Different Types of Progressive Loading.

body insights

In her book, Yoga Biomechanics Stretching Redefined, Jules Mitchell defines seven different types of load, or what she calls loading parameters:

  1. Magnitude - How much?

  2. Location - Where? 

  3. Direction - At what angle? 

  4. Duration - How long? 

  5. Frequency - How often? 

  6. Velocity - How fast? 

  7. Acceleration - Rate of speed? 

These parameters are the dimmer-switches we can use to customize our load to our body. When we change a loading parameter, we stimulate a different response in our tissues. We can change loading parameters to de-load something that’s so challenging it might be injurious; and we can change loading parameters to add load to something that’s so familiar it’s no longer producing strength adaptation. 

Loading Parameters 

Magnitude is a load parameter that refers to the amount of load. For weight lifters, it’s the difference between a 15 lb weight and a 25 lb weight. Magnitude primarily refers to externally loaded movements, where you can vary the amount of load by which resistance band you choose or which size kettlebell you pick up. In bodyweight exercises like yoga, our body weight remains constant, which means our magnitude remains constant. But there are times where we can adjust the magnitude of a load in yoga by changing our body position--like whether we have our knees lifted or down on the ground in plank pose. The knees lifted is a higher magnitude of load than the knees on the ground. We can also adjust the magnitude of our yoga poses by adding external load, like sandbags, free weights, resistance bands, heavy cork blocks, medicine balls, etc. 

Location asks us where we have placed our load. Imagine we have a 10 lb sandbag we are using to add load to a bridge pose. We’re lying on our back with our feet on the floor, and we’ve placed the sandbag on top of the pelvis. As we lift the hips toward the ceiling, we are working against the load of the sandbag. Now, imagine we lower the hips and replace the sandbag over the front of the thighs, and then go up to bridge pose again. After that, we come down and replace the sandbag on top of the knees, and then go up to bridge pose again. This is an example of a load where the magnitude has remained constant--the sandbag is always 10 lbs--but we’ve changed the location of the sandbag to stimulate different tissue responses. 

Direction refers to the angle of a load. Here, angle refers to one of two things: 

  1. Angle of joints

  2. Angle of the position

Angle of joints refers to range of motion. A bodyweight squat challenges the range of flexion in our ankles, knees and hips. To make my squat more or less challenging, I might decide to change the direction, or angle, of my joints. To back out of the challenge, I would change my angles to do less range of motion--less ankle, knee and hip flexion. To intensify the challenge, I would change my angles to do a bigger range of motion--more ankle, knee and hip flexion. 

Angle of the position refers to the orientation of a shape. Let’s take the shape of plank pose--top of a push-up--as an example. When we practice this shape on the floor, it’s loaded with all of our body-weight, which can be a lot of load. We could change the magnitude by putting our knees down on the floor, but what if we wanted to keep the the shape of our plank pose and decrease the load? How could we do that? We could change the angle of the position! In this example, we could change the angle of our plank pose. If we take our plank pose off the ground and instead lean over a bench, we’ve changed from a horizontal angle to a more vertical angle and we’ve decreased the load. If we reorient our plank pose to standing and pushing away a wall, we’ve decreased the load even more.

Duration is how long we endure a load, or as I more affectionately think of it: Duration is Time-under-tension. The longer we hold a movement or repeat a movement, the higher the load. This is particularly useful for movements that feel like no-big-deal, like maybe doing a push-up against a wall. If doing a push-up on the floor is too challenging, we might use the principle of direction to change the angle of the position from the floor to a wall, which will be much less load and therefore easier to manage. But perhaps this change in direction makes our pose too easy. The floor is too challenging and the wall is too easy--What can we do? Well, we can utilize time-under-tension to increase the load by repeating our movement, in this example perhaps by doing 20-30 wall push-ups. In other instances, we might increase our load by holding a plank pose for an additional 45 seconds, or add in another minute of jump-roping, or however we want to utilize duration to increase or decrease our loads. 

Frequency is another loading parameter, which refers to how often we apply load to our tissues. When we take a bird’s eye view of our movement habits, how often are we moving our joints actively through their entire range of motion? Have we optimized our loading patterns for all our joint positions--Are we under-loading or overloading in any particular areas? These questions will help us direct the frequency of our load so that we stay in the sweet-spot of optimal tissue adaptation. 

Velocity is the technical word for speed and refers to loads in motion. If you reach your arms up in the air and then slowly bend down and step back into plank pose, it will load your body differently than if you do a burpee. It’s the same exact movement, except for its velocity. In yoga, we can use velocity to both slow down and speed up our movements to expose our tissues to a wider variety of loads. 

Last on the list is Acceleration, which means how fast something is speeding up or slowing down. In other words, acceleration is the change in rate of Velocity. We know this intuitively that when we speed up the pace of our run, it loads our body differently than if we keep a constant pace or slow down. Sports provide an environment where we are naturally varying our acceleration almost constantly. If we were to want to highlight acceleration in an exercise session, we might practice movements at a variety of speeds and spend a lot of time slowing down and speeding up our movements to maximise our exposure to the field of possibilities. 

Progressive Loading & Yoga

When I conceptualize load, magnitude is the first parameter that comes to mind. My brain flashes visuals of dumbbells and resistance bands, where the loading strategy is to increase and decrease the magnitude by swapping out different weights. 

In yoga, the magnitude remains constant because our load is our body weight. There are some instances where we can creatively adjust magnitude in yoga, but an understanding of the other load parameters will help us discover other options for using our yoga practice to build strength. 

Check out my other articles on progressive overload in our blog!

Additional Resources: 

Yoga Biomechanics: Stretching Redefined by Jules Mitchell [Book]

How To Add Load to Your Yoga Practice with Jenni Rawlings [Online Workshop]

Progressive Overload by Jules Mitchell [Article]

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