011016 Three, ultraconservative, exercise progression systems

011016 Three, ultraconservative, exercise progression systems

Strength training has lived and breathed progressive overload for many, many years. Today, strength coaches may use any of the three following methods for just a few days out of the year. Even used during this limited amount of time, they serve their purpose and that is to recover from an injury or to act as an active rest in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

In 1948, DeLorme and Watkins devised the first progressive strength training system. This protocol was used for quite some time with the rehabilitation of military personnel. In 1951, Dr. Zinovieff, working in England’s United Oxford hospitals revised the DeLorme program and then renamed it the Oxford technique. Both of these overload systems were still being into the latter 1900’s, in this case, 1985. In that year, the Daily Adjusted Progressive Resistive Exercise (DAPRE) technique arrived on the scene.

The DAPRE is a more complex way of exercise programming when compared with the other two. It is also a highly effective method of strength training for the dedicated new trainee.

An obvious difference between the previous two strength progression programs and the DAPRE system is a number of repetitions used for the three sets. DeLorme and Watkins and the Oxford technique both use 10 repetitions for the three sets. The DAPRE begins with 10 repetitions on the first set at 50% and lowers the reps to six on the second set at 75%.

The reason for bringing this up is the percentages for a 10-repetition maximum are on a continuum between 30 and 75% with a heavy intensity of effort expected on each set. Since there was no mention of the length of the rest periods between each of the sets, common sense would lead one to believe that thirty to one hundred and fifty seconds would be appropriate.

You might notice that none of the reps or set combination recommendations coincides even in the slightest to Prilephin’s table. Therefore, these three program designs may best be used during an active recovery phase for probably not more than two or three days. Once these three days have passed then it would be best to get back onto a powerful strength-building program.

Three, ultraconservative, exercise progression systems

Let us look at each of these programs in a little more detail.

DeLorme and Watkins

DeLorme and Watkins developed their strength program by using a 10-repetition maximum (10RM) as the final goal of the trainees. This is a pretty simple set up. They recommended doing three sets of each exercise and then doing 10 repetitions each time. By today’s standards, it would be difficult to develop maximum strength using the system and you will soon see why.

After an overall body warm-up, you do your first set at 50% of the 10-repetition maximum. The second set follows at 75% of the 10-rep maximum. The final set is another 10 repetitions at 100% of the 10-repetition maximum.

Even a casual glance at this schedule reveals the difficulty in achieving a true 10-repetition maximum on the third set. Nevertheless, in a therapeutic setting this was years ahead of what they had been doing prior 1948. Dr. Zinovieff identified the inherent disadvantages of the DeLorme and Watkins progressive system and modified it. He renamed it the Oxford technique.

The Oxford technique

As could be expected, once a trainee who was following the DeLorme and Watkins program reached the third set they were in a fatigued state and were probably unable to finish the repetitions. Dr. Zinovieff reversed the number of required repetitions and the percentages by starting at 100% with 10 repetitions for the first set. He then followed with the second set at 75%. The final set was 50% of the 10-repetition maximum.

This seems to make much more sense in that the first set of 10 is done when you are in a rested state. As you progress through the following two sets, with fatigue beginning to set in, the percentages are lowered to accommodate the declining physical ability.

Three, ultraconservative, exercise progression systems

Daily Adjusted Progressive Resistive Exercise (DAPRE) technique

This system is now more frequently used than either of the prior two. It is a complex program of exercising six days a week. This may seem like a lot but it is designed to meet each person’s ability to bear the increased resistance based upon which set is being performed in the schedule.

The important part of this program is realized in sets three and four, but before getting there, we still have to do sets one and two. Set one is 10 repetitions at 50% of the anticipated 100% 10 repetition maximum. The second set is six repetitions the 75%.

The third set is as many repetitions the individual is capable of making at 100% of the 10 repetition maximum. The fourth set is again as many reps as possible. This is based on an adjustment determined from set number three.

The adjustment guidelines are somewhat complicated so here is a brief chart for you to look at and decipher at your leisure.

Guidelines for the fourth set

Number of repetitions from the prior set

Fourth set load based upon set three repetitions

Next day training load adjustments based upon the fourth load set


Lower the weight and redo the set

Lower the weight and redo the last set performed


Lower the weight by at least 5 pounds

Keep the same weight


Keep the weight

Increase the weight by 5 to 10 pounds


Increase the load by 5 to 10 pounds

Increase the weight 5 to 15 pounds

More than 13 repetitions

Increase the load by 10 to 15 pounds

Increase the weight 10 to 20 pounds

Three, ultraconservative, exercise progression systems

As can be seen by looking at the chart it is not as simple as just performing 50, 75, and 100% of the 10 repetition max load. To me, this repetition scheme makes sense, especially if you are coming back from an injury. This program is both conservative and aggressive at the same time.

The determining factor for improving strength rests solely upon the trainees’ shoulders. Highly motivated trainees are going to do as many repetitions as possible in sets three and four, whereas the less motivated will do just enough to get by. The latter will pay a price later on for not pushing themselves to get the strongest possible during the process.

Research conducted in 2003 , compared DeLorme and Watkins with the Oxford technique, concluded that it was unclear which technique was more effective at developing strength. However, there was no mention of active recovery, which each of these three programs could do very well at fulfilling.

Adapted from Therapeutic Exercise for Athletic Injuries and chart based on Knight, 1985

Comparison of DeLorme with Oxford techniques. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2003;82:903-909.