top of page
10-min.png

8 Steps to Crushing Your First Gym Session

Subscribe to Gympulsive and get updates on all the latest blog articles, updates and industry news.

Free eBook Guide

The 3-Step Beginner's Guide to Progressive Overload (With Examples)

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Hard work in the gym gets you some results. There's no doubt about that. But hard work alone won't get you where you want to be.


You've got to work smart as well.


You need to progress your workouts in a way that allows your body to adapt quickly and efficiently, and avoid hitting plateaus at the same time. We're talking about applying progressive overload.


And while it is absolute crucial to understand the concept of progressive overload if you want to make noticeable gains and improvements, many people do not know what it is, why it's important to incorporate into our training and lastly how to do it.


That's why in this post, I'll be going over these three things are and providing you with examples along the way to help you really grasp the concept of progressive overloading.


Muscular man doing barbell back squat and preparing to lift heavy and intensely


First of All: What is Progressive Overload?


Progressive overload is extremely important to understand if you want to make gains and reach your goals in fitness. However, many people do not actually know what it is.


And this is a problem.


Progressive overload is the act of making your workouts increasingly difficult over time, to accommodate for your growing muscles, fitness and physical capabilities. It's done to provide your muscles with more of a challenge, to ensure that you can keep making new gains and making progress towards your goals.


Progressive overload is usually used in strength training, but it can be applied into other sport and fitness contexts as well.


For example, you can apply progressive overload into things like running, rowing and cycling too.


All of these sports and physical activities require progressive overload in order to continue to allow you to make gains.


If you do not apply progressive overload, you will not only avoid hitting plateaus and struggling to make progress, but prevent yourself from wasting time as well.


You have to make your workouts more difficult in order to grow.


Why is Progressive Overload Important?


Progressive overload is important to apply as your body adapts to the stress that you place it under over time, and needs to be met with increasingly difficult challenges in order to keep getting stronger.


Basically, when you do any form of exercise that's challenging, your body will slowly adapt each time you to it to ensure that the next time you do it, it's not as challenging as before.


Eventually, you will reach a point where the exercise that you do is not challenging enough to stimulate further growth.


Whether this comes in the form of deadlifting a heavy load, or running 5 kilometers in 20 minutes, it's all the same.


Your body will make sure that it's easier for you to hit that same level of performance or intensity the next time you do that physical activity.


That's why you need to progressively overload your workouts and place your body under more and more stress. Otherwise, you simply won't keep growing.


Athletic woman doing sled push and getting both fit and strong at the same time

For example, in strength training, the main driver of muscle growth is mechanical tension. That's basically the amount of weight that you're lifting.


And in order to continue to make gains in the mirror and in our performance, we need to be gradually increasing the weight that our muscles lift over time.


You can pick pretty much any rep range between 5-15 for a given set, and it'll be conducive to hypertrophy, provided you're taking the set close to (within 3 reps of) of failure.


We need to be getting stronger in our chosen rep ranges.


Let's say that you were able to double the amount of weight you bench pressed for 10 reps at maximal effort from 40kg or 90lb to 80kg or 180lb.


In that time, all your other pressing movements will have gotten stronger, and all of your muscles will be noticeably bigger.


However, if you had stayed at a 10 rep max of 40kg or 90lb over the course of a year, you won't have grown much, if any at all.


To make gains, you absolutely need to be progressing in terms of your performance.


A study conducted by Mark D Peterson found that applying progressive overload in strength training (arm exercises in this case) proved to be an extremely effective way of increasing both muscular strength and size in the biceps.


Simply put, not applying progressive overload over time will lead to plateaus and cause your gains to diminish.


To get where you want to be in fitness, you need to continue to apply more and more stress onto the body.


Otherwise your body will do what it naturally does and make your physical activity become easier and easier, until it's no longer a challenge.


How to Apply Progressive Overload


When you come to apply progressive overload into your own training, there are a couple of things that you have to remember.


First of all, you need to keep yourself safe.


Do not try and increase the difficulty or intensity of your workout too quickly before your body is strong enough to cope with it.


This can lead to injury and put you out of training for a long time, which will be more detrimental than not making any progress.


Next up, you have to realize that it takes time. Your bench press will not increase by 5kg or 10lb every week.


You will not always be making progress when you want to be. However this does not mean that you've hit a plateau. Sometimes, it takes weeks to see improvements in your strength.


Sometimes, you might even find that you're weaker than you were in a previous session.


This all comes down to how hard you're training, how much time you're allowing yourself for recovery and your workout preparation.


But don't be so quick to assume that just because you didn't get stronger one week, that you've hit a plateau. Give it some time.


With these things in mind, you can now look to incorporate some progressive overloading into your workouts, one way or another.


We'll start with progressively overloading in weight training first, as we assume that's the category that most of you reading this will fall under. Then we'll get into progressively overloading for other popular sports and physical activities.


With weight training, you have a variety of options when it comes to applying progressive overload and making your workouts more difficult.


There are several factors that determine how hard you're really working in the gym, and you can alter many of them to change up the stress that you're placing on the body.


Increasing Weight


The first, and probably most straightforward way of progressively overloading is to increase the weight that you're lifting.


If you find that lifting 60kg or 135lb on the bench press for 3 sets of 10 reps has become too easy, you can look to add 2.5kg (or a 5lb plate) onto each side of the bar, and go from there.


Remember that the amount of weight you lift will be inversely proportionate to the number of reps that you can do. If you increase the weight that you're lifting, the number of reps that you can perform in a given set is sure to decrease.


You might only be able to do 6 reps with the new weight, or 8 reps. Whatever the case is, don't worry, because your body is going to adapt to bench pressing 65kg or 145lb over time, and you'll quickly get back up to doing sets of 10 reps.


Except this time, with heavier weights.


A typical progressive overloading plan by increasing weight might look something like this:

​Week

Weight

Sets

Reps

1

60kg or 135lb

3

10

2

60kg or 135lb

3

12

3

65kg or 145lb

3

8

4

65kg or 145lb

3

10

5

65kg or 145lb

3

12

6

70kg or 155lb

3

8

Increasing Reps


You don't actually have to look to increase the weight straight away. You could look to increase the reps you do each set with the same weight, until you reach too many reps and a point where your training is not optimal for your goals.


For example, in a barbell back squat, you might be able to do 30kg for 3 sets of 5 reps near maximal effort. Instead of jumping to 35kg and doing sets of 3 reps, you could simply increase the number of reps you do each set, up until you're banging out sets of 10-12 reps.


This is another effective way of progressively overloading and placing your body under more stress.


However, you will eventually need to increase the weight. You don't want to keep adding reps forever, as sets of around 20-25+ reps will be more geared towards increasing muscular endurance than muscle size.


Here's what your plan might look like:

Week

Weight

Sets

Reps

1

30kg

3

5

2

30kg

3

7

3

30kg

3

10

4

30kg

3

12

5

35kg

3

5

6

35kg

3

7

Increasing Sets


Another way that you can look to apply progressive overload is by increasing the number of sets that you do.


You can keep the weight and reps done the same, but add a set to an exercise or two each week.


For example, maybe you hit the military press for 3 sets of 6 reps in week one. In the next week, you could look to do 4 sets of 6 reps, and then 5 sets of 6 reps in week 3.


This is a great way to apply progressive overload, and will help keep the workouts feeling more and more challenging as you get stronger.


Increasing Time Under Tension


Man doing chest isolation exercise on pec deck machine and burning out his muscles

You could also look to keep the weight, sets and reps the exact same.


Except as you get stronger, you increase the time under tension of your muscles.


Basically, this means slowing the reps down, and really focusing on resisting the weight, instead of just meaninglessly going through the motions.


Some general tips for this that we could give you are: most of the time, you should look to control the eccentric (lengthening) portion of the movement to a point where gravity is doing very little work.


For example, resist the weight in a bicep curl on the way down. Don't let gravity drag it down for you.


You should also look to lift the weight with as much force as possible (keeping it controlled) on the concentric or contracting portion of the exercise, so that you recruit as many motor unit and muscle fibers as possible.


This has been shown in science to be a great way to utilize time under tension, ad will lead to great gains over time.


Whatever you do, don't purposely slow down the concentric portion of the lift. You're just wasting your time and limiting gains.


Decreasing Rest Periods


This is the method that we would least recommend you use in the gym when it comes to applying progressive overload. However, if you do want to use it, you definitely can.


Simply keep the weight, sets and reps the same but decrease your rest periods every week or so until you get down to a short rest time in between each set.


For example, instead of resting three minutes between sets like you did in week one, rest 2 and a half minutes. Then two minutes in week 3.


This will make the workouts more difficult, and is a way of applying progressive overload over time. But if you can, we'd recommend that you use the other methods outlined in this post over this one.


Progressive Overload in Other Sports


Progressive overloading can also be done with cardiovascular exercises and some other sports as well.


For example, you could look to increase the length of your cardiovascular workouts if you train with a steady state cardio style.


Whether you do this through rowing, cycling, running or swimming, it's all the same.


  • Week 1 - 15 minutes at moderate intensity

  • Week 2 - 20 minutes at moderate intensity

  • Week 3 - 25 minutes at moderate intensity

  • Week 4 - 30 minutes at moderate intensity

  • Perhaps look to increase intensity over time


Or, if you train with more of a HIIT training style, you could look to increase the intensity of your working periods. For example, in a 10 x 200m sprint session, you could try and increase the speed at which you run these 200m intervals over time.


This is all down to how quickly you progress and your ability to perform, but if you choose to stick with running 200m at the same intensity over and over again, that will lead to plateauing.


Increasing Training Frequency


You could also look to increase the number of times that you train throughout the week, and this is an especially good method if you're a competitive athlete for sports like rugby, cycling, etc.


For example, instead of getting out on the bike and cycling twice a week, try to fit in a third session!


Or perhaps if you're an athlete for school or a club, you could look to train twice a day 3 times a week, or as often as you can manage with your own recovery abilities and schedule.


This will create more stress onto the body over time, and you'll find that your performance and gains increase greatly, provided you're not overworking yourself.


To Wrap It Up


There are countless ways that you can look to apply and incorporate progressive overload into your training.


You just have to be smart with it, be creative at times, and ultimately know why you're doing what you're doing.


It's important that you do understand the concept of this, as it's really the only way you'll ever be able to get far in your fitness and reach where you want to be in life.


If you're still a little unsure about it, reach out to us! We'll see how we can help you out.


Hopefully you've learned something from this post, and have found it useful in some way! If you did, and you found it interesting, consider sharing it with your friends so that we can reach and help more people!



For even more content like this, upgrade your account to Gympulsive Pro and gain unlimited access to out blog posts!


How will you be applying progressive overload from now on?

Comments


Popular Posts
 

10-min.png
10-min.png
dreams reality. (2)-min.png

We hope you find value in this article.

If you want our team to just guide you through your fitness, click here.

Anchor 1
bottom of page