The Principles of Progression and Regression
A progression increases the difficulty of the movement, and regressions makes it easier – simple, right?
While the terms ‘progression’ and ‘regression’ are pretty black and white, the actual application of these is a grey area – an area that depends on many variables in the context of the training conditions.
You may have a client who can perform the top-level movements; but over the course of the year you decide to utilise different phases of training or tools to keep the client progressing and training varied. There may be times where you take a client from a Deadlift to a Block Pull – typically classed as a regression due to the decreased ROM – but if at the same time you increase the load, is it a regression or a progression?
These sorts of complexity will often come into play during your coaching career. It’s important to understand that there will always be a trade-off when selecting exercises; as the coach it’s essential we understand the rationale behind any of the choices we make.
There are various methods available for applying movement regressions and progressions: here are some scenarios and their corresponding approaches.
Adjusting exercise difficulty
The workout for the day prescribes push-ups. When it comes to the push up section of the workout, the coach instructs the client to perform push-ups from the barbell elevated in the rack. The client performs the reps but is struggling to keep positioning around the mid-section on the concentric phase. After providing the client with some cues to help this, there is still no improvement. The coach then moves the barbell slightly higher in the rack and the client is able to maintain the correct position.
Managing training stressors
Barbell Deadlifts are programmed but the client mentions their low back feels tired, sore and stiff today, so the coach decides to choose to use an RDL instead. Less ROM and lower loads used can reduce the amount of stress while still training the hinge pattern.
The coach prescribes a Barbell Squat. After a few sets in and some coaching cues they don’t seem to be hitting proper depth. The coach changes the movement to a Box Squat to give them feedback on depth. This helps to embed the ROM a client should use.
Matching movement to ROM
During the client’s assessments it has been highlighted that they have limited ROM overhead. The programme prescribes a DB Overhead Press, but the coach switches this for a landmine press. This allows the client to work in a ROM they’re comfortable with, while still working through a similar movement pattern.
There may be times you need to take a client away from a movement pattern completely due to injury or other reasons, to help them progress. If this is just a temporary solution to work around a short-term injury then the long term goal should be to develop the client’s ability to perform the assigned movement pattern.
If a client has a long-term injury that prevents them from performing a specific movement pattern, you may choose what we call a lateralization of the movement. This is where we look at the movement of the joints involved, then find movements that will enable us to elicit a positive training effect whilst working around the injury. An example of this may be a client who is unable to hinge. To still build the posterior chain we select variations of hip thrusts and hip dominant single leg variations which they can perform pain free.
Understanding the ‘why’
When taking a client through a progression or regression, what is most important is that you select a variation which is suitable for their current movement and strength levels. Adjusting movements should always have a “why” behind it that you can clearly communicate to the client and are able to provide the rationale behind it.
Coaching movements within a programme is an ongoing process. There will be times clients require different movements for various reasons; various training phases may require different approaches; and there are many ways we as coaches can go about modifying movement patterns.