Why “Progressions” is a Terrible Term

I’ve never loved the term “progressions” because it implies that you move past one thing in favor of another, encouraging a mountain-like steady, uninterrupted climb, and that’s simply not how fitness works.

The smartest athletes understand that there is really no such thing as constant linear progression when it comes to movement selection, and that we’re at our most successful when we when we allow ourselves to access all forms of a movement progression.

I think that a lot of us get too caught up in feeling the need to “graduate” from a particular movement.

“The dumbbell press is only for beginners, I learned them already so I’m not doing that.”

This is a conversation that undoubtedly occurs in a lot of folk’s heads, and it would be a very large mistake to think this way.

A glaring example of this is Coach Pritz, one of the stronger members of our gym, who still uses dumbbells for almost all of his overhead work because shoulder mobility ain’t really his thing.

Progressions and regressions are not better or worse, they are just simply correct for your current body type and movement needs.

Here are some common examples.


The reason we prescribe the dumbbell to teach a lot of movements is because it is far less restrictive than a barbell.

It’s simple. One hand holding something creates a lot more freedom of shoulder joint movement then two hands (because your torso can rotate).


The DB snatch is an easier movement to learn than a barbell snatch.  Same with the DB push press versus the barbell push press. The main reason being we don’t have to worry about poor shoulder mobility preventing an overhead lockout.

Here are a few DB movements that we teach to beginners, yet are also among my personal favorites to perform still to this day.

  • DB Snatch – I’d argue there isn’t anything better for explosiveness.
  • DB Front Squat – A much more challenging loading set-up than the barbell front squat.
  • DB Push Press – Better at creating joint strength.
  • DB Cleans – An explosive cousin to the hang version, also the added benefit of bicep hypertrophy.

The DB snatch is among both my favorite movements in all of fitness. Truth be told, I think it’s far better than the barbell snatch when it comes to functionality and producing physical results.

They all force us to stabilize much more than the barbell. We also get more range of motion, more unilateral strength development, and often times a much more accessible power output.

We’re not bogged down by the technicalities so we can just explode and move freely.

The barbells allow us to go heavier which is where we develop near maximal strength, a hugely beneficial training range for a number of goals. But not everything we do in the gym is about maximal.

In fact, most of it isn’t.

Submaximal is where we let ourselves express strength, but day-to-day improvement and building is done with effective movements that include dumbbell training for speed, explosiveness, stability and single side strength.

You can still go very heavy with the dumbbells. Just because it’s a different tool, doesn’t mean your approach on how to use it changes.


I don’t care how long you’ve been training, if your mobility sucks then you need to be open to progressions. Folks who refuse to adapt to their immobility are the ones who get hurt and give functional fitness a bad name.

Own your developmental needs and understand that just because something is a “regression”, does not make it an inferior choice despite the terminology. We have to think differently about this.

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I like to think as most all progressions as lateral options, not vertical.

You may be strong, but if you can’t move your shoulders well, your strength will not change the fact a split jerk could cause more harm than good. The point of training is not to add capability to poor function, it’s to address the dysfunction, then add to it.

Another good example of this is the wrist. Wrist injuries are common in San Diego. We are an active community and when people take a spill surfing, biking, skating and skiing, they brace that fall with their wrist. It’s a joint we have to very often prescribe around in the gym.

Barbells aren’t going to work for you if you have a bad wrist.

Dumbbells will.

Here are more

This list goes on and on, but I believe you get the picture.

Some movements are ideal to teach the novice, but those same movements also carry lots of benefits for the experts.

Be open to all routes of improvement. Don’t throw away tools. Learn how and when to use them for your progress.

Dave Thomas Performance360Dave Thomas is an owner and coach at Performance360.

Performance360 was founded in 2011 and is home to the Type P. With two locations in Pacific Beach, P360 has three times been a finalist for Best Gym in San Diego.