PROGRESSIONS AND REGRESSIONS;
When to Add Resistance and When to Add Assistance
As we discussed in Part One of this series, every exercise comes down to one of the 7 primal movement patterns; squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting, bridging, and planking. Furthermore, each of these movement patterns has multiple variations. You can do a basic body weight squat, you can do a weighted barbell back squat, or you can do an unweighted "sit-to-stand" squat just to name a few. But what all three of those exercises have in common is the core movement pattern of a squat.
What differentiates the weighted barbell back squat from the unweighted sit-to-stand squat is that one is a regressed version of a basic squat (the sit-to-stand) and one is a progressed variation (the back squat). And it's not just the squat pattern that we can regress and progress; every single primal pattern has appropriate regressions and progressions.
The back squat/sit-to-stand is just one of MANY MANY MANY examples. I previously posted a video on ways to assist -- aka: regress -- a push up, which is a combination of the planking and pushing primal patterns. As such, those same assistances apply to a regular plank as well. If you wanted to make the plank or the push up harder you could add resistance to it, or you could take away an arm, leg, or both from the movement. But that brings me to my next point… How do you know when you need to regress an exercise versus when you should progress it?
SIGNS THAT YOU NEED TO REGRESS:
1. The variation of the exercise you're using HURTS.
2. The variation of the exercise you're using is TOO HARD.
3. You're unable to intentionally complete FULL RANGE OF MOTION with the current variation of the exercise you're using.
If any of those points apply to you, what now? Well, there are a few basic principles to regression that I'll detail here:
1. Reduce the weight.
-> Step one is to lower or get rid of whatever resistance you're using. Let's say that weighted lunges are hurting your knee. Get rid of the weight and see how they feel. (Probably much better.) Same goes for any of the primal patterns used with weights. If it hurts or is too hard, drop the weight first, and see if that helps.
2. Intentionally adjust range of motion.
-> If you took the weight away and it didn't solve the issue completely, or if there was no resistance to reduce in the first place, try adjusting the range of motion of the exercise. You can either assist a range of motion or you can intentionally reduce it…
Examples of *assisting* the range of motion would be the sit-to-stand squat and the elevated push up, just to name a few. In the sit-to-stand you literally sit down to some object and then stand back up again. The object you sit down to provides an assistance at the toughest part of the range of motion; the bottom. The elevated push up still employs a full range of motion but actually works to reduce the resistance of your body weight (getting at principle #1 again) and assists the range of motion by making the exercise easier as a whole.
Examples of *adjusting* the range of motion -- what I often refer to with my clients as "stopping before the point of pain" -- would look like intentionally squatting shallow or placing some object underneath your chest during push ups that provides a stopping point prior to getting your chest all the way down to the floor.
3. Move to the ground.
-> Lastly, if reducing the weight and altering the range of motion weren't enough to solve the issue, you can increase stability of the exercise by moving to the ground. In a squat what this would look like is laying on your back while completing the squatting movement with your legs in the air. While there is very minimal resistance or balance involved here you do still get the hip and knee flexion of a squat. This is a very safe and stable environment to practice full range of motion where you otherwise may not be able to achieve it pain-free.
You can move a lunge to the ground by holding a half-kneeling position, which just looks like a static lunge with one knee on the ground. A lot can be done from this position to increase the stability of the hips without actually MOVING through a lunge.
You can move a twist to the ground by assuming either a kneeling, half-kneeling, or quadruped position depending on the exercise.
Because a plank already occurs on the ground you can lower your knees to make the exercise easier. A bridge, though, is pretty unique in that the basic glute bridge is the most regressed version of the exercise while still being a bridge.
One or more of these basic principles can be applied in some way to all of the primal patterns in order to make the exercise easier, more achievable, and pain-free when needed. If you have any questions about how to adjust a specific exercise based on these principles, feel free to ask me!
So, now that you know when it's time to regress an exercise and how to do so what about progressing? How do you know when it's time? Essentially, when the current variation of the exercise you're using becomes TOO EASY, it's time to progress it -- aka: make it harder!
There are some basic principles of progressing as well:
1. Add resistance.
-> Plain old body weight isn't enough of a challenge anymore? Add weight or some other version of resistance. You can use resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, and so much more to increase the resistance of an exercise. For exercises like the plank or the push up, you can add resistance by elevating your FEET to make your body weight feel heavier.
2. Make it plyometric, where applicable.
-> This is just a fancy way of saying, add a jump! Jump squats, box jumps, jump lunges, plyo push ups, etc. Some movements like deadlifting, bridging, and planking aren't really designed to house a plyometric component. In those cases, this principle does not apply.
3. Reduce stability.
-> What reducing the stability does is enhance the balance challenge of an exercise, and you'd be amazed how much of a difference it can make. If you're doing a standing exercise here's how you can reduce stability: stand on a BOSU ball or other unstable surface with two feet -> stand on the ground with one foot -> stand on a BOSU ball or other unstable surface with one foot. This same line of instability progression also applies to bridging exercises.
For exercises like a plank or push up you can do them with either a single leg or a single arm or both to reduce the stability.
If you're doing exercises where you sit or lay you can do so on a physioball to reduce the stability.
4. Combine primal patterns.
-> Instead of just squatting combine a squat and a push by doing a squat to an overhead press. Instead of just planking add a twist and a push by going from a side plank to a center plank to a push up to the other side plank. You can combine a squat and a twist by squatting and then touching opposite elbow to opposite knee at the top ("elbow to knee"). Combine a lift and a squat by doing a kettlebell deadlift followed by a kettlebell goblet squat.
The possibilities are endless here. Just use your imagination to combine movements together with whatever equipment you have available to you! It can really be a lot of fun. :)
As mentioned a couple times before, the examples given here are just a few of many. The principles outlined are good templates for adjusting any exercise, but if you have questions about how to change a specific exercise, please feel free to ask me!