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Trouble Progressing Your Strength Training? Step Loading May Be The Answer!

dr. caleb muscles performance physical therapy strength training Mar 09, 2023

Does this sound familiar? You’re strength training, and you’re trying to make every set harder on yourself because that’s what gets you stronger; right? Either you’re trying to increase weight, add more sets, or add more repetitions per set, but you can’t seem to make much progress, you’re hitting plateaus, or, even worse, you may have incurred an injury from this style of training. 


Enter Step Loading.


In a nutshell, step loading is an extremely simple strength training protocol that anyone can follow. Some of the main benefits of this style of training include: 

  1. Ease of tracking progress objectively
  2. Rarely needing to push training into extreme intensities
  3. Safely progressing because it allows for gradual progressive overload of tissues


So, how does it work? 

1. First, an individual picks a set and rep range based on their goals. Example: A powerlifter wishes to improve their barbell back squat and chooses a set and rep range of 3-5 sets with 3-5 repetitions per set because this scheme is best suited for strength improvement.

2. Next, an individual picks a desired starting weight. Example cont: Although difficult, the powerlifter is able to perform 3 repetitions of a barbell back squat with 225 lbs and good form so this is the starting weight.

3. Next, the athlete starts with the lowest amount of sets and reps. Example cont: The lifter begins with the barbell back squat at 3 sets of 3 repetitions with 225 lbs. 

4. Next, keeping the resistance constant, attempt to progress the number of setsExample cont: Every workout after this, the athlete attempts to progress to 4 sets of 3 then 5 sets of 3 at whatever pace is most tolerable. 

5. After the maximum number of sets is reached, restart with the lowest number of sets and begin progressing the number of repetitions per setExample cont: The athlete is now able to perform 5 sets of 3 repetitions at 225 lbs and then progresses to 3 sets of 4 repetitions per set, then 4 sets of 4 repetitions per set, and so on.

6. This process continues until the maximum number of sets AND reps per set in the desired scheme is achieved with the same weight. At this point the weight can be increased. Example cont: The athlete is now able to perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions at 225 lbs and increases the weight to 235 lbs. 

7. At this final point, the set and rep scheme restarts with the new weight. 


Below is a table showing the progression with a constant weight or load working from left to right and from top to bottom. 


This method is extremely safe, easy to progress, and gives the body time to adapt to the gradually increasing loads. An athlete can remain at any tier of the rep and set scheme for as long as they like, or as long as it takes to progress to the next tier. 


Give it a shot and reap the strength gains.


Also, if you’re in the Atlanta area struggling with any sort of injury limiting you from doing the things you love, give Athletes' Potential a call at 470-355-2106 or fill out a contact request form and we will reach out to you. 


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Yours in health, 


Dr. Caleb 

Let us help you figure out to live your best active life today! 

 Remember, Movement is Medicine! 

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