Understanding Progression: Weight and Intensity

Updated June 11, 2020

More! More! More! Do more!

How many times have you read that in an article, or on a forum post? Progression is king, but what exactly is progression? Is it good enough to simply add more weight each time you workout? Or should you be upping the training ante with advanced intensity techniques?

The answer to these questions is quite simple…beginners should push for more weight, intermediate trainees should gradually switch over from progression of weight to progression of intensity, and advanced trainees should be focusing primarily on intensity.

Let me explain.

Training Longevity. Training routine design rarely looks at, or considers, the longevity of the trainee. Routines are set up for maximum results now, generally with complete disregard for how the routine will impact your joints and tendons when you’re 40+.

Some training gurus trumpet that progression of weight is all that matters. But no one can continue to make strength gains forever. Plateaus will be hit. You simply cannot expect to pound your body with heavy weight for decades on end, and not see joint problems, muscle tears, pain and tendinitis.

The pursuit of heavier weight should be the folly of beginning and intermediate lifters. Getting your base strength up will help you pack on muscle mass – there is no doubt about it. But once you’ve added 15-25 pounds of natural muscle on to your frame, it’s time to start slowly experimenting with intensity techniques. This will help save your body in the long term.

Beginners. Push for more reps and weight on every set of every workout. This, along with eating like a madman, is the quickest route for packing on muscle mass. Once you can bench press over 200, squat and deadlift over 300, and have a solid year of training under your belt, you are no longer a beginner.

If you waste your time playing with intensity techniques, you will only be spinning your wheels.

Intermediates. An intermediate lifter is getting stronger, but eventually will hit strength and muscle mass plateaus. It will become very difficult to add even a few pounds on the bar, and new muscle mass will be extremely hard to come by.

Gradually, an intermediate lifter will need to experiment with advanced training techniques such as giant sets, rest-paused training, drop sets, slow negatives, etc.

An intermediate lifter moves from focusing on progression of strength, to focusing on progression of intensity. As progression of strength stalls, progression of intensity steps into its place.

Advanced. Advanced lifters are pretty much maxed out on weight and potential muscle mass. It may take years to pack on 1-2 pounds of extra muscle.

Because weight training is a marathon, and not a sprint, an advanced lifter will employ advanced intensity techniques that work for his/her body, and that promote lifting longevity.

To each is own. The only way to know what works for you is to experiment. Search out techniques that will allow you to train for the next 20-30 years with a low possibility of injury. But, you also want to train with techniques that allow for progression of intensity.

Conclusion. Get strong first, then train smart. High intensity techniques should not be used by beginning trainees. And on the same note, advanced lifters cannot continue to push for heavier weights without the body breaking down.


Think of training as a spectrum, with progression of weight on the left, and progression of intensity on the right. As you move from a beginner to an advanced bodybuilder, turn down progression of weight, and turn up the intensity.

Progression is the cornerstone of weight training. As a beginner, if you never progress in weight, you will never make progress. At an advanced level, if you continue to push for insane weights, it heightens the potential for injury.

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