What is progressive overload?
Progressive overload is when you gradually increase frequency, load (weight), or volume (number of reps/sets) in your programming. This ensures your body is continually challenged and allows your musculoskeletal system to become stronger.
Although progressive overload is usually referred to with strength training, the same idea can be applied to any type of exercise, including cardiovascular endurance exercises such as running.
By changing your sessions and adding additional tension, you can avoid plateauing, which is when your body adapts to the type of exercise you’re doing. With progressive overload, you should notice you continue to feel fitter and stronger without plateauing.
How will progressive overload benefit your training?
Performing the same sessions over and over again or using the same amount of weight every time you train can lead to your body plateauing. You may be able to easily lift weight that once was challenging, and you likely don’t notice any DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness)… or any progress!
While a plateau can be seen as a positive sign meaning you’ve made some progress in your fitness journey until now, it also signals that it’s time to change things around.
Progressive overload benefits your training because you’ll avoid a plateau. By changing or progressing in your workouts, you’ll keep your muscles challenged and you’ll get stronger.
For example, in the first month of strength training, you might perform 10 repetitions at one weight. Then, the next month, you’d perform 12 reps of the exercise. Alternatively, you may stick to 10 reps but increase the weight you’re using instead. This will depend on your goals.
A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology tested a progressive overload regimen. The researchers observed 83 people over a period of 12 weeks as they performed a series of arm strengthening exercises.
Researchers found progressive overload — gradually increasing the weight and number of repetitions of exercises — to be effective for increasing bicep strength and muscle growth in both men and women.
How to achieve progressive overload
Depending on your goals, you’ll either need to increase the weight or the volume of sets / reps you’re performing in your session. If you are looking to gain strength, it’s likely your programme will focus on weight increases. However, if your goals are hypertrophy, you’ll need to increase volume.