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Understanding Single, Double and Triple Progression

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Progression is the king of all training techniques and tactics. If you do more then you did the previous time in the gym, you force your body to respond.

Most training systems focus on progression of:

A)    Reps, and then weight
B)    Intensity

This article will explore various forms of progression that are often ignored. I will start from the ground up, with single progression training.

Training Variables

There are numerous ways to make a workout progressively more difficult or intense. The following is a list of basic training variables that can be adjusted:

Reps – You can increase the number of reps per set
Sets – You can increase the number of sets for a given exercise
Weight – You can increase the amount of weight used for a set
Rest – You can decrease the rest period between sets
TUT – You can increase the time under tension for a given set

Each of these variables by themselves can be considered a single progression training method.

Training Parameters

Each training variable has a target range that works best for hypertrophy. Keep in mind that each individual is different. These ranges should be used as guidelines, and are not being presented as hard facts.

Reps – 4 to 12 reps (Higher reps are often utilized for leg training.)
Sets – 10 to 20 (Workouts for naturals should run one hour max.)
Weight – Weight is relative, especially when advanced training techniques such as rest-paused sets, or slow negatives, are being utilized.
Rest – 15 to 240 seconds. (Rest periods vary greatly from training style to training style.)
TUT – 20 to 90 seconds. (Sets that last over 90 seconds become counter-productive.)

Single Progression

Single progression training involves a focus on increasing a single aspect of training only. Adding more reps to a set is the most common progression tactic, and is usually used hand in hand with progression of weight.

Single Progression of Reps

If you bench press 200 for 7 reps during today’s workout, and have a goal of hitting 200 for 8 (or more) reps the next time in the gym, you are using single progression of reps as a training method.

Single Progression of Weight

If you bench press 200 pounds for 10 reps during today’s workout, and add 5 pounds to the bar the next time in the gym, you are using single progression of weight as a training method. Generally, progression of weight causes a reduction in the number of reps that you are able to perform.

Most trainees use the cycle of progression of reps, then progression of weight as the cornerstone of their training program. This is an effective and simple progressional tactic.

Single Progression of Sets

If you perform one set of 10 reps on the bench press during today’s workout, and add a second set the next time in the gym, you are using single progression of sets as a training method.

Very few routines or training systems use this form of single progression.

Single Progression of Rest

If you rest for 3 minutes between sets on the bench press during today’s workout, and drop the rest between sets to 2 minutes the next time in the gym, you are using single progression of rest as a training method.

I have yet to see a training routine that incorporates progression of rest. Bulldozer Training version 2.0 uses an expanding rest period between sets, but this is a constant, and therefore does not change from workout to workout.

Single Progression of Time Under Tension (TUT)

If it takes you 45 seconds to complete a set during today’s workout, and you purposely try to increase set duration to 60 seconds the next time in the gym, you are using single progression of TUT as a training method.

There are several modern training systems that focus on TUT as a primary training principle. But, in general, TUT is rarely monitored…even in systems where slow repetitions are utilized.

Double Progression

Double progression is the purposeful increase of two training variables from one workout to the next.

For example…if you performed one set of bench presses at 200 pounds for 8 reps today, and the next time in the gym you increased reps on your first set AND added a second set, you utilized double progression. Simply stated, you increased both reps and sets from one workout to the next.

There are numerous possible double progression combinations. I will feature three as examples.

Double Progression of Sets and Reps

Let’s say that currently you are performing one set of bench presses. Last week you did 6 reps with 200 pounds. Today, you knocked out 8 reps with the same weight. You’ve decided that the next time in the gym, if you hit 10 reps you will add a second set.

If you succeed, you will have added both reps (to the first set) AND sets. This is double progression of sets and reps.

Week 1: Bench Press
200 x 6

Week 2: Bench Press
200 x 8

Week 3: Bench Press
200 x 10
200 x 5

Double Progression of Reps and Rest

This is a very practical, and easy to follow form of double progression. You can make it your goal to decrease rest between sets by 15 seconds from workout to workout, all the while pushing for more reps.

Week 1: Bench Press
(120 seconds rest between sets)
200 x 8
200 x 5

Week 2: Bench Press
(105 seconds rest between sets)
200 x 9
200 x 6

Week 3: Bench Press
(90 seconds rest between sets)
200 x 10
200 x 8

You could continue to decrease rest between sets down to 30 seconds or lower. By doing so, you may run the risk of lowering the number of reps you can perform. Despite this risk, it’s still a viable and effective way of utilizing double progression.

Double Progression of Reps and TUT

Advocates of High Intensity Training often utilize this form of double progression, albeit unknowingly. If you perform sets with slow eccentric and or concentric reps, each additional rep will cause up to 10 seconds more TUT. With that said, this is not a strict form of double progression, as the TUT is a byproduct, and not a primary focus or goal of the set.

If you focus on increasing both the reps and the TUT, you are practicing double progression of reps and TUT. Generally, if a TUT goal is set, forced reps may need to be used to achieve this mark. You will generally reach failure before reaching the TUT goal.

(Using 4 second negative reps, and forced reps when necessary)

Week 1: Bench Press
30 seconds TUT
200 x 5 reps

Week 2: Bench Press
40 seconds TUT
200 x 6 reps + 1 forced rep

Week 3: Bench Press
50 seconds TUT
200 x 7 reps + 2 forced reps

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4 comments

  1. I know I am old school and maybe set in my ways but what has happened in many training circles is that a new spin is put on what is single double and triple progression. I had just read an artticle on another site in reference to the same subject and they were way off in fact according to them “time” is not a factor at all. Not the TUT nor the rest interval between either sets or execises. I guess the “time” factor in the power/energy formula does not apply …. so I am very pleased to see an article by someone who understands the concept of TUT and rest periods. However Im from the school of single double and triple progression being nothing more then the time between training sessions before any progression is made. For instance if my workout just consisted of Overhead barbell press’s and on Monday I did one set of 6 reps of 225 pounds ..ok? now i come back on Wed. for my next training session and I complete a set with 225 for 7 or 8 reps that would be single progression. If i just did the same 6 reps on wed. as i did on monday and waited till my 3rd training session on friday and then did 7 or 8 reps that would be double progression. If I did 6 reps all week (or whatever length of time the training block covers , but if I did 3 sessions say Mon, Wed and Fri. with the same poundage and then on the following Mon I completed 7 or 8 reps that would be triple progression. The same would hold true in regard to the weight used. If I did the same routine and did 225 on Monday and then on Wed I did 6 reps of 230 then on Fri did 235 for 6 reps that would be single progression in regard to the actual weight used. The old “Milo carrying the calf up the hill ” concept. Now supposedly the calf gained a few pounds every day and old Milo went out every morning and picked him up and carried him up a hill until the darn thing turned into a bull. whether or not its true who knows but the other questions one might ask is ..well did Milo take more steps each day as in shorter quicker steps? did he take less steps making longer strides? did he take take 10 steps and stop to catch his breath in a sort of “breathing squat set ” way? In the same way we use weight , reps and sets to basically increase or strength. I mean there are those who will use terms such as volume, intensity, density which is all well and good but the bottom line is “tonage” the amount lifted in a given time period Now what you said was very true in regards to most trainees starting with a selected amount of weight and then gradually increasing reps. This method makes the most sense. If you were to base your progression on weight you would flatline/ plateau in a short period of time for starters, and then your faced with well do i increase by 5 pounds ? 10 pounds? 1 pound? and trainees will usually become disheartened when they dont see great changes in the numbers in regards to weight weekly or injure themselves. Also the increasing “reps” and then adding sets gives the tendons and ligiments a chance to catch up to the muscles (muscles repair and grow quicker then tendons and ligaments) Also the central nevous system needs to be brought up to speed. Having said this I dont mean to rant but based on the “modern interpitation of single ,double and triple progression , what ever you increase be it the weight, the reps and sets will be come “your base line” so anything you add to later single progression unless you add to the weight used then extend the reps which would make it double and then and sets to make it triple ..which isnt likely to be done in one workout. I base my definition on the York progression principle and guys like John Grimek, Hackenschmidt, Dan Lurie ( i know so yesteryear but Grimek was in better shape when he died then what Arnold is in now and Lurie sported 19 in arms well into his 70′s and held many strength records and Hackenscmidtt looked like he was on juice in 1920. I just use a simple basic old approach.. Im 47 weigh 198 and can still push 415 for reps on the bench and though my clean and jerk is not the 400 pounds it used to be, im still moving 3and change overhead (lost a little speed with age). I totally agree with the reducing time between sets or extending time under the load I know it is key in developing bot size and strength.

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  2. Steve

    No offence taken. I completely understand your intent. Just find that many people in the industry , for lack of a better term, “misuse” words/terms & this causes some confusion.

    This is just my take on things, I feel that the people who are considered knowledgeable have a responsibility to not only inform the masses , but to also educate them in the process.

    By no means am I saying you are not doing the above. Just wish more writers would use words in there proper form to help avoid confusion, in an already confusing industry, filled with quite a bit of mis-information.

    I quite enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work!!

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  3. Dan,

    I am referring to intensity in more of a generalized sense as it is known to the lifting community…as in rest-paused sets, slow reps, etc. Intensity in this sense is a rep performed in any other manner other then strictly moving it from point A to B in a classic sense.

    Most lifters understand intensity through the lens of my definition, and that is why I framed it as such. This article is not meant to debate the classic definition of intensity. It is an article on practical application, and not an analysis of definitions.

    I hope you understand, I do not wish to engage is the following type of discussions and debates:

    “It depends on what the definition of is is.”

    I am attempting to frame possibilities for the average lifter, and not define lingo. I hope this comment doesn’t come across in the wrong manner. I’m not trying to sound snippy. That is not my intent.

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  4. Steve

    This is my first time on this site & I have read through a few of your articles. I noticed that you mention that weight & Intensity are 2 different training variables. Now, I am going to “Nit pick” here but they are the same thing.

    I understand what you are trying to say with regards to Intensity but disagree with how you are using the term. IMO Christian Thibaudeau puts it best :
    ” One must make the distinction between training intensity, training intensiveness(this is what i think you are refering to when you write about intensity) and being intense. Training intensity refers to the load….. Intensiveness would refer to methods which cause a lot of fatigue(eg: drop sets, supersets, etc..)….. Being intense is a subjective feeling of how hard you are training & should not be confused with Intensity(load).

    Just my 2 cents:)

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