How to make fast strength gains with micro loading

If your goal is to build muscle and you're a beginner I have one piece of advice:

Get STRONG!

Download a free strength training program and follow it to the t. 

micro loading

As a beginner, you have ONE goal: Get strong!

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Luckily for you, as a beginner, strength gains will come fast:

Every session you can expect to get a little stronger.

You'll feel like superman, souring around Metropolis.

But all good things come to an end.

Eventually, you'll need to face the reality that you can't continually add 10lbs to your bench every single workout. 

The truth is:

The stronger you get, the more difficult it is to make progress.

As a beginner, you can add weight to the bar every session.

As an intermediate lifter, you'll have to scale this back to every 1-2 weeks.

And advanced lifters will be lucky to add weight to the bar once every month. 

Fortunately, there is a way to keep adding weight to the bar:

With a little technique called micro loading

Today, I'll explain what it is, how to progress with it, and why it isn't a perfect solution for everybody. 

I've also created an awesome bonus guide:

It will show you how to use micro-loading as a beginner to double your bench, squat, and deadlift. 

You can download it below:


What is micro loading?

Micro loading is a method of progression:

Instead of adding 5-10lbs per session, you're able to make smaller jumps.

There are three different sizes of fractional plates:

  1. 0.25kg (0.5kg pair)
  2. 0.5kg (1kg pair)
  3. 1.25kg (2.5kg pair)

The smaller increments made with micro loading has a few advantages:

  • Mental benefits: If you're struggling to progress with 5-10lb jumps, then fractional loading is an easy alternative. There is a huge psychological component too; If you've been stuck on a 225 (100kg) bench for a month and can't seem to budge it, you might be facing a mental roadblock. A small series of PR's can help you gain confidence again and give you time to work up to a bigger PR. 
  • Recovery benefits:  Novice programs like starting strength are great, but they are tough on recovery.  Fullbody workouts are no joke for beginners, and it can be a daunting task to continually add 5lbs every session. Instead of making huge jumps, you can use micro loading. This will help you maintain good rep quality while progressing at a slower rate. 

Is it a good way to build strength?

micro loading

It's often debated whether or not micro loading is a good way to build strength.

Many argue that progression is too slow with fractional plates, but I would disagree. 

You see, slow progress is still progress.

Slow progress is still progress.

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 The more pertinent question, is whether or not micro-loading is optimal for your goals:

  • If your goal is to recomp and gain strength then micro loading is perfect for you. When you're trying to accomplish fat loss and muscle growth simultaneously, strength progression is much slower.  This will vary between lifts, for example it's much easier to add weight to the squat vs the bench press.  The bench press is an exercise that is largely correlated with increases in bodyweight. As a result, it's an uphill battle to get strong whilst staying the same weight. 
  • If your goal is to milk linear progression then micro loading is a great way to keep adding weight session to session without failing reps. 
  • If you're a female athlete then micro loading is an effective way to build muscle.  
  • However, If your goal is to build muscle/strength as quickly as possible then micro loading isn't for you. Simply put, there are far more efficient ways to build strength.  Periodising your training and optimising nutrition should be your number one priority.  You'll gain strength much faster by lean bulking and following an intermediate program than trying to milk a novice program. 


Micro loading progression

Progression is relatively simple with micro loading.

You have two options:

  • The double progression model: Once you've hit the top end of the rep range e.g. 3-5, you add 1-2 lbs.
  • Straight sets: Once you can comfortably perform the same weight for all sets e.g. 5x5, you add 1-2 lbs.

Let's use reverse pyramid training and the double-progression model as an example:

Your first set should be 3-5 repetitions

Your second set should be 5-8 repetitions

Your final set should be 8-10 repetitions

Workout 1:

Set 1: 180 lbs x 3 reps

Set 2: 162.5 lbs x 6 reps

Set 3:  145 lbs x 10 reps (increase by 2 lbs (1kg)

Workout 2:

Set 1: 180 lbs x 4 reps

Set 2: 162.5 lbs x 8 reps (increase by 2lbs (1kg)

Set 3:  147.5 lbs x 7 reps

Workout 3:

Set 1: 180 lbs x 6 reps (increase by  5lbs (2.5kg)

Set 2: 165 lbs x 7 reps

Set 3:  145 lbs x 9 reps

Useful resources:

  1. Straight sets vs super-sets (By Jason) 
  2. Weight training progression (By Jessie)

Tips for progressing 

[Photo credit: Home Water Softener Reviews]


#1 Hit your desired reps before adding weight 

Don't be too gung-ho with micro loading.

Adding weight too often will have a negative effect on rep quality and might lead to recovery issues.

#2 Don't use weight increments that are too low 

It's tempting to take micro loading to the extreme. But don't.

Fractional plates have their place in training but they make for slow progression.

Stick to the 1-2lb plates.

Anything lower isn't worth your time.

#3 Make sure you use the same bar

A potential issue with micro loading is that the small jumps can easily be offset.

If you change the bar you use, or use different plates, it can easily throw off the small change in weight.

This can be avoided by using the same bar every time you train. 


Are you masking a bigger problem?

Micro loading is a great technqiue to boost strength.

However, if you need to rely on fractional plates as a beginner/intermediate then you might be masking a bigger problem. 

The pitfalls of linear progression

Linear progression is perfect for beginners...

You don't need complex periodization, or fancy rep/set schemes.

All you need to do is add weight to the bar every session and you'll gain strength and size.

However, this isn't sustainable in the long run.

If it was, you would see humans benching 2000+ pounds with a few years of training. 

And here lies the pitfall of linear progression. 

You can't expect to milk it forever. 

Sure, you can use micro loading to squeeze a bit more out of your novice gains.

But is this the most optimal way to progress?

I would argue it isn't. 

Most novices get caught up on the intermediate strength standards.

They see the 225 bench and 315 squat as a barrier to entry.

In reality, these are rough guidelines and linear progression is a spectrum.

On one end you have people who are hyper-responsive to training and can milk linear progression well past the intermediate phase (and even into the advanced stages). 

These people are few and far between- but they do exist. Think world-class powerlifters and guys who deadlift 405lbs the first time they pick up the bar (elite genetics).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have guys with average to below average genetics: 

They burn out on linear progression much sooner and need to hop onto an intermediate program to see continued progress. 

In addition to genetics, you also need to consider anthropometry.

A guy with short, t-rex arms may be able to milk linear gains for the bench but struggle with the deadlift.

*Key takeaway: Instead of trying to milk novice gains, jump on a well written intermediate strength training program- you'll see faster strength and muscle gains.

Useful resources:

  1. A review of grey skull linear progression (By Izzy)
  2. The fallacy of linear progress (By Brian)

Minimalist training

What about guys who plateau in the intermediate stages of training?

Well, they make similar mistakes to the novice.

But instead of trying to milk linear progression, they run minimalist training programs with low volume and expect to keep progressing. 

This is problematic because volume is the main driver of muscle growth. 

Micro loading will only take you so far.

If your volume is too low, and you're lazy with accessory training, you'll see very slow progress, if any.

*Key takeaway: Increase your volume, and start adding accessory work. 

Recovery

Perhaps the biggest mistake I see intermediate lifters make,  is not prioritising recovery. 

As a beginner, you can get away with sub-par recovery.

But as an intermediate lifter you can't. 

You need to stay on top of your nutrition and sleep a minimum of 6-8 hours per night. 


Bonus: How to use micro loading as a beginner to increase your squat, bench, and deadlift by 100%


Conclusion 

Micro loading is a solid strength training technique but it isn't for everyone. 

Before you incorporate it into your training, you need to consider a few things...

First, you need to assess why you're plateauing:

  • Is it because you're trying to milk linear progress?
  • Is it because you're running an ineffective minimalist program? 
  • Is your recovery poor?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to fix it.

The second factor to consider, is your goals.

Fractional loading is perfect for recomping, milking linear gains, and for female athletes.

But if you're trying to gain as much strength as possible, look elsewhere.

Purchase a well written strength training program (like size, symmetry, strength) or download a free one. 

And make sure your recovery is exceptional.

You'll make all the gains in the world following these tips.

Now, it's over to you!

Do you plan on using micro-plates?

Let me know in the comments below:

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