3 Ways to Increase Exercise Difficulty without Adding Weight

In William Kraemer’s book, ‘Optimizing Strength Training’, he defines the progressive overload principle asthe gradual increase of training stress placed on the body during any physical training program, including resistance training.  Once an athlete adapts to the demands of a specific training program, if the athlete does not adjust some element of the program to make the training more difficult to perform, then continued adaptations, such as continued increases in strength, will not occur.

Every training program that is designed to get you feeling better, moving faster, and looking good naked, should encompass the progressive overload principle.  

You can’t do the same thing every day in the gym and expect to keep seeing improvements.  Your body will adapt and you need to continually progress.

An oversimplification to this rule would be just to gradually increase weight every week on an exercise.  However, we know this is not possible as eventually you can only increase it by so much.

As a coach, there are other means to helping my clients and athletes see improvements.  I can’t just simply say “add more weight”.  This is not only unrealistic, but I’d probably lose a lot of business by just continuing telling people to grab heavier weights.

Below are three ways that I’ve learned to increase the difficulty of exercises by not adding weight. This allows for variety, prevention of staleness, and for my clients to continually see improvements.



When performing an exercise, all exercises have a series of steps or phases that happen to complete each repetition.  For example, if I’m performing a push-up, here are the four phases:

·     Phase 1: Holding my body up with arms straight and body off the ground.

·     Phase 2: Lowering my body down to the ground (eccentric phase)

·     Phase 3: Transition from lowering down to pressing back up

·     Phase 4: Pressing my body back up to the starting position (concentric phase)

By manipulating one of those phases or even all of them, I can increase the difficulty of each rep without adding weight.  Try this: Get into a push-up position, lower your body down on a 4 second count (count to 4 as you lower down), then press your body back up.  Simply doing this increases the muscular tension being used which can make a simple exercise that much harder.  



In my facility, we are equipped with a few tools that you may not see in a regular health club. Sandbags and kettlebells are a few that pop into my head quickly.  To make our workouts more creative and more difficult, we tend to use these tools when performing fundamental exercises.   

Take sandbags and squats for instance.  Our sandbags range from 20 pounds to 70 pounds; however, they can be made to be a lot larger. Hold the sandbag in your arms as if you were holding a baby and start performing squats.  One step further is to perform Sandbag Bear Hug Squats. Squeeze the sandbag into your chest with one side of the sandbag pointed up and other one down.  




There are many forms of density training.  One of my favorite forms is by performing your same workout but enforcing and possibly lowering your rest periods between sets.  When designing a proper training program, you should adhere to certain rest periods, however a lot of times, people tend to just go whenever their ready to go again.  

Let’s say you have a workout that’s designed to take 45 minutes.  Now do that same workout in 30 minutes.  This will force you to work quicker and watch how long you rest in between sets.  There are a few exceptions to this rule especially when lifting heavier weights but for most people, if we can decrease the duration of our training without changing the workload we are performing, we can see drastic improvements.




These are some of my favorite ways of increasing difficulty.  We use these in my facility and get great results.  As much as I’m for people getting stronger and adding weight to the bar, we must be smarter on how we utilize progressive overload.  



Cornell HuntComment