Get Stronger with Progressive Overload
Have you experienced training plateaus that caused your strength gains to become stagnant? I often hear people tell me they lift 5 days a week but are not seeing results or strength gains. There are several reasons why you may hit training plateaus, but ultimately it boils down to the progressive overload principle.
What is Progressive Overload and Why is It Important?
Simply put, progressive overload is the concept of doing more over time. This principle involves increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system to continually make gains in muscle size, strength, and muscular endurance. When we strength train our bodies elicit a stress response that causes an adaptation to take place. This results in our muscles become stronger and more resilient. In order keep making muscle gains and increase strength, you must continually increase the demands on your muscles.
The progressive overload principle doesn’t apply only to lifting weights to increase muscle growth and strength; it can also be applied to cardiovascular fitness programs. Increasing the intensity and duration will cause physiological changes affecting aerobic metabolism and the cardiorespiratory system.
Progressive Overload Methods
There are five key ways to implement progressive overload. Each are uniquely different. Based on your training experience and your goals, you want to be strategic with how you increase or decrease one of these methods. Below are ways you can implement progressive overload.
Increase Load – The amount of weight used or demand on you body
Increase Intensity – The amount of perceived exertion, speed, or force used during a specific exercise or workout.
Increase volume – Your total workload per training session. The amount of exercises, sets, and reps you do in a workout.
Increase frequency – how many times a day or week you train
Decrease rest time between sets – This involves increasing work density meaning doing the same amount of work in less time, or doing more work in the same time.
How to Implement Progressive Overload Into Your Programing?
Let’s say you perform a set of back squats at 80% of your max for 8 reps which happens to be 225lbs. Over time, you’ll get stronger, and 8 reps won’t be as challenging as it once was. At this point your body is no longer making any physiological adaptations. This is where we can apply our progressive overload methods.
If you continue performing that single set of back squats at 225lbs for 8 repetitions, without increasing frequency, intensity, or load, you will hit a plateau eventually. When that occurs depends on your training age (amount of time or years you have been training) and experience. However, if you place greater demands on your back squat by either increasing weight, volume, frequency, or intensity, you will continue to progress with your strength gains.
Strength gains are not linear. For example, adding 5-10lbs to an exercise each week is not sustainable over a year. That would be an increase of 260-520 pounds in one year which is extremely unrealistic. Adaptation and gains occur in waves. Some weeks you’ll see big jumps in and others you may even decrease but with proper implementation of the overload principle there should be an upward trend with consistent training, proper form, and quality recovery.
Beginners should progress in strength exercises by mastering technique and full range of motion first. After this they should increase volume, frequency, and load. Advanced lifters should focus on increasing load first, intensity seconds, and then volume. Again, the techniques you use should be in line with your fitness goals. Prioritize what’s important to you.