The progressive overload principle is the key to increasing size and strength and ignoring it means you’ll stay the same size and strength or even get smaller and weaker!
It’s critically important that this principle is at the heart of everything you do in the gym and you focus on it during every single workout so that you keep making progress.
In this article I’ll explain what it is and why it’s so important, you’ll come away from this page armed with the knowledge that’ll guarantee every workout produces results from now onwards.
Progressive overload simply refers to increasing the stress on your muscles over a period of time.
Your body is great at adapting to the demands placed on it. When you lift a weight you’ve never lifted before or perform more reps that you previously have it evolves to be able to accommodate that stress in the future.
When you introduce new stimulus (something new) the body sets in motion a range of adaptation mechanisms which ensure you are equipped to perform that task in the future.
The key adaptations include:
- Increased muscle size
- Strengthened bones and tendons
- Strengthened the mind muscle connection
The bottom line is that we have to always increase the stress placed on our muscles if we want them to develop.
Doing the same exercise at the same reps every week means you’ll stagnate. Whilst you’ll probably maintain your strength and muscle, you won’t build any new size or strength.
For that to happen you must increase the stress, this is the progressive overload principle.
Now that you understand how important it is to keep challenging your muscles you’re probably wondering how you fit this into your workouts.
In reality it’s really simple, all you have to do is live by this rule at every workout:
Lift More Weight At Every Workout
The simplest way to increase the stress and kick off the adaptation process is by adding weight to the bar every single workout.
If your workout plan calls for 6 reps then once you can complete 6 reps with the weight your using it’s time to increase it at your next workout.
If you’ve only managed 4 or 5 reps with your current weight you keep the weight the same and shoot for 6 reps at the next workout. The extra reps are still a new stress to the body.
For big compound exercises like the barbell bench press, deadlift or squats increase the weight by 5kg. For all other exercises a smaller 2.5kg increment will be better.
You don’t want to increase the weights too quickly or you’ll plateau (the point where you can’t add weight/more reps with the same weight) and your progress will grind to a halt.
I should also point out that you shouldn’t chop and change exercises at every workout as this makes it hard to track your progress and continually add weight to the movements.
Choose the best weightlifting exercises and stick with them for the entire duration of your workout plan.
There are many other ways to use the progressive overload principle such as adding more sets, working out more frequently, decreasing rest periods and many others.
In reality I think that the fundamentally most important goal for you to focus on is adding weight to the bar no matter what.
Whilst the other methods have their place, I feel they can be distracting and by focussing on the highest yield rule you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
For this reason ignore the others for the time being, once you’ve got a good foundation of strength and you’re adding weight to the bar week after week you can start tweaking your workouts and trying more advanced techniques.
We don’t want to complicate things, just try to add weight or reps to each workout and you’ll always be forcing your body to grow.
That’s the training side covered, just don’t forget the importance of rest (sleep) and good nutrition otherwise you won’t be providing the other two keys to muscle growth.