Gym 101: Progressive Overload

Whether you’re a recreational fitness enthusiast or an elite athlete in order to make the most out of any training programme it is crucial to have a well-structured plan that follows fundamental principles of training. One major component in all training programmes is the principle of progressive overload.

What is the principle of progressive overload?                                                                                        

“Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during resistance training. In reality, resistance training is only effective for improving health and performance if the human body is continually required to exert a greater magnitude of force to meet higher physiologic demands. Thus, a gradual increase in demand of the resistance training programme is necessary for long-term improvement in muscular fitness and health.” (Kraemer, Ratamess and French, 2002)

This principle isn’t necessarily limited to only resistance training, and can be applied to any type of physical training (running, jumping, lifting, etc.) where the goal is simply to “improve”. There are various ways to implement the principle of progressive overload in your workout regimen and lucky for you below you can find a short list that I prepared for you:

  • Intensity:

You can manipulate the intensity of the exercise by increasing the weight/resistance. Heavier weights or an increased resistance will over time lead to an adaptation by your muscles, connective tissue, bone and nervous system. In other words you will get bigger and stronger!

  • Volume (aka Sets & Reps) :

There are situations where increasing the intensity of the exercise is out of question. Or you may simply want to play around with other aspects of your training. Then increasing the number of repetitions in a given set or increasing the total number of sets for a given exercise is a good option which will eventually lead to improvements in muscular endurance and hypertrophy (increase in muscle size).

  • Tempo:

Tempo is another aspect that could be manipulated to achieve progressive overload in your training. As far as lifting is concerned tempo indicates the time spent in concentric, eccentric as well as isometric parts of the exercise. A quicker concentric contraction will lead to improvements in power while a slower is likely to lead to a longer “time under tension” and eventually to muscular hypertrophy. 

  • Frequency:

This is basically how often you work out in a given time. Let’s say if you work out 3 times a week, then an additional 4th day would lead to an increase in frequency and various adaptations. But this one is a bit tricky as you may not want to increase the frequency forever and end up living in the gym. This can not only hurt your life, but many other aspects of your health as well. So, my advice is to be very mindful with this one and listen to your body. If you constantly start feeling fatigued, don’t see any improvements in the gym for an extended period or struggle with your sleep, these are all your body telling you to slow down a little.

  • Exercise Variety

Last but not least, you can implement different exercises in your routine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should change your entire routine every session, but once the improvements plateau in your existing plan then you may want to consider replacing some of the exercises with alternatives.

References:

Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. & French, D.N. Resistance training for health and performance. Curr Sports Med Rep 1, 165–171 (2002).

Aydin Parmaksizoglu

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