If you are doing any form of weight training (or even just exercise in general) with pretty much ANY goal in mind, the most important factor in your workout routine isn’t the exercises you’re doing, or the schedule you’re using, or the intensity, volume or frequency you’ve set up.
Nope, those are all important factors for sure, just not the most important.
Instead, that description always goes to progressive overload, which is the one factor that can make or break all of the others. As I’ve covered before, progressive overload is what happens when you increase the demands being placed on your body through (in this case) weight training.
There’s a few different ways of doing it, but the most common example of all is to just gradually increase the amount of weight you lift on each exercise.
If you’re not doing this (or something similar) over time, then chances are you’re not getting anything close to positive results from your workouts. It’s seriously THAT important.
Now, when you understand this importance and realize that progression is the key to the success of your workout routine, a common question that comes up is how often should this progression take place? Exactly how often should you increase the weight you lift?
Let’s answer that…
How Often Should I Increase The Weight I’m Lifting?
There’s really two different answers to this question, as it depends on exactly what workout routine you’re using:
- Some pre-designed weight training programs have very specific guidelines for how and when progression should take place on each exercise. You know… like increase this way on this exercise in this workout at this time. If you’re using a program like that, then that’s how often you should increase the weight you’re lifting.
- But if you’re not using a pre-designed program whose progression is built into the program itself, then you should increase the weight you lift as often as you possibly can.
My Muscle Building Workout Routine specifies the method of progression and how and when to make it happen, but there’s no built in time frame for it. In that case (and the case of any other routine fitting the second description above), your goal is to increase the weight you lift on each exercise as often as humanly possible.
The more you progress and the faster you progress, the more your body will improve and the faster your body will improve.
But Don’t Be Stupid About It
While the really common sense answer here is that you should be increasing your weights as fast and as often as you can, I feel like I always need to add “within the realm of safety and sanity” to that answer to prevent certain people from doing something stupid.
What I mean is, you should actually be fairly capable of increasing the weight before you increase the weight. Progressing often is the goal, but you can’t just haphazardly add more weight to each exercise for the sake of adding more weight and unrealistically “creating” progress.
Your form will go to shit, the target muscle(s) will no longer be used properly, reps will fall well below where they should be, and injuries will likely occur.
So if you’re currently lifting a weight on some exercise that’s still a bit heavy for you, then you’re not ready to increase. If you’re supposed to be doing 4 sets of 8 reps on an exercise and you’re getting reps of 7, 6, 5, 4, then you’re not ready to increase.
These are cases where you need to spend a little more time with a weight and focus on increasing reps first and getting them into the range they should be in. When they are, and you’re now stronger with that weight, THAT’S when it’s time to increase it. You can see an example of this here: When & How To Progress At Weight Training
So, when capable, increase the amount of weight you lift as often as possible. That’s goal #1.
Will I Be Able To Progress On Each Exercise At The Same Rate?
Hell no! You’ll always be able to increase the weight of compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, various presses and rows much more often than isolation exercises like biceps curls, triceps extensions and lateral raises. This of course is one of the benefits of compound exercises over isolation exercises.
And even still, nothing really progresses at exactly the same rate… even compound exercises themselves. Some exercises will just progress faster and more consistently for you at different times for different reasons.
Sometimes you’ll be able to progress very well at 1 exercise for a muscle group, but hardly at all on another exercise for that same muscle group in that same time frame.
This is all perfectly normal. Your goal is to just keep trying to increase the weight you lift on each exercise you’re doing as often as you can and the rest will take care of itself.
Will I Be Able To Progress At The Same Rate In General?
Hell no again! The more experienced you get, the slower your progress will come. This is why beginners will often be able to increase the weight they lift damn near every workout on damn near every exercise without fail (which is why intelligent beginner workouts are designed with this in mind).
This progression will happen at a consistent rate for a while, until time and your own results change you from a beginner into an intermediate lifter. At that point, progress will slow down, and you will not be able to increase weights as consistently. And as more time passes and you get stronger and build more muscle and come closer and closer to either reaching your goal or reaching your genetic potential, you become advanced.
And at that point, you can bet your sweet ass you won’t be increasing weights too often on any exercise. It can and will still happen, just at borderline nonexistent levels compared to what you were doing as a beginner or intermediate.
Just Make Progress, Period.
So really, no matter what the scenario, if your goal is to get the best results as fast as possible, then your #1 focus needs to be on making progress as quickly as you can and increasing the weights you lift as often as you can.
The exact frequency these increases end up happening for you at different stages and on different exercises isn’t important. Trying to make it happen as often as possible is.