Since the 1960s, tonnage has been recognized as a tool the Russian weightlifters were using to gauge how much weight they were lifting in a given training cycle. Of course, America took and demonized it. Here is a great article from Breaking Muscle about the history of our culture trying to learn what the Russians knew before the ‘60s. (article link)
But, what does tonnage look like in the gym? Well, here’s an example to help our athletes understand progressive overload:
Athlete: Last workout I did 3 work sets at 200 lbs for 5 reps. I feel good so can I do 210 lbs for my work sets?
Coach: Well, the goal today is to add 5 lbs to your top end sets so let’s do 205 lbs.
Athlete: But, I feel good. Can’t I add more? PLEASE?!?!?! (might be groveling and begging at this point…)
Coach: Let’s do the math. 5 lbs added to each set of 5 reps is 25 lbs more. Multiply that by 3 sets and we have 75 lbs more than last workout.
If we add 5 lbs every workout for the next 8 workouts, that’s an extra 2700 lbs of weight lifted compared to your last lift. (Don’t be fooled, I pulled the calculator out for this one!)
Athlete: Holy cow, that is over 1 ton of extra weight lifted!
Coach: Sure is, actually almost 1.5 tons. That is what we called progressive overload!
At the level weightlifting coaches use to develop training cycles, tonnage is way more involved than the above example. We do not need to go into that now, but feel free to find me, and we can nerd out!
Why You Should Add Weight Gradually
Often, our athletes have had the above conversation with us, and we use it as an opportunity to educate them about the importance of gradually adding load over a training cycle.
Using this format, our athletes can walk away from the training session able to function that evening or the next day. But, internally, their body’s homeostasis has been altered, and it is forced to adapt to become more resistant against the load we provided. In sum, it is progressive overload.
What Gradual Increases Do For Your Body
The result is an athlete that can train for months and years consistently with minimal injury risk, strength gains, and, likely, increased lean muscle mass. Not sure about you, but those are spot on with what our athletes want!
Putting this idea of simplified tonnage is easiest when you are using an externally loaded exercise. External load can be a
- sand bag
- (to some extent) resistance bands.
This is why we bought ¼, ½, ¾, and 1 lb change plates so we can make small increases that mean gains over time.
What If I Don’t Have All That Equipment?
If you do not have access to much equipment, no need to worry! You can apply this concept to bodyweight exercises by using volume. Instead of adding weight each workout, you can add a rep to each set. The sticking point tends to happen sooner with these type of exercises, but it still works relatively well.
Tonnage training provides for the progressive overload every good coach is after for his or her athletes. It creates a fun training atmosphere because the athlete is consistently making gains. After reading this, you should have a deeper understanding of why this works so well and how to apply it to your own or your athletes’ training.
ADAPT and Conquer,