One of the frequently used terms in the fitness world is progressive overload. Also, this is a term that is used very lightly and is often misdefined. Find out what progressive overload really is and what forms of it you can include in your training routine.
Training should be part of your routine, but it should by no means become routinized. This means repeating the same training routine, the same exercises with the same loads and repetitions which will lead you to stagnation in progress. Simply put, after a certain amount of time repeating the same training routine, the body will get used to it and adapt to the training which in translation means – no new gains.
Methods of progressive overload
According to the very name of this term, we could conclude that we define progressive overload as an increase in the weight we work with over a certain period of time. However, this is not entirely true. Progessive overload is defined as a continuous increase in the requirements of the musculoskeletal system to continuously increase muscle size, strength, and endurance. Simply put, to become bigger and stronger, your muscles must constantly work harder than they are used to. This usually means an increase in weight or resistance, but as you will read below, there are other methods to increase overload.
1. Increase in resistance/load
If squatting with a certain weight is not a challenge for you, try adding a few more pounds and see how your body will react. As the resistance increases, the number of repetitions you can perform will decrease – and that’s okay. Over time, you will get strong enough in training with a certain weight and you will be able to start the progressive overload cycle again. Remember, if your form is suffering, there are other ways to improve your training that do not necessarily include the increase of weight you are working with.
2. More reps
As we mentioned, you don’t necessarily have to increase the weight you work with to improve your workout. Another form of progressive overload is an increase in the number of repetitions. The end point of one set should be in the range of 8 to 12 reps, to maximize muscle building. Therefore, it is not recommended to add repetitions infinitely as you become stronger. When you reach 12 reps, you should increase your resistance.
3. Decreasing rest time between sets
Another way to increase overload is to reduce rest time between sets which ultimately allows you to do the same amount of work in less time. This mechanism requires your body to become metabolically more efficient with respect to anaerobic exercise (weightlifting).
4. Working on quality execution of exercise
The main rule of progressive overload is: Form must not suffer! Before you decide to add weight or number of repetitions, pay extra attention to the form of performing the exercise. With the same weight you can work on increasing range of motion or on speed, control and explosiveness of movement. Once you’ve perfected your form, start making training harder.
Progressive overload is just one aspect of successfully building muscle mass and increasing strength. Always listen to your body and provide it with rest between demanding workouts. Improve your training and become even stronger!
Your Gyms4You team
- Damas F, Angleri V, Phillips SM, Witard OC, Ugrinowitsch C, Santanielo N, Soligon SD, Costa LAR, Lixandrao ME, Conceiçao MS Libardi CA. Myofibrillar protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy individualised responses to systematically changing resistance training variables in trained young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2019.
- Kavanaugh, Ashley. The Role of Progressive Overload in Sports Conditioning. Conditioning Foundamentals. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 6.1 (2007).