Okay, so today I felt it particularly pertinent to discuss “Micro-Loading”. The reason being that I was recently in a “Skill Builder” session with some other Trainers that I work with, and I was shocked to find that none of them had heard of this method before!
That in itself kind of makes this a “double win” as I now have an opportunity to not only educate my proverbial ‘Students’ out there (those of you who read my articles and listen to my podcasts) and enable you to burst through potential plateaus in the gym; but also help my fellow ‘Masters’ brush up on some of the latest Training Methods, which will in turn help them to get better results with their Clients.
Now, this notion of Micro-Loading isn’t exactly new, and in fact, you can find plenty of articles on the subject. But to be fair to the Trainers who are *not* familiar with this – it’s not commonly covered in any of the curricula out there (be it degree-level [so, Sports Science for example] or through programs that offer Certifications to become a Personal Trainer).
However, the idea behind it is extremely simple: add very small amounts of weight to each exercise every time you go in and perform your workout. So, let’s say a Trainer has you doing NASM’s classic “Push/Pull/Legs” template as a workout regimen – you go in and *lift* at least three days per week…
First day you’re doing all Pushing/Pressing exercises [for UPPER body], second day you do all Pulling exercises [again for UPPER body], and the third day you do all LOWER body stuff (typically Legs *and* Abs/Core).
We’ll say you’ve committed to coming in on Mondays / Wednesdays / Fridays. Therefore, on Wednesday you’ll be doing your “Pull Workout”. You’re [almost] inevitably going to have Lat Pulldowns in this routine – and that’s good! It’s a classic, and certainly, if you can’t do Pull Ups, then this is the next best thing. Now, rather than illustrate every exercise in the workout, I’m just going to use Lat Pulldown as our example…
So, Week 1 you go in – let’s [again] assume you’re doing 3-4 Sets of 8-12 Reps (if you’ve read How Many Sets and Reps? – Understanding the Effects of Rep Range and Set Volume, you’ll know what this is conducive to). I would expect the average man to be starting with around 80-90lbs, and the average woman to be pulling about 40-50lbs.
Week 2… instead of attempting a huge increase of – say – 20lbs, you just go ahead and add about *5lbs*. Nothing too crazy! A 5lb increase to a Compound Exercise like Lat Pulldown is tiny, but in this case, very meaningful. Because come Week 3, you’re going to add another 5lbs. Then Week 4, you’ll add another 5lbs. To be fair, by Week 5 you might not try adding more weight, but hey, look at the last few weeks: you’ve just added a solid 15lbs to that one exercise! That represents about a 20-30% increase in Strength in barely ONE month!
Now apply the same method to other exercises… you’re going to see amazing gains in no time with this one! And keep in mind, you’re getting a double-whammy here [if you’re doing Hypertrophy Training], because you’re not only getting stronger, but in that Rep Range, you’ll be building a nice little bit of lean muscle mass too!
But let’s just be clear on something: while a 5lb [weekly] increase may be viable for Compound Exercises, it most certainly will be TOO much for Isolation Exercises such as Biceps Curl and Triceps Press (for example); though, perhaps not a problem for Leg Extension or Leg Curl, but basically, you just want to be cautious with the smaller muscle groups.
This is where the ‘Micro-‘ aspect really comes into play…
See, what you’ll read on most sites that cover the topic is to add just 2.5lbs at a time. And this is fine if you’re trying to gradually and safely increase your load on the Barbell Curl, but for bigger muscle groups and Compound moves, this really represents too small an increase in my books.
I’ve used Micro-Loading with virtually all of my Clients for the first month or two of their training, and it has been critical to getting their strength up to par in a way that is non-imposing (i.e. doesn’t seem like I’m pushing them too hard, too fast), and actually hugely rewarding as they then look back after just a couple of months and see that they’ve boosted their overall strength by about 50% since Day 1*!
*These types of gains are more typical with people who are new to lifting, so if you’re more experienced, expect slightly more conservative gains.
Every single Client I have used this Method with has seen impressive gains in both lean muscle and strength; but there’s one Client I had earlier this year (2018) that had simply extraordinary results! A lady who – to this day – has been the oldest client I’ve trained, and it has been a sheer pleasure watching her transform before my eyes!
At 71 years old (same age as my Mum), Jeanette had a proverbial “Square One” that was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. We had a Chest Press of just 5lbs. A Lat Pulldown of about 16lbs. And all exercises on her regimen had an extremely light starting point.
But hey, it’s not like she’d only been outta the gym for a few years, or even a decade or so – like so many others that I’ve trained; no… it had been about thirty years since Jeanette had last seen the inside of a gym! So, we had our work cut out for us.
Now, I will admit: Micro-Loading wasn’t the only method I used to build up her strength quickly. I also incorporated some basic Functional Training (using the TRX, namely), which married in perfectly with the rest of the lifting we were doing on the Weights Floor.
But let me just share with you the results from her first month (for Chest Press & Lat Pulldown):
Lat Pulldown | Week 1: 16lbs | Week 2: 20lbs | Week 3: 20lbs | Week 4: 24lbs
Chest Press | Week 1: 5lbs | Week 2: 10lbs | Week 3: 10bs | Week 4: 15lbs
In both cases, we kept the same weight in Week 3 [as Week 2], but ultimately, there was a 50% gain in strength for Lat Pulldown, and an insane *tripling* in strength on Chest Press!!
Other notable mentions include: Seated Row (doubled – 10kg to 20kg), Biceps Curl & Triceps Kickbacks (50% increase on each – 2 x 5lb dumbbells to 2 x 7.5lb ones!). And to illustrate the difference with Legs…
During Week 1 we did Leg Extension and Leg Curl (20lbs on each), but we promtply ditched both in favour of upgrading to the Leg Press, which she started at *80lbs*… After three weeks on Leg Press, she was pushing 120lbs! Again – a 50% increase in barely a month!
Hopefully, this highlights two things: first being how effective the method is. But second, and perhaps more importantly, that it does NOT matter how “late in the game” you start, you can still create change with your body when it comes to aesthetics, performance, and your overall health!
Oh… and after three months of Functional [TRX] Training blended with Micro-Loading on the Weights Floor and a good mix of Cardio (Stair Master, Rower, Bike, and Hill-work on the Treadmill), Jeanette is now out and about doing things with her kids and grand-kids that she never thought she’d be able to do [again].
So, that’s all for today’s post. If you’re new to lifting, then I hope this has given you some encouragement and that it enables you to see some great results out the gates! If you’ve been lifting for a while, then hopefully this may serve you as something of a Plateau-buster…
And if you’re a Trainer who hasn’t heard of Micro-Loading before, then I thoroughly recommend you try this with your Clients; your Value and “Stock” as a Trainer will go up (so… You’re Welcome!), but seriously, it never hurts to add some new tools to your arsenal!
In the meantime, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO