and training?

Ted Sloan – The Building Blocks of Athletic Development

Progressions and regressions are the building blocks of long term athletic development. It is vital for a coach to adjust the training protocol through exercise selection in order to allow the athlete to slowly and properly progress their abilities both in the strength room and on the field.

Progressions and regressions can help to develop balance, coordination, mobility and sport specific abilities. As an athlete develops their strength, in eccentric, isometric and concentric ranges of motion, balance and coordination will intrinsically be developed, especially when starting from easy to more challenging; such as progressing from a split squat, to a rear foot elevated split squat, to a dynamic lunge variation.

Once these abilities are developed, an athlete can be progressed from a more GPP (General Physical Preparedness) goal, to a more specialized SPP (Specific Physical Preparedness) goal. For younger athletes, many parents of athletes request that a coach train sport specific movements with their children, but they fail to understand that in order for sport-specific movements to benefit them, they require a base level of strength, power, mobility, and motor control.

If a coach attempts to teach and strength train movements that an athlete is unprepared for, the subsequent risk of injury increases exponentially. As a result, speed and specificity of movement should also be considered a form of progression and regression. Forms of power training should also be considered through this continuum.

Deceleration abilities in rapidly achieved positions, must be developed as well; these can include landing mechanics through depth drops, in which the athlete steps off of a high box an lands in as best of a position as possible, while teaching the athlete to land in ideal positions while developing the strength to decelerate the body from high landings.

When progressing the depth drop, the exercise can be moved to a depth jump, in which the athlete plyometrically rebounds into an explosive jump immediately following the landing. It is vital for every coach have a great tool box of exercises to alternate between in order to help their athletes incrementally progress their abilities. But, as can be seen, exercise selection is not the only variable that must be taken into consideration when it comes to progressing and regressing movement; all of these are vital to build a strong and resilient athletes.

Giulio Palau – The Flexibility to Scale the Demands of an Exercise

Proper exercise selection is key to designing an effective program. It is well known that the adaptations that occur from training are specific to the demands imposed. Therefore, exercises should be selected with careful consideration of the intended adaptation.

Progressions and regressions of exercises allow for the flexibility to scale the demands of an exercise to challenge the body without overwhelming it. We know that the demands of a program must be continually increased as the body adapts in order to continue progressing. However, we must be careful not to push past the margin of safety. The body will adapt to the stressors regardless, it is our job as coaches to ensure that the adaptation is constructive rather than destructive.

The key is to modify an exercise to create an overload with the least possible risk of injury. In theory, a proper exercise progression will continually increase work capacity and consequently increase the margin of safety. Perhaps most importantly, exercise regression will allow for proper motor patterning to efficiently execute movement. More often than not, the tissues may be capable of performing a task but the proper motor patterns haven’t been learned.

Once the proper movement patterns are understood, overload can be achieved by simply adding resistance or tweaking any other relevant variables. Proper postural positions are the most important part of learning to overcome external forces safely and efficiently. Regressions of an exercise will allow for optimal motor learning by simplifying the demands of a task. While progressions of an exercise will allow for the continual adaptation to increased stressors.

Let’s take core training as an example. It should not be controversial at this point to assert that the most effective way to train the core is isometrically. The most obvious way to progress an isometric hold is to increase the time under tension. However, static holds longer than 30 seconds have been shown to increase the likelihood of injury so it becomes more practical to change the lever length to change the difficulty.

For example, a plank can be regressed by elevating the torso or progressed by extending the arms further overhead, changing the moment arm and stabilization demand.

Core training is a good example of progressing and regressing an exercise because the relevant variable is most often how gravity is acting on the body. This is often the case with other progressions like the split squat to rear foot elevated split squat and ultimately walking lunge, where balance and dynamic stability are increasingly relevant.

Moving through space efficiently should be the ultimate goal of any progression. That applies to correcting posture, sport specific training, and everything in between. If an exercise has to be regressed to a prone or supine position to learn a proper movement pattern, that pattern should be integrated into a dynamic body weight movement, even if unloaded.

Selecting the proper progression or regression can be just as much art as science and the work capacity and tolerance of an individual can change from day to day. Each repetition is an opportunity to asses and adjust an exercise as needed.

Antonio Squillante – The Necessary Path to Acquiring Complex Motor Skills

Progression and regression are nothing but the necessary steps toward an inevitable escalation in complexity. They don’t have a positive-negative correlation like many people think, and sometimes they are both necessary in order to move from simple to complex skills. Motor skills, in our case.

Would you consider learning how to write words by straying with individual letters a regression? Well, if you already know how to spell a word, starting back from learning how to write the alphabet is “loss of time”. But the alphabet is necessary for you to put in words the sounds that you can now only pronounce with your voice. It is, in essence, a progression to a higher level of skill.

Similarities can be found between this basic example and motor learning: we all learn fundamental motor skills and as soon as we start to comprehend the magnificent world that surrounds us we want to combine them in many different ways possible to create complex movements.

However, we might not have the ability yet to put into “words” (movements) basic letters (motor patterns) that we just recently learned. Regression and progression are therefore necessary in learning new motor skills. First and foremost exercises need to move from movements to skills and vice versa. Similarly, skills need to move from simple to complex, and from discrete to serial.

The ultimate goal of any progression should be acquiring the necessary control over a new skill that allow to use what we have learned to acquire a new, totally different skills. It is a domino effect that physicologits call transfer of learning.

The starting point of every progression and regression in motor learning should aim to provide the tools (our letters, the most simple individual motor patterns) to create endless, fascinating motor performances (skills, the endless words in the alphabet of motricity)

Theodore Sloan, Antonio Squillante, and Giulio Palau are three up and coming young coaches, part of a vanguard of new minds coming into the industry. They will approach a coaching tactic or strategy from a different perspective and share their insights here. If you have a training subject you would like to see addressed by these guys, send an email to [email protected] with #ThinkReps in the subject line.

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