Ask any trainer, coach, strength & conditioning specialist, or otherwise, what the most important component is in an exercise program and they will tell you progressive overload.
You show me someone who is not making progress; I’ll show you someone who’s not employing progressive overload.
Technical definition is: “gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.”
Layman’s definition is: “keep doing MORE than you’re doing and you’ll see results.”
Problem is, what exactly constitutes “more?”
If you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll get these examples – if you want to improve your running, you HAVE TO do one (or more) of the following: a) run faster, b) run more often, c) run longer (on a single run), or d) run more volume (total weekly mileage). Any of these things will equal progressive overload in a weekly program. If you want to go into progressive overload in a single training session, this is another can of worms. Then it’s more intervals, faster intervals, longer intervals, shorter rest periods, etc…
Most people do not understand progressive overload in strength training. It DOES NOT just mean lifting heavier weights (though this is one way to create progressive overload). If you’re looking to make gains, increase tone, balance, stability, strength, power, endurance, or whatever else, you need to:
1. Lift heavier weights. (*side note – a dichotomy usually exists between men and women. Men normally lift weights that are too heavy for them to do with proper form. It’s a macho thing. Women normally don’t lift weights heavy enough because they are afraid of “getting big.” But rest assured ladies, unless you start injecting testosterone, 99% of you are incapable of putting on significant muscle mass…regardless of how heavy you lift)
2. Decrease rest periods. Less time between sets and exercises.
3. Increase # of sets. If you’re doing 2 sets of every exercise now, 3 sets will create progressive overload.
4. Increase # of reps. If you’re doing 15 reps of every exercise now, 20 reps will create progressive overload.
5. Increase # of exercises. If your overall program has 8 total exercises you’re doing, 10 will create progressive overload.
6. Increase training frequency. If you strength train 2x/week right now, 3x/week will create progressive overload.
7. Increase difficulty of exercises. Simplest way to see this: 1) do a pushup with your hands on a bench and feet on the floor, 2) do a regular pushup, 3) do a pushup with your hands on the floor and feet on a bench. You’ll see instantly which one is the most challenging. Lever angles mean everything.
8. Increase the speed of the exercises. If you always do your exercises in a 2:2 ratio (sec:sec), performing your exercises faster will create progressive overload.
Now, PLEASE do not try to manipulate any more than 1-2 of these factors at any given time. If you try to add in all these things at once you’re going to be laying in the fetal position on your bathroom floor. Baby steps.
If you want to download a free workout template that I use with clients, you can do so below. This is a simple way to create progressive overload. All you do is this:
- Choose 6 exercises and keep them constant for all 8 sessions
- Keep weight, rest periods and speed of exercises constant for all 8 sessions as well
- In each workout, try to do more reps than you did in the previous workout
(Clients get an excel spreadsheet that automatically calculates totals and % improvement)
This is as simple as it gets. But, please be aware that this is ONLY going to target muscular endurance, which may or may not be your limiting factor in strength training. I would have to write a novel to encompass all the different ways of switching things around to achieve specific results.
Get strong and God bless.