Exercise Progressions: Why, When and How

One of the targets of a rehabilitation program is the strengthening of the muscles that are inactive or weak and thus create muscle imbalances.

In order to strengthen a muscle, it must be overloaded, which creates stress and adaptation, which will then lead to muscle growth. Once you can master the prescribed sets and reps of a given exercise, it needs to be progressed to the next level in order to challenge the muscle and to further stimulate adaptation.

Here some principals on how to safely progress an exercise:

  • Don’t progress to the next level if you still feel challenged performing the prescribed reps and sets of an exercise. 
  • An exercise can be progressed by adding intensity, load, duration or complexity (i.e. including additional movements)
  • The general guideline for progressing patients is called the “10% rule”, where total training (intensity, frequency, duration or complexity) is not increased more than a 10% per week.
  • It is safer to change one component at a time, e.g. only increasing exercise volume but not the exercise intensity
  • If you experience pain or a flare-up the exercise must be regressed to the previous level
  • Intensity can be increased by either changing resistance or changing stability. See the example blow:
#1 Bird Dog with Toe Touch

# 2: The Bird Dog can be progressed by lifting the feet, thereby decreasing stability

#3 The Bird Dog can be progressed by adding resistance

The WebExercises Story: Created by Clinicians for Clinicians
We understand the challenges that clinicians face on a daily basis: lack of patient engagement, high drop-out rates, time-crunched clinicians. We developed a solution for you and your patients that provides you with great clinical education, efficient and evidence-based exercise programming, and an engaging patient experience . To find out more how WebExercises can improve your practice call us 866-411-4825 or visit webexercises.com.

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Friederike Aprea

Author Friederike Aprea

Rike (Friederike) Aprea, MA, CPT, CES, BCS is the VP of Business Development and Marketing Strategy at WebExercises. She previously worked for Reebok, BMW, and the Adidas Group in the US, Asia and Europe. She is also a NASM certified Behavior Change Specialist.

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