12 ways to progress without adding weight

I get it, you’ve been working out for a while and you made loads of progress at the start but things have started to slow down and you feel like you’ve reached a plateau.

Especially with everyone staying home as much as possible at the moment, it’s not always an option to “up the weight” to take your progress to the next level, and sometimes you don’t want to do that anyway for various reasons, maybe you’re not sure if you should or if you’d be able to control the weight.

Here are some ideas (and instructions of how to implement them) on how you can increase the benefits of your workout and make more progress. All of these methods can be used whether you’re using weights or doing bodyweight exercises. I will use the squat and push up as examples of each, if there’s an exercise you want to try but are unsure how to implement these techniques, send me a message and I’ll be more than happy to help.

📝Be aware of making adjustments if you are injured or if it will compromise your form – get in touch if you are unsure and we can chat through it and make sure you’re good to go.
📝Always give these options a go WITHOUT any extra weight to begin with to make sure your form stays tip top! 😉

1. Slow it down 🐢

With HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) , EMOMs (Every Minute On the Minute) and AMRAPs (As Many Reps/Rounds As Possible) being a major thing, it’s all too easy to rush through a workout, blasting through the reps to complete the most but, just like in every day life – sometimes – you’ll get more benefit by slowing down. Slowing down increases the time under tension; that means the amount of time a muscle is held under tension/strain during an exercise set is increased which leads to the muscle being used more, leading to increased muscle size and strength.

How to do it: Instead of a speedy down and up (or up and down/out and in/in and out), slow it down. At first, think about adding an extra second to the eccentric phase of the exercise (the part when the muscle is lengthening eg: lowering in a squat or push up). Extra time can also be added to the concentric part of the exercise (the hardest bit – standing up out of a squat or pushing yourself up in a push up).

2. Increase range of motion 📐

Adjusting the range of motion of each exercise is a great way to mix up your exercise routine. Increasing the range of motion forces the muscle to work harder with each rep and may help increase your flexibility and mobility too!

How to do it:
Squat example: I would always like to see people squat as close to parallel as possible (with your thighs parallel with the ground) but give a deep squat a try, get your “ass to grass” as it were… just make sure you maintain your form on the way back up – look ahead and push your knees out squeezing your glutes as you go (on a nice big exhale obviously!)
Push up example: Get your chest to the ground (or chair/wall/box/bed) and make sure you push yourself fully up, stop just short of your elbows locking out.

3. Half reps

Half reps are kind of the opposite of the previous point, they force you to add a cheeky bit extra. Half reps are exactly that, you stop half way before returning to the start point – they don’t allow the muscle to relax at all during the movement. Usually, at the end of the full range of motion the muscle relaxes a little, with half reps, this isn’t an option.

How to do it:
Squat example: From standing, squat down to just above parallel and explosively stand back up again.
Push up example: Similarly to the squat, from the top of the push up position, lower to half way (elbows bent not quite at 90 degrees) and push back up.

4. Add a pause ⏸️

Add a pause to each rep by holding at the “bottom position” (the part where you have to put effort in to hold – such as the fully curled part of a bicep curl). This technique can be added to the start of an exercise, known as isometric pre-fatigue – tire the muscle a bit before you start, at the end for a final burn or mid set just to mix it up a bit! 😉

How to do it:
Squat example: Pause in the thighs parallel to the ground position for a second before standing back up.
Push up example: Pause for a second in the position where your elbows are bent at 90 degrees before pushing back up.

5. 1½ reps

This technique combines points 2 and 3. Complete a full rep followed by a half rep. Maybe mix it up and alternate the half reps to the top half or bottom half each time (the top half being that mentioned above in point 3, and the bottom half being at the lowest part of the move, in the squat, get yourself into the bottom of the squat position (on the inhale) and stand back up, but only half way – DO NOT STAND UP COMPLETELY before going back down for the next rep).

6. Add a jump 🦘

Adding plyometrics into your workout can provide a lot of bang for your buck. It helps increase power as well as strength and can also help improve your balance.

How to do it:
Squat example: Explosively jump up out of the bottom of the squat position, land softly (letting your knees be slightly bent on landing to reduce the impact) and go straight back into the squat.
Push up example: This is a tricky one – use power to push up and allow your hands to briefly leave the ground/surface before softly landing and going into another push up. Maybe practice this one on a higher surface to start with until you’re sure you’ve got the technique right.

7. Finish with pulses 💗

When you’ve finished your usual workout, you may think you’re completely done BUT finishing with pulses shows that you probably do have something left in the tank! Once you’ve done with the full moves, add in some quick teeny-tiny reps at the end – pulse it out (in the toughest position) until you can’t go on any more.

8. Use a band

Resistance bands are a great way to increase the difficulty of exercises by adding in…you’ve guessed it…extra resistance! There are a range of different types of resistance bands available, here are some examples:
Mini bands – good for putting around your feet/ankles/thighs to add lateral resistance. Try getting into a squat position and doing some side steps with and without a band and feel the difference. Try the bands around different parts of your legs to see what you prefer. “Booty bands” made from a woven material can be used in a similar way.
Full length bands – These are a long loop of elasticated band. Full length bands are great to use in place of weights if you’re short of space, use them in a similar way to a cable/pulley machine. Loop them around a fixed pole and use for rows, pulls and Pallof presses. Stand on one part and use them for presses and upright rows or hold it out in front of you to perform some band pull-aparts. A great piece of kit that I love to have on hand – they can also be used for assisted pull ups!
Bands with handles – These are open ended resistance bands with (usually) foam handles that can be clipped onto the ends by means of a karabiner clip. The handles on these resistance bands make them a little more comfortable than the full length bands and they can be used in a similar way (although not for the assisted pull ups). I find that although you can stand on the middle of it they are better hooked around a stable object so you can get enough distance and therefore enough resistance. – This might not be a problem if you are taller than me (I’m 5′ 7″), or maybe look for some that are a little shorter.

If you want to purchase resistance bands, here are a few links to ones I have used/heard good things about:
Mini bands: https://amzn.to/3gSmyPK*
Booty bands: https://amzn.to/31cquW6*
Full length bands: https://amzn.to/3gRlADq*
Bands with handles: https://amzn.to/3ePr6Vx*

9. Stand on one leg

Seriously! Challenging your balance increases the amount of muscle recruited to perform the exercise, your core gets an additional workout with this no matter what the exercise as it’s the part that kicks in to stop you from falling over!

How to do it:
Squat example: Use a chair/sofa/step initially. Sit down and holding one leg out straight – or at least off the ground…stand up! Keep the leg lifted as you sit back down. To progress, try and just tap the seat behind you (rather than sitting down completely), gradually lower the seat until you can do it without any additional support. You can also use a wall/door frame/TRX for balance with this one, go for the one-legged squat but support yourself using your hands, to progress this further, gradually use less and less assistance from your hands.
Push up example: This is a real toughie if you choose to go single-handed. Start against a wall and when you are strong enough get lower and lower until you are in a full push up position (this requires a super strong core!). Another way of challenging your balance in a push-up is to do it with a single leg, hook one leg behind the other and perform your push-up as usual – try your best to keep your body in a straight line because your body will most likely want to twist to one side.

10. Less rest

Complete all your reps and sets with less rest in between. As well as getting the strength benefits – you get your workout over with more quickly!

11. Adjust your base

Similarly to point 9 (standing on one leg), you can change your base of support to challenge your balance and to recruit different muscles.

How to do it:
Squat example: Try narrow squats (legs close), sumo squats (legs wide) and split squats (legs staggered or even rear foot elevated)
Push up example: Try narrow push ups, diamond push ups, wide push ups, off balance push ups (staggered arms) or even try with one hand elevated on a surface/ball.

12. Change your grip

If you are lifting weight, you can try changing the size of the grip to get extra benefits. Special wide grips are available, like these Fat Gripz® –> https://amzn.to/2ZjF5wn* or you could use something like a towel wrapped around the dumbbells/kettlebells/whatever you’re using (JUST BE SUPER CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T DROP IT!)

*I am an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases