“The Single and Double Progression Method”
Anthony Ditillo, from his book strong textThe Development of Muscular Bulk and Power
When beginning a book on physical training, I feel it is only natural to begin with the most basic concept used in any barbell endeavor. We all use this training aid in one form or another and its use makes possible the goals of which our dreams are made.
By single and double progression I mean the basic way we arrange our sets and repetitions with a given weight, which will enable us to do so many things in our training, that its usefulness cannot and should not be overlooked when discussing barbell training, in general.
All trainees use this method for keeping track of their progress as well as preventing injury and over-training. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most of today’s problems concerning progress with the weights stem from a mistaken notion of the use of this single, double and even triple progression system and all it pertains to.
When attempting to add to your physical strength, basic training principles such as the proper pacing of your sets and repetitions as the rate of weight increases as time goes by are most important to insure proper training pace, freedom from overexertion, proper recuperation and a lessening in training injuries. We shall now endeavor to explain just what the single and double progression system consists of.
Since most of you reading this should know by now what a set and rep consists of, I shall take for granted your being able to follow me and we shall digress further into the subject at hand.
Since all our work with weights consists of using various sets and repetition systems it is only natural for us to try and reduce this concept down to its scientific simplistic essence and thereby guarantee results as fast as could be expected under normal circumstances.
When we use a certain amount of weight in an exercise, this consistency of weight becomes the unchanging variable should we decide to do more sets and more repetitions with this same weight. In such a case, we are increasing both repetitions and sets while the amount of weight remains constant. This would be an example of double progression. If, however, we keep the weight and the sets the same and increase only repetitions, as time goes by, then we are using a single progressive system. If we increase the repetitions and sets plus weight, strength permitting, we would be using a triple progression system. This system is extremely tiring and severe and recommended only for brief intense periods of specialization.
The importance of these basic concepts cannot and should not be overlooked for most sticking points are caused by not following or understanding these training aids. E say “aids” because this is what they are. Used correctly they form a direct link between present and future physical success.
Let us assume you were capable of performing 10 curls with 100 lbs. resistance. After thoroughly warming up (such as 60×10, 80×10) you put on 100 lbs. and begin your first set. Tin reps are made. Now using the single progression system you would gauge your progress by how many reps you could add on to the initial set of 10 using 100 lbs. This would come to around 13 or so, within a few workouts. When 15 curls could be done, the weight on the bar would be increased by a few pounds and the process would begin once again.
Using a double progressive method we would not only try to increase the repetitions with the 100 lb. barbell but we would also try to include more than one series of repetitions with this weight and while these additional sets might not immediately net us three or more sets of 10 repetitions, in time such a goal would be achieved and the increase in our strength and muscle size would be clearly visible.
We could also add to this progression by increasing nor only the sets and repetitions, but also the weight: such as 100×10 – 100×8 – 100×6. and finally, back to 100 for as many repetitions as possible. It is this triple progression system which gives us the most work in the shortest time with the quickest results!
When a powerlifter is squatting with a weight close to his limit, he knows he’ll progress much faster if he periodically attempts adding repetitions to this weight rather than simply trying to peak out with a maximum every week of so, thereby training on “nerve” in place of common sense.
Our system can and will adopt to increased stress (work) if given time and rest. By gradually adding repetitions to a 90% limit weight and eventually going into increased sets and repetitions with this weight, not only will our limit single attempt increase, but our muscular size and repetition strength will increase also, since we would be progressing as fast as our system would be capable of without using “artificial aids” (steroids).
Let us assume tour best back is 500×1. Ninety percent of your limit would be 450. Most men would be able to do two or three repetitions with this weight for one set; or five single attempts, whichever they preferred. By using 450 as a base, we have already established that five single repetitions could be performed with this weight. Now, by trying to increase our repetitions, ever so slowly over a given peril of time, we would eventually go from 5 singles to 5 triples with this same 450. Such would be a simplistic method of increasing your squatting proficiency.
There can be a time when because of past injuries to various muscles and joints, trying to increase repetitions with a heavy weight becomes impossible due to the possibility of re-injury. In such a situation, the repetitions could remain constant and the sets could be increased, thereby decreasing chance of muscle or joint strain while progression is still possible. A good example of this would be my training partner, Dezso Ban. Due to past injuries to his knees, he found himself in quite a predicament when it came to squat training. Light weight and high repetitions became impossible due to the possibility of recurring muscle pulls. High poundage and low repetitions became necessary, although too high a weight would also most likely re-injure the knee joint complex. However, by manipulating this single and double progression system he was able to increase the amount of sets and reps with a heavy weight (485) and in time was capable of ten triples with this weight.
How many guys will work up to around 400 on the bench only to become stagnated and stuck. Do you know why? Because for most of us, 400 on the bench is quite a lift and this realization forces us to think of it as a limit. Also, when we use the double progressive system and finally work up to a weight like 400, we hate to reduce this weight back down to 360 or so and begin to schedule a peaking out double progression system even though it was this system which helped us initially.
Take this same man, who’s stuck at 400 in the bench, and forbid him to do any singles for a period of 3 months; reduce the bar down to 350 or so and have him systematically ass sets and repetitions with this weight and at the end of three months test him. He will have gained! When using a double progressive system, I myself have a personal favorite. I begin with a weight I can use for 7 sets of 3 repetitions. What I try to do is, over a certain period of time, increase the number of sets with this weight until 10 sets of 3 are possible. I then made one of two choices; I either keep the sets at 10 and increase the repetitions to 5, or I increase the weight by 20 lbs., and begin once again with 7 sets of 3’s. This type of scheduling of sets in a progressive manner was also coupled with two other types of progression to ensure continued progress over a long period of time. One schedule called for higher repetitions (5) and lower sets (7), and from their I would go from 7 sets of 5, to 7 sets of 7 and then I would increase the weight. This type of schedule is more suited for heavy bulk building or bodybuilding than for strict strength training but it is a basic useful tool, nonetheless.
One drawback that this second system had was the lack of appreciable strength increases as compared to muscle size. The first system increased both size and strength, however, the high number of sets (10) made it costly as far as training time was concerned. However, for the most part, both types of progressive cycling have their place in modern strength methodology.
Finally we come to the triple progression in training. By triple progression I mean increasing the sets, the repetitions and the weight at the same time. Powerlifters have used offshoots of this method for years, not knowing the name for what they were doing. Some call it the “pyramid” system, others call it “peaking out.” Whatever name you choose to call it is obvious it is the most accepted and most arduous system to use for any length of time.
Most lifters will follow something like this: 1×10/1×8/1×6/1×4/1×2/5 sets of 1 (5 singles at 90% max). Or else they will go 5-4-3-2-1 working up in weight to one maximum attempt that day. I’ve also seen many go to 3×3/3×2/3×1 thereby warming up and going to around 90% for 3 singles, drop 20 lbs., and go to 3 doubles, drop 20 lbs., and go to three triples and finish up with 3 sets of 5’s. Each of these three methods you will find effective if approached with caution and common sense. Each one uses triple progression and in each case, when the top weight choice is comfortably possible, all weights are increased in all sets on the next workout , while the sets and repetitions remain constant.
We also have the type of training used by various “supermen” throughout the years. Basic single progression (when carried to the extreme) will increase your exercise poundage, over a given length of time. Begin with a 90% limit weight. Each workout perform more and more single attempts until you are lifting the bar between 15 and 20 times. Such a simple method can yield much in the way of results.
Finally we come to a combination bulk and strength routine using double and triple progression interwoven through it. We would gave one basic strength move using triple progression such as bench presses for 10/8/6/4/2/1/1/1 and 2 or 3 assistance movements using double or single progression, such as dips, flyes, and triceps extensions for a given number of repetitions and the only changing variable being an increase in the number of sets we perform for each. 5x5s going to 8x5s or 7 sets of 3s going to 10 sets of 3s would be two good examples. It would also be possible to keep the static in certain movements and increase the repetitions per set, resulting in aerobic conditioning and muscle size increase as well as endurance.
While discussing our double, single and even triple progression system, we cannot overlook its ability to control our ultimate ability to absorb both training volume and training intensity. By training volume we mean the all-over training volume and training intensity. By training volume we mean the all-over amount of work we perform during our workout program. This sounds simple, yet it is quite complicated. first of all, we can increase the amount of work in three basic ways. We can increase the number of sets with a steady weight. We can increase the number of repetitions with a steady weight and finally, we can do both. Naturally, increasing both the number of sets and repetitions cannot and should not be done immediately, for such a “shock effect” would have a detrimental effect on our bodies and emotions. Since such an action would result in additional psychic strain, we should proceed with caution when attempting to increase training load through a double-progression system. However, as an evaluator of our training load, such a method is indispensable! Since we all should maintain a regular log, we can easily refer to it from time to time and compare past workout volume with our present training load, and it is here our volume conscientiousness comes into relevant importance. If we were to find that during the last few training weeks (4-6) we have neither increased our sets or repetitions with our training weights, then our training has been neither good nor bad, but relative to our momentary point in time and constant as far as ultimate goals are concerned.
It should be pointed out here that an increase in work load can be a goal in itself (particularly in bodybuilding). However, in strength lifting the ability of an increase in training load can mean the body is capable of accepting a heavier (more intense) stimulation and here is where training intensity comes into play.
Training intensity means how hard we work as compared to how much. Using a simple example: 3×10 with 100lbs. is not as intense as 3×15 with 100lbs. or 3×15 with 110lbs. Training intensity can be easily regulated or controlled by using a double progression method and keeping the sets and repetitions constant and the increase in strength brought about by increase in weight (resistance).
This method of strength training is widely accepted be weightlifters and strength seekers throughout the world. However, its one drawback is that sooner or later we reach a point of diminished returns where we can no longer generate their mental or emotional psyche needed to add heavier weight onto our bar and it is at this point where staleness sets in.
By using a double or triple method of progression we insure a longer ability of our bodies to adapt to the continuous stress of physical endeavors. Surely a revamping of our opinions concerning these basic systems is in order for, indeed and usefulness is highly underrated and misunderstood.