Progression and Regression

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I’ve been learning more about strength training and physical fitness.  I have a bit of a personal remodeling experiment going on, and one of the concepts I encountered in physical fitness is the idea of Progression and Regression. 


What that means is that you take a point, for example, doing a pull-up, (I can’t do a pull-up, but I would like to do some exercises that are based on the ability to do a pull-up) and imagining what parts are involved, then working backward several stages to a simpler version, until you come up with something you can do, and that feels like work.  This allows us to start at a doable place and then move forward from there.


Once we get to the pull-up, then we can move forward to more complex, demanding or skillful movements. 


Imagining the goal and working backward to a doable starting place is Regression.


Progression is adding complexity or load to a doable activity.


The idea is that you can take something that’s too hard for you and then just step back, and step back, until it’s a bite-size enough piece that you can work with it.


What I find exciting about this idea is that it applies not only to strength training but to any difficult thing. 


For instance, I was thinking about doing webinars on health subjects, and that’s a bit daunting for me, being somebody who likes to sit quietly at home at their computer or engage in one-on-one conversations.  


But I thought, “Well, how do I regress a webinar to something that is a little more bite-size, a little less daunting?”.  So, I came up with an idea for that (Tea Time Chats with Roselie…coming soon!).


Getting back to the exercise piece–I find it interesting how physical fitness has a bit of a different mindset, but also marries really well with therapeutic movement, like physical therapy. 


Any exercise, the pull-up for example, can be regressed all the way back to the starting point of pain and immobility, then progressed from there.  In physical therapy you would call this a ‘graded return to activity’ instead of Progression but it’s the same concept.  You’re taking a starting point and then gradually building on it.


That’s the part I get excited about.  That you can start at any point at all, and through diligent application of a bite sized piece, move in the direction of your choice.


This is useful because we might see something and not even name it as a goal because it seems too impossible.  But, if it’s something we want, we can take tiny steps in that direction. 


Rather than attempting to scale a cliff that’s too big and just falling off, we can take a tiny step and see that we took the tiny step and celebrate it.  Then take another tiny step and congratulate ourselves for taking that tiny step…and keep taking tiny steps.  Which is pretty much what all of our progress in life is.  


For the most part we don’t scale a cliff in one go, it’s just a series of tiny steps that require some work and some discomfort but if we look at them we can see that we’re moving in a direction.


When we do this with our body we’re not just gaining physical ability, but gaining a mental ability and a confidence as well.  I’m finding in my own exercise odyssey that there is a mental ability developing and part of that is simply learning how to show up, and gaining the confidence that I can do the thing.  The other part is paying attention to the technique and learning how to do the action. 


Rather than a fit person becoming more fit, or a person getting out of pain, both of these can be linked. 
A person in pain can envision a far away fitness goal and go all the way from pain and immobility to becoming quite powerful.  


In many ways this could work better, because one reason people keep sliding back into pain is that they stop the progression too soon.  This happens because the person in pain just wants the pain to go away, and is happy to settle for modest activity without pain.  This is understandable, but it might serve them better to set a more ambitious goal.  Even if you only make it halfway to the goal, you’ll still be miles away from being in pain.





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