AT A GLANCE

What is Progressive Overload and how does it relate to fitness performance and improvement? In short, progressive overload is a principle stating that in order to see improvements in your performance, strength, training, and size; you must gradually make your muscles work harder than they are used to. In this article, we’ll provide you with an analysis regarding progressive overload as well as provide you with tips on how to maximize your workout performance and order to achieve your fitness goals.


What is progressive overload?

Progressive Overload is a gradual increase of stress placed upon your body during a training workout. In simpler terms, progressive overload simply means that in order to increase your strength, endurance, and size, you must continuously stress your muscles and your body by doing more than what you’re comfortable with. In other words, you must constantly find ways to challenge yourself mentally and physical. By doing so, you can see improvements in your training.

As we all know, fitness enthusiasts and athletes constantly look for ways to develop a well-coordinated plan that places greater demands on their body in order to improve their routine and increase their performance. It goes without saying that improvement and development is at the heart of a workout. The principle of progressive overload states that in order to make progress in your training, you must find a way to add more work in your routine. 

Take for example, a weight lifter who begins his routine with 15 reps of a single bench press. 

Eventually, he’ll want to increase his workload by focusing on adding more reps as he’s become accustomed to his current workload. It’s important to point out that there are several benefits to increasing your overload in a workout.

Progressive Overload is a gradual increase of stress placed upon your body during a training workout.
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  • Increases your energy
  • Builds muscle and strength
  • Rapid Movement
  • Makes your routine interesting

According to an NSCA training journal, your needs analysis must look at the attributes of the movements that encompass your sport and what muscles are involved in these movements. This means that as a fitness enthusiast, you must specify your objectives in order to target areas of your body that you’ll need to strengthen. By doing so, you develop a routine that places greater demands on your body as you progress mentally and physically.    

How can you increase your overload in a workout routine?

So how should you go about increasing your overload and ensure you’re making greater demands on your body in a workout routine?  As stated in the last section, the principle of progressive overload focuses on strength, size, and endurance as the basis for performance, efficiency, and muscle gain. With this in mind, there are a couple of methods you can utilize to increase your overload.

  • Increase your resistance
  • Increase the repetitions in your routine
  • Increase the amounts of sets
  • Increase your frequency 
  • Decrease your rest time 

These methods are just some of the several strategies you can focus on. Depending on the workout and your target area, you might find that you may only need to focus on a certain area. For example, if you’re looking to gain strength, increasing your repetitions in a single set might be your best option. The key is to focus on a method that pushes you beyond your comfort zone and will help you reach your fitness goal.

Your needs analysis must look at the attributes of the movements that encompass your sport and what muscles are involved in these movements.
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Focus on your fitness goals when creating an overload plan

After familiarizing yourself with the methods of progressive overloading, the next step is to develop a well-coordinated plan that will increase your overload and help you achieve your workout objectives. For example, if your goal is to build stronger muscles then you should focus on increasing the amount of weight that you currently lift. After a couple of weeks, you should then focus on increasing your sets. By doing so, you allow your muscles to produce new muscle cells to handle the extra exertion that is added to your routine. Most experts agree that you should aim your sets to be in the 8 to 12 rep change. If your goal is to build strength, then you should focus on increasing your repetitions while remaining consistent with your sets. 

If your objective is to increase muscle endurance, then you should focus on finding ways to increase your repetitions progressively. As you become accustomed to greater challenges through gains in repetitions and sets, you’ll find that frequency training becomes a central component to increasing your muscle size. Researchers, who examined the effects of two knee-extension training programs, concluded that high-frequency training is preferable to low-frequency training in untrained subjects. This came after their study demonstrated that 2 sets of 12 repetitions performed three times a week was more effective in muscle gain than 6 sets of 12 repetitions once a week. The key is to focus on a method that targets your selected muscles and gradually increase your overload through proper training and effort.

As you start to gain strength and size through the process of overloading, it’s important to gradually reduce the amount of rest time between sets. This will help your body do the same amount of work in less time. The reason behind this has to do with your body’s ability to become metabolically efficient. Metabolic efficiency basically refers to your body’s ability to use its internal nutrients such as carbohydrates and fat.  

High-frequency training is preferable to low-frequency training in untrained subjects.
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Focus on one method at a time

One final point that should be mentioned is the importance of a starting off with a single method. As you become more comfortable in your routine and your muscles gain strength and size, it becomes essential to see the progress you make through a single method. This way, if you notice that you are struggling to make any sort of progress, you can easily switch up your routine and incorporate other methods to see if that will make any difference. It’s best to focus on increasing your load gain than repetitions if you’re looking to increase your strength. The key is to understand when an overload method is failing so you can switch it up with other alternatives. 

Take Home Points

Overall, progressive overloading is a principle that emphasizes the importance of putting demands on your muscles in order to gain size, strength, and endurance. In order to get stronger and increase your performance, you must find strategic ways to make your muscles work harder than they are used to. With proper training, strategic focus, and a clear objective, a progressive overload plan can also help you enjoy your workout as you work towards a fitness goal. 

  • The principle of progressive overloading states that you must make your muscles work harder than they are used to in order to gain strength, size, and endurance.
  • There are several ways to increase your overload in a workout routine such as increasing your repetitions, sets, and training frequency.
  • It’s important to select a method that targets your fitness goals.
  • You should select one overload method at a time in order to prioritize your workout needs and assess your results.

Articles References

Cissik, J. (n.a.) Basic Principles of Strength Training and Conditioning. NSCA Performance Training Journal, 1(4), 7-11.Retrieved from http://myweb.facstaff.wwu.edu/chalmers/PDFs/Basic%20principles%20of%20strength%20training%20and%20conditioning.pdf
Kavanaugh, A. The Role of Progressive Overload in Sports Conditioning. NSCA Performance Training Journal, 1 (6), 15-17. Retrieved from http://teachfitnessconcepts.com/PDF%20files/The%20Role%20of%20Progressive%20Overload%20in%20Sports%20Conditioning.pdf
Maruo, M., Ochi, E., Sasaki, K. (2018, July 2nd). Higher Training Frequency is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training. Frontiers in Physiology. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00744. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6036131/#__ffn_sectitle