What is Progressive Overload & 6 Ways To Go About It!

Progressive overload

Imagine a boy who used to study only for half an hour daily & he scored poorly in his exams. He then decided to be more focused & dedicated & give more time to his studies. In his next exam, he scored exceedingly well. And that happened just because he decided to give more time to his studies. In this process, he worked his brain muscles to grasp & understand more than he usually did.

The same is the case with our bodily muscles too. The more we work on it, the better we give it a chance & environment to grow & become stronger. And this process is what we call Progressive Overload.

Whenever someone starts working out, the initial phase is the most difficult one. Everyone remembers that feeling after performing squats for the first time. Those 10 stairs down the gym feel like stairways to hell after the workout. However, as time progresses, we no longer feel sore after performing the same set of workouts. This is because our mind & body are both pretty efficient at getting used to the external extra stresses that we are putting on it.

progressive overload

Progressive Overload: How Is It Done

Honestly, there are loads of ways to progressively overload, but here I am gonna talk about 6 ways to perform it for the ultimate results.

Increase The Load/Resistance
progressive overload

This is the most obvious way to increase the tension/stress on your muscles. For example – If you were squatting 100 Kgs for 12 reps & now it feels like it has got easier for you, try to add some weights, let’s say 5 Kgs, on each side of the bar. It must get challenging for you because your body is not used to lifting this extra 10 Kgs. But here’s a thing, the number of reps is inversely proportional to the weights. So it might feel like you’ll only be able to do 10 reps with it & that’s perfectly normal. As you will increase your strength, your reps would increase too.

Increase The Reps

If you don’t want to add weights, the alternative is to increase the number of reps you performed. For example – If you were doing 8-10 reps in a set of exercises, you can add the reps & go up to 12 reps. I am saying that because you don’t want to increase the reps indefinitely, it would enhance your muscle endurance rather than increase your strength. To maximize your strength & muscle building, you need to keep your rep range between 8 and 12.

Increase The Overall Volume

This is another way to progressive overload by adding more sets to your exercise or simply adding more exercises in your workout.
Volume = Sets * Reps * Weights
For example – Let’s say you were performing 3 sets of squats in your workout. So now, to progressive overload, you need to increase the number of sets or just add another exercise that would emphasize your quads.

Increase The Frequency

Frequency basically refers to how often & how many times you are performing the exercises. So basically, there are two concepts here:-
Overall Exercise Frequency: This means the number of times you perform any form of exercise per week. It could be any form of exercise like weight training, cardio, calisthenics, etc.
Muscle Frequency: This means the number of times you are targeting a single muscle group per week.

Decrease The Rest Time

You need to decrease your rest intervals between the sets. In this way, you will be performing more sets & exercises in less time.

Increase The TensionĀ 

Increase the duration of each repetition within an exercise. You need to prolong the time under tension of a muscle while performing an exercise.

Important Points

  • You need to be specific with your goal & what you want to achieve. This is because, with different goals, the way to progressive overload would also differ. For example, if you are a powerlifter, you will have to move more weights to gain strength because you need to enhance your 1 rep max. On the other hand, if you want to increase your muscle endurance, you should be focusing on performing more reps within a set.
  • You can try any of the above ways to go about progressive overload, but it is highly recommended that you should try one at a time. For example, if you are continuously increasing weights to overload, you don’t need to decrease the time interval between the sets as it will make you injury prone & your muscles very tired.
  • It is recommended to increase the volume before the intensity. That means you need to increase the number of reps & sets before increasing the weights. This is because it gives your body a better chance to lift more weights effectively afterward, as increasing the volume will enhance your strength.
  • Though progressive overload is important, the form should never be compromised because of that. I understand it will get tempting sometimes to break your PR, but at the cost of compromising of form would do you more bad than good.
  • Progressive overload is not linear. It’s one of the most important things to understand because if you are thinking you will be making a similar kind of progress every time you lift, it’s just not possible. As a beginner, you will be smashing your PR almost in every other lift, but as you progress, your capacity starts to hit a plateau & after that, you need to smartly strategize your lifts to progress further.
  • Progressive overload will become quite difficult if you are trying to lose weight unless you are a beginner. I am saying this because while losing weight, you will be on a calorie deficit & overloading becomes quite difficult because you won’t be having such strength to carry it out. So if you are on a calorie deficit, maintaining your strength will be considered a form of progressive overload.
  • It’s not going to be easy because our minds & body are hardwired to keep us in a comfort zone. We will need to push ourselves to progressive overload but isn’t that life all about moving out of our comfort zones to grow & become better every day.


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