Progressive overload is the key to progressing in all of your training. If you’re looking for the overriding factor that can help you get faster, bigger, stronger, more powerful, and run longer distances, then progressive overload is that factor.
What is Progressive Overload?
Essentially, progressive overload is the act of becoming more capable and being able to handle a higher level of stress overtime. For instance, if you can bench press 80kg for 5 sets of 3 reps one week, then you would aim to bench press 82.5kg the next week. You might also aim for more sets or more reps to increase the volume.
There are six main ways to progressively overload your muscles:
- Increase the weight
- Increase the reps
- Increase the sets
- Increase the distanc
- Increase the time
- Decrease the rest time
What is Progressive Overload Important?
Simply put, progressive overload is what causes our muscles to adapt and become more effective, whether that’s to lift more weight, become bigger or handle a higher level of endurance. Without progressive overload, then your muscles aren’t going to develop.
How Do I Use Progressive Overload in My Training Program?
The best part of progressive overload is that it’s extremely easy to implement as all you need to think about is doing more than you were before. It doesn’t need to be quick and in fact, rushing things might actually hinder you and have the opposite effect to what you’re looking for, especially if you end up injuring yourself. Instead you just need to gradually build up in response to what your body is telling you.
For instance, if your goal is to get stronger, then you’ll want to focus on adding more weight on the bar. There are thousands of online programs for doing this, but the best for beginners tends to be Strong Lifts or Starting Strength. Both of these focus on increasing the weight on your bench press, deadlift, bent over row, and squat which targets every muscle in your body.
If you want to improve your endurance, then you’ll want to gradually increase the time and distance that you spend running, swimming, rowing or cycling.
The key is that you don’t need to improve every single session – you just need to make sure you don’t regress and gradually the trend line is heading in the right direction.
If you’re looking for an effective training program, then you need to make sure that it includes some form of progressive overload. If a training program doesn’t show any means of moving forward, then it’s not going to work in any shape or form.
If you’ve neglected all of my previous articles up until now, then you should definitely pay attention to this one.
This article will explain the one essential factor that is required to see results from any workout routine. And by incorporating this aspect into your workouts, you’re bound to see progress.
I’m referring to something called progressive overload which is the single fundamental principle that will make or break your workout.
Progressive Overload Definition
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Your body isn’t concerned about building muscle, losing fat or achieving any specific fitness goal. All it cares about is sustaining your basic physiological processes that keep you alive.
And to keep you functioning as efficiently as possible, your body is intelligent and proficient enough to adapt to its environment.
In other words, your body will not adapt or change unless it is forced to.
Despite the amount of time you put into working out, your muscle and strength gains will not increase unless you constantly force your body to adapt. And no, I’m not referring to muscle confusion. Nice try.
The definition of progressive overload is as follows:
It basically means that if you lift the same load for the same number of reps for the next decade, you will never see any improvement because you are not challenging your body to overcome its previous state.
But if you instead increase the weight, the number of reps, or some other aspect which increases the demand that your body must meet, then your body will have no choice but to adapt by becoming stronger.
An Example of Progressive Overload Training
Let’s say for example you can bench press 100 lbs for 5 sets of 5 reps.
Now if you continue to bench this weight for the same number of sets and reps for the next 10 years, you will not put on any new muscle or increase your strength. Why? Because progressive overload was not achieved.
You can have a flawless workout routine but without progressive overload, your body will not improve.
But if you were to lift 105 lbs for 5 sets of 5 reps (rather than 100 lbs), then you are increasing the workload on your body, thus giving it a reason to improve. Although this is only a small increase in weight, this is the exact type of tension that your body needs to make progress.
You’re essentially telling your body, “Look, you must now do more work, so you better get stronger and build muscle to make up for it.”
3 Simple Ways to Create Progressive Overload
1. Increase Resistance
As mentioned in the example above, increasing the amount of weight you lift is probably the most simple form of applying this concept. An indicator of when to increase the weight is when you’re able to meet or go beyond your target rep range (eg. your target rep range is 8 reps but you are able to perform 10).
2. Increase Sets/Reps
Another simple way of increasing the demands on your body is to perform more sets and repetitions using the same resistance. For example, lifting 100 lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps rather than 2 sets of 8 reps. And similarly, lifting 100 lbs for 3 sets of 9 reps (rather than 3 sets of 8 reps).
3. Increase Training Intensity
As mentioned in my previous article, training intensity is directly related to the number of reps and amount of weight lifted. Increasing your training intensity will increase the demands placed on your body which ultimately forces your body to adapt.
Why You’re Failing to See Results
Failing to implement progressive overload into your workout routine is the one of the main reasons why people never manage to see results and meet their goals.
And it’s tied in with the mistake of being lazy at the gym. You know, doing the same workout routine with the same weight, number of reps, sets, and lack of motivation all the while socializing and texting.
And it makes sense. If you do nothing to increase the workload, then your body has no reason to ever change.
And if you’ve reached a point where you’re satisfied with your physique and level of strength, then by all means continue to maintain your lifts. Progressive overload would not be required in this circumstance. But until you achieve that goal, it’s important to keep your progression consistent.
How Often Do I Need to Progress?
Obviously, it’s not realistic to make progress every workout. If that was possible, everyone would be able to lift over a thousand pounds for a thousand reps for each exercise.
With that being said, you should still try to aim to create progressive overload as often as your body allows it. And this would obviously be done within logical reasoning taking into account both safety and correct form.
And whether progressive overload can be accomplished every workout, once a week, or even once a month, you are on the right path to becoming stronger.
The Bottom Line
As long as you are creating progressive overload, your body will be forced to adapt by getting stronger and building muscle.
No matter what routine you’re following or what body type you have, it is the only guarantee for success.
If you’re a beginner to weight training and looking for an intelligently designed workout routine, subscribe by entering your email below to receive my free KFX: Workout & Nutrition Manual which includes a comprehensive training routine to get you started.
Now apply the principle of progressive overload and get fit!
- Perform calf raises while brushing your teeth from start to finish.
- Find a space in front of the TV where you won’t accidentally kick anything down and do leg raises while watching.
- While your food is being microwaved or prepared, do a couple of standing leg raises (being mindful of your surroundings).
- Friend chatting your ear off? No problem. Walk and talk at the same time.
- When leaving or entering a room, jump up and reach for the door frame.
- Spend the majority of your time sitting at a desk? Try standing. Just be sure to put the monitor at an appropriate height so you don’t strain your neck or develop poor posture.
- Long loading times? Do 5 squats between intermissions to keep the rhythm below the belt.
- Instead of sitting there all docile waiting for the water to boil, perform half-jacks (or full jumping jacks if space permits).
- Practice your unilateral stability by balancing on one leg while waiting for the bus or that oh so tardy friend.
- Set your alarm to notify you to get up and walk around for 1 minute every hour. Prolonged sitting has shown to increase markers of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that taking short walks are shown to reverse negative effects of lengthy sitting.
- Instead of sitting and waiting to skip those pesky YouTube ads or TV commercials, get off the seat and do a couple of forward lunges.
- 80% of smartphone users check their social media feeds or email within 15 minutes of waking up. Instead of lying prostrate in bed and risk falling asleep again, roll off the bed and check your phone while doing an elbow plank.