EYC Podcast #13 Text Breakdown
Throughout my training, there have been times when I ask myself, should I progress to a more difficult exercise? Am I ready? Closer to when I began training, there was this persistent urgency to be able to perform the most advanced exercises. It was as if it was more important to perform them because I saw doing it, and it was more a me too attitude when I should have just been enjoying the process. Progression is a personal thing, however I do have some pointers that I picked up along the way that may help in your journey. One thing to note, is that you’ll have your strengths and weaknesses in different areas, and progression may take longer in one area, over another. For me, I’ve felt that progress in push-ups, and squats has been smoother, however back bridge, and pull-ups, for example, has been more difficult. The important thing is to acknowledge it, while also celebrating your strengths – it builds confidence, and puts everything else in perspective. Overall, I feel it’s about understanding where I am in the process, and ensuring that progress is being made, no matter how gradual.
Getting back to what I said earlier, I still watch a lot of videos on the elite level calisthenics practitioners, but I use them as inspiration, and to see what is possible, as opposed to constantly comparing my abilities to them, which is what I did a lot before. And I think that’s where that constant urgency came from. That urgency is not necessarily a bad thing because it drives you, but I found that it put all my focus into the future, as opposed to enjoying the now and appreciating where I was at. So before I get into some tips on progression, I want to emphasize – cherish where you are, enjoy the process, each step is there for a reason. Make the most of every one, because it will pay dividends as you progress
So, getting into it, how do I know when to progress? Should I regress? What do I really want? These are a few of the questions I’ve asked myself over the years and I’ve come up with some things that I’ve learned over time on how I approached progression, when I felt I could progress, or when I thought that I should regress for a while till I really felt I was ready to move on.
Just a note, when I speak of progression, I am referring to moving on to a more difficult variation in the chain. So for example, a close squat would be a progression to the standard bodyweight squat.
Understand HOW to Progress
It’s really important to understand what you need to do in order to get yourself to the next level – which is the essence of progressive calisthenics. Understand the concepts around progression, like leverage, weight-to-limb ratio – which by the way are the two concepts my last podcast focused on – incline, decline, range of motion, and how you can use these concepts to modify the exercises. These concepts are so important because they will allow you to tailor your routine to your skill level, and preferences. Similarly, it allows you to regress a progression, in that, if, for example, you find your regular pushups are coming along great, you feel confident, and you want to jump right into diamond pushups, but they prove to be too challenging – understanding leverage will allow you to gradually bring your hands closer together, as opposed to just jumping right into a variation that is too difficult. I feel it also provides a psychological benefit in that you are trying something new, and fresh, and you get the feeling of moving forward, which is so important in building confidence, and enjoying exercise. That being said, if it is the beginning for you, and you lack the experience and knowledge, there is nothing wrong with following a pre-set plan that someone else created in order to get yourself rolling. That’s what I did – I followed routines and exercises that other people made and, with time, the desire for me to learn about what I was doing grew.
It’s also important to get an idea of the variety of exercises that are available that you can work toward. Even if it isn’t necessarily something you are going to tackle right away. There are a ton of great resources out there on YouTube – BarStarzz, Al & Danny Kavadlo, which are a couple of resources that I’ve used a lot over the years, and of course, me – Elevateyourcraft – one of my main goals is to educate people on the power of bodyweight training, and progressive calisthenics. By getting a glimpse of the exercises that are available, it will open your mind as to how much is really out there, and hopefully get you excited, as it did me. I remember when I first saw the tiger bend pushup, my hair was blown back. I couldn’t believe something like that existed and from that moment I have been so excited to work toward it. Looking at what is possible might do the same for you. You can then look at these exercises and ask yourself, why is that a progression? What is happening to make that exercise more difficult. Asking those questions will help you put the principles of progression I mentioned earlier, into practice, and help provide a clearer picture of where you are, and where you want to be.
Understand HOW to Regress
Being able to make an exercise less difficult is also very important because there may be times when it is the best choice. For example, when you have progressed but can’t quite perform the exercise to your liking, you want to build strength in order to help tighten your technique in progressions etc. The principles I discussed previously still apply, so you would use leverage and weight-to-limb ratio, for example, to make an exercise less difficult. The focus of this podcast has been understanding progression, so you may ask why am I discussing regression? It’s valuable because not only does it give you more understanding of progressive calisthenics as a whole, but it will open up an entire arsenal of exercises that you can take advantage of in order to help you progress the way you’d like to.
The key is being able to recognize when it may be valuable to regress in a way that aids your progression and you can do that by asking yourself some questions like – How am I performing the progression? Is my technique suffering? Am I at risk of injury if I attempt this? Am I better off regressing the progression? – for example, if I feel like my pushups are solid and I want to try something a little more difficult, however I am unable to do close pushups on the floor yet, maybe I add an incline. That way I am still moving forward, however I’ve done it in a way that I feel works for me.
While I’m on regressions, they always have a place in a routine some of the areas that I take advantage of regressions are:
-Active recovery – I’ve had a hard workout a day or two before, but I still want to be active, so I’ll take it very light – regressions are great for that because you can drastically reduce difficulty, and feel the benefits of active recovery
-Lighter workout – this compliments active recovery – sometimes I just want to have a lighter workout – if I have a lot going on and I can only squeeze a small workout in, I’ll often use regressed variations to do so
-Emphasis on higher volume – based on your goals, you might want to put focus into endurance, or hypertrophy – if you want to perform higher reps, regressions will allow you to do this
-Practicing fundamentals – the fundamentals like pull-ups, push-ups, squats, bridges will always be there, and I will always continue to train them – no matter how much you advance, you always need to keep the fundamentals a part of your routine to keep a solid foundation
A key moment for me in realizing the importance of looking at the big picture and using regressions was at the PCC I attended in New York. During the squat portion of the weekend, I had a chance to gain valuable feedback on my pistol squat – the technique really wasn’t where I wanted to be, so I decided to step it back to assisted pistols, and a lot of elevated split squat work. Looking back, this was very valuable because, it now being a year later, my pistol squat technique has improved tremendously.
So, the idea is, don’t feel like you are slipping, or regressing overall if you include regressions in your routines – they are a valuable asset and can provide plenty of long-term gains
Keep a Workout Journal
This comes down to keeping a close eye on where you are overall – keeping track of your progress, and paying attention to the big picture. This is where the journal came in. When I kept one, I’d write everything from the actual routine I was doing, to how I was feeling that day. It gave me a clear picture of what I did previously, and helped a great deal in my progress early on. The dates gave me insight into how long it took me to progress, and in which areas. I saw where I needed to improve, where I was strong, and helped to keep track of what I needed to train so nothing was neglected. It also became pretty fun to do because I would come up with funky names for routines, keep words of encouragement, and reflect on how far I’d come.
It’s not something you have to do for the entirety of your training. It just offers so many benefits that I think anyone, especially beginners, would be wise to keep one. I don’t keep a journal anymore because I have such a deep understanding of my own training, and where I am at, but I don’t believe I would have been able to do that, at least as quickly, without a journal.
Experiment/Figure Out What Progress is For You
This is one of my favourite aspects of training – I love to try new things – I have so much fun trying new exercises, hand placements, foot placement, grips, speeds and much more. There are so many ways to modify your training and you can find out what you like best by experimenting. This is an important concept because not only does it keep things fresh, it helps you figure out how you want to progress. What is progress for you? In this podcast I’ve discussed progression based strictly on being able to move on to the next, more difficult variation in the chain, however there is more to progress than that. Maybe for you it is doing 5 more reps of a particular exercise, maybe it is being able to superset two different squat variations, maybe it’s simply reaching a certain point, and going into maintenance mode – there are so many possibilities, and that’s where experimentation comes in. Try different things, and you just might land on something that you really love to do. It’s about learning more about yourself, your body, your mind, how you react to training. Over time you will understand how you respond, and that is very important when looking to progress.