How to Continually See Progress in the Gym

Build muscle and see progress after workout by using these tips.

Progress isn’t always linear. In fact, unless you’re a novice lifter, progress may be fairly stagnant at times. You’re not always going to be blessed with noobie gains. The kind of gains someone makes when they just start lifting and can get basically get bigger just by looking at a set of dumbbells. 

The longer you train, the harder it is to see progress. And as you mature into your training age, the more important the details of your training become to elicit adaptation. 

Here are some proven methods you can incorporate into your program to continually see progress in (and out of) the gym. 


While working out is obviously better than doing nothing, it lacks any clear direction. You mosey around the gym looking for something to do without any clear goals. Training, on the other hand, implies each of your workouts act as “building blocks” to your ultimate goal. In order to understand which goals you should be setting and to add meaning to your workouts, you can use indicator exercises. 

Indicator exercises or indicator lifts are movements you use to gauge your progress overtime. They tell you whether or not your program is actually working! If you can lift heavier weight or successfully complete more reps overtime, then you’re doing something right. If not, it may be time to revaluate your approach to training. 

Why You Should Use Indicator Exercises

  • Performance-based goals lead to aesthetic-based outcomes. Training to perform better will ultimately make you look and feel better. 
  • They give intent to your workouts. That alone, will spark a fire under your ass and breed new life into your training. 
  • They give you direction. No more wandering around the gym trying to figure out what you’re doing next or which machine you’re going to use as a seat warmer. You’ll know which exercises you should be doing because they should only be ones that benefit your indicator lifts.
  • They increase the intensity of your workouts. Indicator exercises give you something clear to train for and, as a result, increase the intensity of your workouts. 

How to Choose Your Indicator Exercises

Pick 3-4 lifts for your indicator exercises. As Joe DeFranco recommends, it’s ideal to use upper and lower body movements. This stops you from deviating too heavily into one direction of training and allows for a more well-rounded program. 

Your indicator exercises don’t have to be the major barbell lifts, either. On the contrary, most people would find benefit in using joint-friendlier alternatives when setting strength goals in the gym. 

At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to choose your indicator lifts. But here are some suggestions to help you get the ball rolling. 

Examples of Upper Body Indicator Exercises

  • Chin-Up
  • Bench Press
  • Floor Press

Examples of Lower Body Indicator Exercises

  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Box Squat
  • Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Once you determine which indicator exercises you’ll use to gauge the success of your program, it’s relatively easy to decide which exercises to do throughout your program. Just pick the ones that will improve your indicators. 


An exercise’s range of motion is determined by the distance your joints are moving during the lift. This has direct implications on the amount of time your muscles are under load or stress during an exercise and, as a result, can significantly affect how your body responds. 

Not all range of motions were created equal. If you can’t do full ROM biceps curls with 20lb dumbbells, it’s probably not a great idea to let ego take over and do ¼ reps with the 40’s. Often times, simply reducing the weight you’re lifting and performing an exercise through it’s full intended range of motion will elicit the muscle adaptation you’re looking for. 

That said, a greater range of motion doesn’t always mean a better range of motion. Sometimes, partial reps can be very beneficial from a hypertrophy and strength perspective. 

You can use partial reps by reducing the ROM of an exercise in order to overload a portion of the lift or place greater emphasis on a particular muscle group. A few examples include:

  • High box squats to increase lockout strength in the back squat and quad development.
  • Floor presses to increase lockout strength in the bench press and triceps development. 
  • Rack pulls to increase lockout strength in the deadlift. 
  • Partial overhead dumbbell presses to emphasize the delts.

Most people complaining about not seeing progress in the gym are the same ones who have a “broken record” training program. They do the same shit day after day, week after week, year after year. 

A simple and highly effective way to continually elicit muscle adaptation is to introduce various ranges of motion throughout your program.


Pairing exercises together into a superset (two exercises performed back to back) or even a tri-set (three exercises performed one after the other) offers great benefits, including:

  • Time management. Accomplish more work in your training session. 
  • General conditioning. Supersets and tri-sets are proven ways to improve your overall conditioning. 
  • Added mobility work. I know, you’d rather read the dictionary in it’s entirety than do mobility or stretching. I get it. That’s why pairing mobility drills in between your lifting sets might be something to consider. You’re going to be resting anyways, so you can kill two birds and get some necessary mobility in. You’ll feel better and you’ll recover better. Both of which are pretty damn important if you want to lift and build muscle. 
  • Muscle development. This one should be obvious. And there are a ton of ways you can organize your supersets and trisets to see continuous progress and battle the monotony of your stale workouts. Read my article on Best Supersets to Build Muscle for some ideas. 


The longer you train, the harder it becomes to see progress. Use these strategies throughout your program to battle stagnation in the gym and to continually elicit muscle adaptation. 

Dan North
Dan North is a personal trainer and strength-and-conditioning specialist in Toronto. He writes for several fitness publications and keeps up with his own blog.