Progressive Overload

Progressive Overload is a method of strength training where you aim to continuously push yourself to do more than you’ve ever done. By challenging your body to do more than what you did in your previous sessions, you place greater tension on your muscles over time, causing them to grow.

When the topic of progressive overload comes up, many people only associate it with lifting more weight over time, i.e. getting stronger.

This is a super important component of progressive overload, but it’s not that simple.

Even the strongest man in the world will reach a point where he can no longer load the bar with weight. There are limits to our strength.

And if we only focus on lifting heavy, we will eventually injure ourselves (click here to learn how to use de-loading techniques to stay injury free and keep getting stronger over time)

But there are other methods of progressive overload that can be used to help us continuously do more over time and subsequently continue to build muscle.

Bret Contreras share a lot of great content on Instagram, and has been one of the most influential trainers in helping me build my knowledge on progressive overload.

Below are what he identifies as the 10 Primary Forms of Progressive Overload

  1. Load: You are able to life more weight for the same number of reps
  2. Reps: You can complete more reps with the same weight
  3. Volume: You can life more sets with the same weight x reps
  4. Range of Motion: You improve your range of motion with the same weight x reps (i.e. sit deeper into the squat or lunge, start your hip thrust from lower, come all the way down between shoulder presses)
  5. Form: You can improve your technique for the same weight & reps (i.e. make sure you sit parallel or below in your squat, don’t round your back when deadlifting, make sure you keep your elbows in when doing tricep extensions)
  6. Effort: You can lift the same weight x reps with greater ease. If the weight gets easier over time, its a sign you are getting stronger.
  7. Mind Muscle Connection: You are able to feel more mind-muscle connection with the same weight x reps. Do you feel the muscle that should be working? Or are other muscles overcompensating for the sake of the weight?
  8. Time: You can complete the same number of sets with the same weight x reps in less time (you don’t have to rest as long in between sets)
  9. Body Weight: You can lift the same weight x reps while you weigh in at a lower body weight (heavier relative load)
  10. Advanced: You can extend the same weight x reps past failure or alter the tempo of your lifts (isometric or eccentric)

Progressive Overload – What It Is and What it Isn’t

Again, credit to Bret Contreras

What Progressive Overload IS:

  • Setting a personal record in any rep range
  • Doing one more rep, five more pounds, or one more set than the week prior
  • Better suited for big compound lifts that fit the individual
  • Carefully thought out in a strategic fashion, using the scientific method
  • Wave-like over time
  • Only achieved when technique is identical from week to week
  • Harder to achieve the longer you’ve been training

What Progressive Overload is NOT:

  • Always going heavy
  • Using bad form to beat a personal record
  • Skimping on range of motion to beat a personal record
  • A linear process
  • Used for every exercise, every session
  • The only factor required to maximize hypertrophy (the mind-muscle connection is also a factor)
  • The only factor required to optimize body composition (don’t forget diet!
  • Possible when you’re always fatigued or in pain from over doing it

Incorrectly using progressive overload is one of the main reasons people either get discouraged and quit lifting, injure themselves, or fail to see results when they think they’re lifting correctly.

For more on common mistakes people make when trying to build muscle, click here. (coming this week!)

Was this information helpful? Let me know in the comments below!

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