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Can I Get Stronger Without Lifting Heavier?

We have a very short question that warrants a very long answer today, so strap in......

Sarah asks,

“I'm training at home and don't have room for more equipment, how can I progress?”

This is a great question

And I think since Covid and lockdowns, I have more clients on my online training roster who train at home than I have in fully equipped gyms.

And as folks are reluctant to turn their house into a fully kitted out gym, we often run into issues.

Especially with our Sarah here,  because the lift she is specifically talking about is the Hip Thrust.

And the hip thrust can be seriously loaded up, it's not uncommon to see people repping over 100kgs on this lift.

So rather than buying a barbell set and storing it in the corner of your front room beside the telly, how else can we progress?

Progress comes in several flavours, load is just one of these.

What other flavours do we have?


Ie number of sets, number of reps per set or simply total number of reps across all sets, even the total number of reps accumulated in a week or month.

If I can achieve greater volume with the same load, I have progressed.

Rest periods.

If, for example, I do 3 sets of 10 push ups with 1 minute rests.

Then after a week or two, I manage those same 3 sets of ten but with only 30 second rests, I have progressed.


Or how quickly a rep is done.

This can be faster or slower depending on goals.

All lifts have 3 phases, plus a “bonus” fourth phase.

There is going with gravity, the lowering portion where muscles contract eccentrically, lengthening under load.

The amortisation phase where the direction of force changes direction, between the lowering and the lifting.

The lift against gravity where the muscles concentrically ie shortening under load.

And the “bonus” phase is the pause before lowering once again.

We often see this noted in an exercise program as a series of 3-4 numbers:

Squat, 5 x 5 at 3-3-X-0

This means 5 sets of Squats, 5 reps per set, each rep takes 3 seconds lower, hold the bottom for 3 seconds,  lift as eXplosively as possible,  no pause before the next rep.

I often program “3 second push ups” which would be a 3-0-3-0 tempo, three seconds down, 3 seconds up, no pauses. And yes, sometimes even longer than 3 seconds.

The opposite is fast reps of which the kettlebell ballistic lifts fit.

A kettlebell snatch cannot be lowered or paused at the amortisation phase.

So Snatch is 0-0-X-3, zero on the drop and amortised, explosive lift, 3 second pause before the next rep.

This is for explosive snatching rather than endurance GS style snatching.

There are many ways to play with tempo that will challenge you without needing more load.

Accommodating resistance

I'm using this term loosely to mean anything you strap onto the weight.

The most common tools are bands or chains.

A band can be set up to stretch as you lift adding load, or shorten to reduce load.

Chains gradually add load as they come off the floor.

This means if the hip thrust has reached the limit of our ability to load,  can I now set up a band to increase the “weight” as I lift as we can tolerate more load at the top.

Range of Motion:

If I can squat 100kg but only quarter squat it, let's use a box as a depth gauge to ensure all reps are consistent.

Then each week, or each time I hit a volume goal, we lower the box height slightly. Over time you will develop that 100 kg squat from a quarter squat to a full range squat.

This works great with bodyweight drills where its difficult to moderate load, try it with pistol squats.

And finally,  unilateral lifting.

This is actually what I have Sarah doing.

At home she performs single leg hip thrusts, and on the days she gets to a gym, she loads up and does two leg thrusts with greater load.

Single limb lifts are great, not only do they reduce the loading, but have the potential to help balance the strength in the limbs if they are different.  Say if coming back from injury for example.

The trick is to pace yourself off the weaker side.

If you can lift 20kg for 8 reps on the weak leg, then only do 8 reps with that 20kg on the stronger side.

As the weak leg gets stronger the difference between the two will close.

It's rare that the difference disappears completely, it's not necessary that it does.

We just don't want it to be too different.

Let's recap quickly using the Hip Thrust as our example:


Start with 3 sets of 3 reps. Volume = 9 reps

Add a set per week to 5 sets. Volume = 15 reps

Add a rep per week until hitting 5x5. Volume builds to 25 reps.

All with the same weight. Now we change a different parameter,  maybe start over with more load, or one of the following.

Rest periods:

Do 5 sets of 5 with 2 minute rests.

Each week reduce rest by 15 seconds to a minimum of 30 seconds,  then start over with more load.

Density- not mentioned above, a combination of the two.

Option 1: 30 reps total, done in multiple sets. Each week complete the 30 reps in gradually fewer sets.

Week 1: 10 x 3,

week 2: 8 x 4,

week 3: 6 x 5

And so on


Set a time limit,  eg 15 minutes.

Count how many reps you achieve in that time with whatever sets and rest periods. Each week try to squeeze in 1 or more additional reps by manipulating the sets or rest periods.


Slow down, fast up. Increase the pause at the bottom to remove the stretch reflex.

Accommodating resistance

Add bands across your hips as well as the weight. Have bands anchored down so as you thrust up, the bands stretch

Unilateral,  simply lift with one leg at a time.

It's as simple as that.

Slow reps are harder, less rest is harder, more reps is harder

So long as it's not easier and you're not doing anything stupid,  you're probably going to be alright.

If you'd like to know more about Online Training,  reach out,  I have limited availability but we may be a good fit.

If you have questions you'd like answered in future newsletters,  hit reply and send them in.

The only bad question is the one you don't ask.

And if you prefer video, subscribe to my YouTube channel where these emails become video...


Dave Hedges

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