Do you want to know the secret to lifelong, uninhibited muscle growth?
It’s not diet, sleep, or even what pre workout supplement you take. Yes, all of those things are important in their own way, but the real secret to continuous progress and muscle building is progressive overload.
By knowing the principles of progressive overload and putting them to use will ensure a lifetime of gains and not end up like all the other bros at the gym who seem to workout tirelessly, yet never get results.
Let’s dive into what progressive overload is and how you can make it work for you!
What is Progressive Overload?
The concept of progressive overload couldn’t be simpler. Progressive overload refers to the continuous increase in the load and intensity you place on your muscles during resistance training. Applied consistently, progressive overload ensures you’ll continue to increase strength and muscle size. In a sense, progressive overload is the foundation of muscle and strength building.
The reason we say that, is that in order for your muscles to grow, they have to be continuously overloaded. Muscles respond to demand. If you always lift the same amount of weight for the same number of reps, they have no reason to grow or get stronger. Therefore, to make muscles grow, you MUST subject them to ever-increasing intensities.
But, how do you increase the intensity of your workouts? Is it simply adding weight to the bar?
We answer that next!How to Use Progressive Overload
When people think of progressive overload, they almost always assume it means adding weight to the bar or picking up a heavier dumbbell. While that is one way to employ the principle of progressive overload, it is by no means the only way to use this essential muscle-building principal. There will come a point where simply adding weight to the bar won’t work. No matter how strong you are or how long you’ve trained, you can’t always up the weight every time you train. It’s impossible to do so. But lucky for you, there’s a number of ways to put progressive overload into practice.
Progressive overload is all about exposing your muscles to increased work every time you train them. The manner in which you increase that work can occur from adding more weight to the bar, shortening the amount of rest you take between sets, increasing the number of sets, or the frequency that you train a given muscle group.
So, when you think about it, there’s not just one way to overload your muscles, but a multitude of ways, and by doing this is a carefully, planned manner, you avoid any plateaus in your quest to build slabs on slabs of lean muscle tissue!
Why Progressive Overload Works
We touched on this briefly above, but the reason that progressive overload works boils down to how the human body operates. It’s a finely tuned machine that was built to adapt and overcome. This applies to anything, not just weight lifting. How many times have you encountered an obstacle only to figure a way around it or through it? The same holds true for your muscle with regard to fitness.
Every week you train a muscle, you must force more and more work upon it to encourage it to grow. Doing the same thing over and over again isn’t anything new for your muscles. They’ve already been exposed to that particular stress and have adapted to it. To grow you must make them work harder than the previous time.
Progressive overload forces your body into that growth. But in order to do that, you have to know what you’ve previously done so that you can improve upon it the next time. This means recording your progress in the gym! Only by tracking weight, reps, sets, and rest will you know how to up the intensity next time around.Examples of Progressive Overload
Now that you’ve got an idea of what progressive overload is, let’s look at a few ways to put it into practice.
Example 1: Increasing Resistance (i.e. adding weight to the bar)
Bench Press 185# for 3 sets x 8-12 reps with 2 minutes rest
In this first example, let say that this week, you performed 3 sets of bench press using 185# and completed 12 reps on each set, while resting 2 minutes between each set. That means, next week during your chest session, you will lift 195# on the bench press for as many reps as you can on each set while still resting 2 minutes between sets.
When you complete 12 reps on each set with 2 minutes of rest between each set, it’s time to up the weight again.
Example 2: Adding Sets
Let’s say that you’ve completed 3 sets on the bench using 185#, but you don’t have access to more weight or you can lift 195# for at least 8 clean repetitions. Another way to employ progressive overload is to add another set of bench press using 185#
So, if last week, you completed 3 sets of 12 repetitions with 2 minutes rest, this week, you’ll add on another set, so that you’re performing 4 sets of bench press with 2 minutes rest. Chances are you won’t be able to get all 12 reps on that 4th set. This is another form of progressive overload. By adding on another working set, you’re increasing the amount of work your muscles are subjected to compared to the previous training session, which means they’ll be forced to adapt and grow bigger and stronger.
Example 3: Decreasing Rest
Going back to our bench press example, let’s suppose that you can complete 4 sets on the bench using 185# and for some reason you can’t increase the weight anymore. Rather than add on a 5th set (which you could just as well do), decrease the amount of rest you’re taking between sets.
So, if you’re typically taking 2 minutes break between sets on the bench, remove 15 seconds of rest so that you’re only resting for 1 minute and 45 seconds. Performing 4 sets of the bench with a reduced rest interval is forcing your muscles to accomplish a greater amount of work in a shorter amount of time, which is yet another means to employ progressive overload.
As with all the other forms of progressive overload, there will come a point where you simply can keep removing time from your rest periods, which is when you employ one of the many other options of progressive overload (adding weight, reps, sets, frequency, etc.).
Progress to Grow!
Diet, rest, stress, and training all play a role in building the body of a champion, but the driver behind all of that is progressive overload. To force your muscles to grow and adapt, you must make them do more work than before. The rest of those variables (diet, sleep, etc.) support the effects of progressive overload and help you grow bigger and stronger.