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Nine principles of designing exercise progressions and regressions

This is an excerpt from Secrets of Successful Program Design by Alwyn Cosgrove & Craig Rasmussen.

When we design exercise progressions, we place exercises into the appropriate “family trees” within various parent categories to classify the training movements with a logically developed plan to get to an end goal exercise.

Almost all exercises can be progressed or regressed depending on client ability. Without a doubt, the most common way to design exercise progressions and regressions is based on adding or reducing external load. However, it is worth mentioning that the first form of regression that we often use in practice is to simply reduce load because loads that are too heavy can be a primary problem that make an exercise too challenging. A simple load progression can occur from microcycle to microcycle without altering the exercise, or the load progression can transform the exercise to become slightly different from mesocycle to mesocycle (phase to phase) because of a new type of loading position. We provide examples of true exercise progressions later in this chapter and in our programs that follow later on in the book.

Principles of exercise regressions and progressions exist on a degree of difficulty continuum which consists of easier to harder, or less challenging to more challenging. Certain principles of load and range of motion are easier to conceptualize if one thinks in terms of easier versus harder, and other principles of stability are easier to think of in terms less challenging versus more challenging.

Table 3.1 provides a breakdown of the nine most common principles used to progress or regress exercises in terms of this continuum.

Table 3.1 Degree of Difficulty Continuum

Using these nine primary principles allows us to create individually challenging exercise progressions and regressions by various means. Only the first principle involves increasing or decreasing external load, so there are many other possible ways to make an exercise more or less challenging. Many of the principles use stability to vary their progressions or regressions. This simply involves the client going from a more stable to a less stable position, or vice versa, and the stability can be applied by several different means.

Many of these principles are very interconnected so some of the progressions or regressions use many of the principles and not just one. The key is that we use a logical rationale when deciding to make an exercise harder or easier.