Why progressive overload is so essential for continual gains
Posted on 22nd January 2020 at 16:39
Progressive overload is so important yet but do you know why?
Often in the fitness industry you will hear people throw about different terms or phrases just to sounds clever or even try and confuse you.
Now some of these terms you may know and some you may not.
But one that gets mentioned a lot is progressive overload.
However I never hear many people explain how to implement it in practical terms and why it's so important.
Hence why I have wrotten this blog.
Rest assured by the end you will have a much better understanding of what progressive overload is, why you need it and how to implement on a weekly basis.
The first thing you need to realise is that your body is very good at reacting to a stimulus (weights training being ours), it will become more efficient and better able to deal with it as time progresses. So, you need to make sure you keep finding a way to create continual stress.
This is where progressive overload comes in.
The concept of progressive overload (PO) is a simple one; you need to do more to get more. Create more stress so that you can keep seeing continual adaptation and therefore results.
This is true across all types of exercise.
Think about a marathon runner. They may start their training for a marathon running 6 miles, but the body adapts to this and is soon able to run this distance with better efficiency and potentially, speed. You therefore need to add in more miles and so on until you are running 20+ miles as you have adapted over time and been able to deal with more stress as a result of progressive overload.
To give you some further backstory and history, the concept of PO within resistance training was popularised by Dr Thomas DeLorme. He was a Doctor in the late 1940’s and was part of a rehabilitation team that were helping WW2 veterans recover from their wounds and return to normal everyday life. He used a combination of resistance training techniques that were very much in their infancy at the time. He found that he got much better results when he slowly added more load, sets and reps to his patient's rehabilitation programmes. Therefore beginning the movement of PO. A pretty cool story I think.
So how does progressive overload work in a training programme?
There are many different ways you can progressively overload, below are the most common strategies you can use.
1. Increase load
2. Increase sets
3. Increase reps
4. Increase time under tension
5. Increase training session frequency
6. Increase exercise frequency
7. Increase and add intensifiers (bands chains, drop sets etc.)
These will allow you to do more whilst ensuring that volume is not decreased in some way due to incorporating one of these principles.
However not all of these techniques can be installed on a weekly or monthly basis so when looking to achieve PO it is best to install something that you can realistically achieve each or most weeks.
Increasing loads, sets or reps are a few of the most common strategies I use when programming for my clients. Now there will be some exercises withing your training which are easier to increase load and some which aren’t. In this instance, increasing reps or sets can be a good alternative to implement. Reps, sets and load all contribute to our training volume alongside training and exercise frequency. You will hear a lot of people talking about volume and this is basically referring in most cases to the sets, reps and load of a given exercise over a period of time. Volume is an important consideration because by increasing it, you will achieve PO.
An example of PO by increasing load could be...
Week 1 – Back squat 3x6 @120kg
Week 2 – Back squat 3x6 @122.5kg
Week 3 – Back squat 3x6 @125kg
Now these increments are just examples and the rate at which someone can increase the load they are lifting will be influenced by many variables such as their training experience, the exercise selected, and how new the stimulus of the exercise is.
An example of how you can achieve PO by increasing reps could be...
Week 1 – Lateral raise 3x10 @10kg
Week 2 – Lateral raise 3x11 @10kg
Week 3 – Lateral raise 3x12 @10kg
Again, this example might not be as straight forward as it seems as some weeks you might not be able to make the jump in reps, but as long as over time you are increasing then you will be on track to achieving PO.
Increasing sets is also another good way to achieve PO.
Week 1 – Seated row 2x12 @50kg
Week 2 – Seated row 3x12 @50kg
Week 3 – Seated row 4x12 @50kg
An issue with increasing weekly sets is that you may have time constraints for the length of your sessions and by adding in extra sets every week you can soon be training longer in the gym and sessions may drag on a little. So, increasing sets every 3-4 few weeks might be a better strategy.
The thing to remember is that there are no hard and fast rules for PO.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to achieve it is to use a combination of the above, alternating weeks where you look to increase load, reps and sets. No need to over complicate it, the main thing to remember is to do more and increase volume.
So next time you hear someone on Instagram talk about progressive overload you will know exactly what they are talking about but more importantly how and why you should achieve it within your training.
Tagged as: Muscle gain
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