No matter what reason you have for going to the gym, I can guarantee you’re going for one thing: gains. Whether your gains are performance, physique, or strength related, it’s going to take time to get from where you are now to where you want to be.

It’s the time in between getting from where you are now to where you want to be that you (probably) hate the most. But what if you started thinking of progress as the guarantee to your gains? No matter how big your goal is, you need to make sure that you are constantly monitoring your progress by, well… making sure you are making progress. Simple, right?

Blog over. Not so much.

There are tales of an ancient Greek wrestler, Milo of Croton, carrying a newborn calf on his shoulders one day and then every day after that until the calf became a full grown bull. As the bull grew, so did Milo’s strength. This is often used to demonstrate the concept of linearly increasing your weight over time, hoping for the same gains in strength. A basic example of this would be aiming to add 5 pounds to your bench press workout every week and expecting to increase your strength. This concept is known as “Linear Periodization.” While it’s a good place to start, it may not be effective in the long run as far as progress goes.

There are other ways to advance your training. Here is a great article by Brett Contreras that explains many different ways to see progress in your performance. Whether you make progress in the actual movement you are doing (i.e. going from a box squat to a barbell squat), or shortening the time it takes you to complete a run, it’s important that you’re noticing progress over time.

Another important, and often overlooked, part of making progress is recovery. Training should actually be a balancing act of pushing yourself enough that your body changes over time, while also being able to recover so that you slow down enough to see the progress you’re making. Dr. Mike Israetel has done extensive work in training volumes and figuring out what it looks like for you to recover from those volumes. You can find a great article here. He goes into a concept called “MRV” which stands for “Max Recoverable Volume.” This is maximum the amount of volume or work, or as Dr. Israel quantifies it, in the form of “sets” that your body can recover from in your weekly training.  While the concepts here are described in the form of resistance training I believe that the concepts and insights he uses can be applied in many different forms.

So in short, when you go to the gym or a training session, you need to be both intentional and informed as you train. Consider each workout and the following recovery almost like a scientific study of yourself. As you study yourself, notice the small progressions over time as you develop your training. Additionally, make sure you write down every exercise, set, rep, time, or any other relevant information pertaining to your workout.

Lastly, another way to aid in your progression is to hire a trainer or coach. I don’t say this because that is what we do. Athletes at the top levels have coaches, and not because they are not physically or mentally capable of training themselves. They do this because they want the accountability of a coach who is constantly monitoring their progress and keeping track of their workouts for them. At the end of the day, you’re in charge of making sure progress is happening. This, my friends, is how you guarantee your gains.

Author: Jake Reynolds, BS, CPT