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Progressive Overload – A Must Have In A Successful Training Program

  • Reading time:5 mins read

If you’re like me and you’re going to the gym, one of the first goals that most people have set is to build or put on muscle. Regardless of how different each person’s goals are, when it comes to building muscle, the principles stay the same for everyone. Muscle Hypertrophy or “muscle growth” refers to the enlargement of a muscle due to the increase in the size of its cells. 

So, what is the recipe for muscular hypertrophy? 

While there are several different ways to build muscle, some methods may be more effective from person to person. For example, training experience plays a large role in muscle hypertrophy because someone who hasn’t had much stimulus for their muscles to adapt will see changes happen much quicker when they are finally introduced to a muscle building stimulus (i.e weight training). However, regardless of experience level or method of building muscle, the most effective principle to follow is “Progressive overload”.

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is a method used to create a metabolic stimulus for our bodies to adapt to over time. The way this works is by gradually increasing the volume or intensity of your workouts, disrupting homeostasis (steady state) which then challenges our bodies to adapt by building muscle and strength. 

Now you may ask yourself, how does this look in my training? Progressive overload can be broken down into two sections, the first being volume (reps, frequency, sets, and duration/distance). The second is intensity (weights, resistance, tempo, and rest between sets). 

Here is an example of progressive overload in a weight training program:

Progressing volume:

Week 1: barbell squat 85lbs – 3 sets – 8 reps

Week 2: barbell squat 85lbs – 3 sets – 10 reps

Week 3: barbell squat 85lbs – 3 sets – 12 reps

Progressing Intensity: 

Week 1:  bench press 100lbs – 3 sets – 5 reps 

Week 2: bench press 105lbs – 3 sets- 5 reps 

Week 3: bench press 110lbs – 3 sets – 5 reps 

If you are always doing the same weights and rep zones you are very likely to plateau or not progress further in your training. This method guarantees that you are challenging yourself and forces the muscles to grow and get stronger. 

Progressive overload is not limited to muscle and strength training. It can also be used during endurance and cardiovascular training. 

Here is an example of progressive overload in a conditioning program:

Progressing distance during a run:

Week 1: 12-minute run – 0.89 mile

Week 2: 12-minute run – 1.0 mile

Week 3: 12-minute run – 1.3 mile 

Progressing pace for a specific distance: 

Week 1: 2k row – 7.34 minutes 

Week 2: 2k row – 7.00 minutes 

Week 3: 2k row – 6.45 minutes 

Final Thoughts

For progressive overload to be effective, your exercise form should be perfected first. Increasing the intensity or volume from week to week with bad form will negatively impact your training and may lead to injury. Finally, this process is gradual and will take time. It’s not alway going to be linear, however implementing this method and staying consistent with tracking volume and intensity will bring forward the best results for improving muscle hypertrophy, strength and cardiovascular endurance.