What is progressive overload? What are the different ways to achieve it? How should I progressively overload?
Progressive overload is the main and most important factor to keep building muscle over time. If you want to know what progressive overload is, and how you can achieve it, scroll down and enjoy the post!!
What is Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is the main principle of muscle building. It is when you gradually increase the intensity, volume, or number of repetitions in your training to keep building muscle and increasing your muscle strength.
As a response from training and physical activity, your body responds by increasing muscle mass, strength, and becoming more fit for that specific activity.
As we train, your body adapts to that stimulus, until it reaches a moment in where the training itself doesn’t drive further adaptations.
Progressive overload is the technique to overcome this and keep growing muscle and strength.
By making your training more difficult, you’ll body will have to re-adapt to the stimulus given, and that will keep driving further gains.
Limitations of Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is the main factor for muscle building, but there are some limitations you must consider to get the most out of it
Progressive Overload is not linear
A lot people think muscle building, and therefore progressive overload is a linear process. Rather, there will be a lot of days in where you won’t be able to progressively overload.
This is because progressive overload is not linear. As it doesn’t follow a linear relationship, it’s more than normal to find spots where you are just not able to put more weight on the bar, add more reps, or maintain everything doing a better technique.
Progressive Overload Doesn’t Consider External Factors
Your training performance is shaped not only by how you feel physically, but also by how you feel mentally.
Your mental health, motivation, sleep, recovery, anxiety, stress,… all of that contribute to having a good or bad training performance.
As you may imagine, progressive overload only accounts for the physical and tangible factors.
Progressive overload doesn’t say anything about how motivated you feel today, or your stress levels due to high workloads.
Methods for Progressive Overload
There’s a lot of ways to induce progressive overload. The main requirement is to increase the difficulty of at least one of the training variables.
By doing so, the overall training difficulty will increase, and your body will keep building muscle and strength.
Increasing Working Volume
The working volume of the session and/or volume is one of the main factors affecting muscle growth (study). The more you do, the more muscle you gain (to a extent).
Increasing the working volume, either of the day or week, is one of the main methods of progressive overload.
Add sets gradually to your routine to make sure your body adapts smoothly to the change.
Do it only when necessary, as high working volumes can lead to overtraining and/or muscle injuries.
Improve your Exercise Technique
How you do an exercise will determine if such exercise helps you build muscle, or simply waste your time.
Each exercise is made and thought to simulate and reproduce the specific movement of the working muscle to optimize the activation of muscle fibres and muscle building.
If your technique is not good enough, you will be doing extra work for nothing. Improving the technique of the exercise is a great way of progressive overload.
Focus on the technique, increase the tempo of the exercise, and make sure you feel the muscle lifting the weight.
If you are not sure whether you are improving the technique or not, record yourself doing the exercise or ask someone else to check it for you.
Intensity, together with volume and frequency, are the three main training variables of muscle building. It refers to how close you take each set to muscle failure.
Talking about muscle building, intensity is a very important factor to consider (source). Taking some sets closer to failure will make you progressively overload your training.
A great way to increase intensity is by adding advanced hypertrophy techniques. Without adding more sets to your workout, advanced hypertrophy techniques take the set beyond muscle failure, increasing both intensity and overall working volume.
Reduce Rest Time Between Sets
The recommended rest time between sets largely depends on the exercise, intensity, and/or mode of training you are doing.
In the case of muscle building, the recommended rest time for general exercise is 1-2min.
You can lower the rest time between sets to induce progressive overload. This will give less time to the muscle to recover, making the next set more difficult and intense.
Add Reps to the Set
Adding reps while maintaining the weight is another way of doing progressive overload.
It’s a sign of muscle growth and strength, as you are now able to lift more than the last session.
To progressively overload, put at least one more rep to each set while maintaining the weight. If not in all, try to do it in those exercises you feel confident with the weight.
Which Method of Progressive Overload should I Do?
Muscle building differs widely between persons. What works for me, may not work for you, as we have different needs and goals.
All methods of progressive overload are valid, and lead to the same goal: increase the difficulty of your training to keep building muscle and working on your strength.
My recommendation is to use those methods you feel most comfortable with. Choose those you enjoy the most, and switch between them depending on how you feel or the exercise you are doing.
Progressive overload is the main principle of muscle building, referring to the gradually increase in intensity, volume, or number of repetitions in your training to keep building muscle and increasing your muscle strength.
In this post, we have seen what is progressive overload and the different methods you can use to achieve it.
If you still have any doubt, leave it below in the comments section!!