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5 Ways to Apply Progressive Overload


On Instagram, one of the most frequently asked questions is: How do I build muscle? To that question, I have one answer: strength training with progressive overload.

As the name implies, the principle of progressive overload ensures you continue to progress towards your goals- whether building muscle, gaining strength, improving speed, etc. It’s a strategic and effective way to avoid plateaus, which can be difficult to escape otherwise. It might sound complicated, but progressive overload truly is a simple principle that will help you meet your fitness goals with ease.

What is Progressive Overload?
Progressive overload means to gradually increase the stress or demand on the body overtime. This constant progression is necessary to continuously see improvements. In order to increase muscle size, strength, and endurance, the demands on your body always need to be increased. Without progressive overload, your body adapts and eventually becomes static. Meaning, your progress will halt. For this reason alone, progressive overload is such an important tool.

Benefits of Progressive Overload
While certainly beneficial for building muscle, the progressive overload principle is effective for most physical fitness goals. These are some of the biggest benefits from utilizing progressive overload:

  • Build Muscle and Strength- As you know by now, progressive overload is a fail-proof way to build muscle and increase strength.
  • Increase Endurance- As with strength training, progression overload can also be used in cardiovascular training. When you continue to place more demand on your muscles, they naturally increase in endurance.
  • Avoid Plateaus- Plateaus are inevitable without the use of progression overload. When your workouts no longer progress, neither will your body.

5 Ways to Apply Progressive Overload Principles
Needless to say, progressive overload is an essential concept for any physical fitness goal. So, how can you practically apply this principle? There are various ways you can incorporate progressive overload into your training, including the following:

1. Increase Weight/Resistance- Every 2 weeks (sometimes more, sometimes less), increase the weight you use during your strength training exercise. Listen to your body, but don’t be afraid to challenge your muscles, either.

2. Increase Sets and Reps- Up the amount of repetitions and sets you complete every week or two. This is a great way to increase demand on the muscles.

3. Increase Training Volume- Training volume is a combination of weight, reps, and sets during each workout. The more weight used and reps/sets completed, the higher the training volume. Increase your training volume over several weeks.

4. Decrease Rest Time- Rest time between sets can be decreased to apply more demand on the muscles. Reduce the amount of rest time as the weeks go on. For example, start with 60 seconds rest between sets, before progressing to 45 seconds rest, and so on.

5. Increase Intensity- The intensity of your workout can be increased by including supersets, drop sets, or pre/post-workout exhaustion. Incorporate these workout “upgrades” to bump up the intensity of your workout.

In the case of progressive overload, you need to continuously increase the difficulty of your workouts over a specific time period. Using the methods above will help you do so! As a result, you’ll witness your muscles become stronger, bigger, and faster.