Progressive Overload: What Is It and How Can You Do It?

Progressive Overload
Share with your buddy!

Hey , tough soul. I’m Alyssa.

In the first few years of my fitness journey, I tried various training types. However, I soon hit a plateau and did not know why. When I get to know the training strategy for progressive overload. My whole story changed.

Here’s my point. If you are looking forwards to change your physique or looking for strength improvement, go for progressive overload and nothing else.

You might wonder what is progressive overload. How can you do with it? Continue reading to find out!

What is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is a training strategy that constantly applies greater intensity to your workout to avoid plateauing.

This is how progressive overload works.

The concept is to utilize the ‘adaptation’ of the human body. We train it with some challenging factors (heavier weight, difficult form, faster speed etc.) that signalled our nervous system to grow stronger.

Progressive overload should be applied every time you notice the exercises that you are doing are no longer challenging. This will make sure you gain muscle and strength over time.

Except if you are happy with your current physique and just want to maintain it. Then you could just stick with your current intensity and progressive overload is unnecessary.

That’s it, simply lifting heavy weight will not help muscle growth, but lifting heavier weight will.

How do muscle grow?

Ever wonder how muscle grows? Is it happen because you had lifted more weight than others, or you spent more time in the gym than others?

If you had done everything but you did not progressive overload, then it’s definitely a NO.

We need to know that muscle growth does not happen in the gym, but outside the gym.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your quads muscle is currently able to squat 12 reps of 55kg barbell squat. Then by progressive overload, you increased the weight from 55kg to 60 kg, which is not the usual weight that your quads get used to.

That signaled your muscle: ‘You need to grow stronger to be able to lift this heavy later.”

During the rest time, your muscle will start to break down and replace with a larger amount of muscle fiber. In the next session, you feel stronger than last time and that heavy load is no longer feeling as heavy as the last session.

The human body is always trying to adapt. This is a natural process that occurs every time. It explains how we are able to master walking, jumping, and running during our child age.

When your body feels that the weight that you lifting is challenging, it is realized that it is unable to lift this heavy if it doesn’t grow, therefore it will work in the background by recovering and repairing to make you feel better in the next session.

Sounds great, huh?

It’s great to hear this good news because we know that we are able to master and improve anything. Yes, but always with a condition–you need to let it know this growth is in demand, so as strength.

That’s how progressive overload comes into place.

Types of Progressive Overload

There are types of progressive overload that could be applied in weight training.

However, I need to mention that progressive overload is not only suitable in weight training, but throughout a variety of training types including cardio. But for a different type of exercise, the technique would be different.

In this post, I’ll be focusing on progressive overload in weight training only.

Increase Volume

A.k.a push yourself a little harder.

Always try to do that extra rep if you can. We always have a comfortable rep range for the certain weight that we currently lift. Progressive overload required you to get out of your comfort zone and complete a few more even if you already ‘feel the burn’. Even just a single rep count.

You don’t necessarily need to overdo it with an extra 5 reps. It is impossible and would cause a huge amount of stress to your nervous system. Instead, just doing an extra 1-3 reps that reach your technical failure would be good enough.

Increase Weight

This one is obvious. You just use a heavier weight than the last session.

This applies when you no longer feel the current weight that you use is still heavy enough for your specific goal. To make it harder, it is to increase the load that you currently using.

Strength: Rep range 3-5

Build muscle: Rep range 8-12

Muscle Endurance: Over 15

Usually, we will increase weight less frequently than increase volume does. You need to make sure you progress by increasing the volume first before increasing the intensity. This is to make sure you have mastered the movement and built a strong foundation before moving on.

Increase Frequency(Sets)

This is when you are quite happy with the intensity and volume, but just wish to perform an extra set to ‘feel the burn’. Increasing sets to your workout, it is great for gaining strength, muscle, and endurance up to a point.

However, for certain compound movements that are more challenging (heavy squats, barbell overhead press, deadlift etc.). I usually stick to the current set and just play around with the other three variations.

Increasing sets is preferable in smaller muscle groups or isolation exercises, as it will promote more muscle growth due to the extra stimulus applied.

Increase Tempo

If you don’t have the access to more weight, or just simply wish to perfect your form. Increasing tempo or intensity is a way to go.

This option usually applies in bodyweight training as what you need to do is just to control the movement of your exercise, let it either speed up your movement (for explosive movement) or make it slower(eccentric movement). The increase in tempo should be aimed at adding more stress to that muscle group.

Besides that, try to maintain good form despite you are playing fancy on the speed. You still need to make sure your workout is effective by targeting the intended muscle group.

Progressive Overload Precautions

Applying progressive overload could bring you better results no matter which training type you are using. It is also a great idea to spice up your workout. However, there are some precautions that you need to be aware of while adding accumulating progressive overload in your session.

Add ONLY one thing at a time

There are four ways to progressive overload as mentioned above, however, you should only apply ONE of them in the same exercise.

You don’t increase the weight but also increase the number of sets just in one single session. This will put you body in extraneous stress and will affect your recovery.

Ideally, you should master a movement for at least 2 sessions before you add in more progressive overload variables.

Within your body capability

Either too much or too little stimulus will make progressive overload ineffective. If you apply too little stimulus, means the load is too light, and the muscle won’t grow.

However, it does not mean that more load will make progressive overload more effective. The load that you increase should be still within your body capacity.

The reason is simple. If you lift a weight that even yourself is unable to complete one single rep, the body would unintentionally be using other muscle groups to complete the movement. When you found this occurs, it is better to train with a lower weight to further progress.

Allow time to recover

We always have a false exception that we will immediately become stronger during the workout. However, this is not the fact.

Muscle growth happens during rest time, not in the gym.

This is to remind everyone that train hard in the gym, we don’t expect to gain strength just in a single session.

You need to allow a muscle group to rest for at least 5 days. Then when you return to the same exercise with the same weight later, you will eventually notice some strength gain.

Sequence to Progressive overload

If you noticed, the intensity and difficulties of these 4 progressive overloads are different. Therefore you need to make sure you progress with the less intense before moving into the hard one.

Here is the most recommended rules for progressive overload sequence:

  • Always add volume before adding weight
  • Only increase sets when you have already mastered the movement
  • Tempo could be increased anytime if needed

Final Thought

The strategy of progressive overload is cool, and should be applied to every individual that seeks to improve their performance in the gym.

As they say ‘don’t try to run before you know how to walk’, this also applies to weight training. Applying progressive overload would make sure we improve throughout the time within our body recovery capability and maximize the results.

That’s all for my post on progressive overload. I hope this guide is able to give you some useful tips on how to apply progressive overload in your training and achieve the result you want 🙂

Let us grow together,


Share with your buddy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *