Stucked or plateaued and not getting results at the gym anymore? You may be missing out on the PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD PRINCIPLE – the master key for hypertrophy, strength, and endurance.
Bodybuilding taught me that this progression funda even applies when it comes to growing in life. It’s not just limited to the gym.
It’s very rightly said, “You gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable”.
Let’s have a detailed look at what progressive overload is and how it can be a blessing along with the hustle for that muscle!
What is Progressive Overload?
Progressive means ‘to progress gradually’.
So in simple terms, progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress (load) on the muscles/body during training.
Irrespective of the goals, gradually improving and striving for being better than earlier.
As you get stronger with weights over time, the demand for the load and stimulus also goes up. The body is way too smart which adapts to the constant stress given.
Your biggest 100kg lifts wouldn’t be as challenging for you after several weeks/months.
It needs further stimulus to break this adaptation of the muscular system. If you aren’t putting enough stress on the muscles, you’re not giving them a reason to grow.
When additionally more load is put over a period of time, muscles compensate by making themselves stronger, and guess what? More growth & development of MUSCLE FIBERS!
This compensation phenomenon is called “over-compensation”.
Where the concept of increasing weights after every set came in from? – PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD!
Benefits of Progressive Overload
- Works and applies in all types of training (even cardio).
- Along with your muscles – even makes your bones, joints, and ligaments stronger over time.
- It doesn’t let your body hit the plateau and avoid results to stop.
- Keeps your training program effectively working.
- Increases your strength, performance, endurance, and overall fitness levels.
Ways/Methods for Progressive Overload:
↑ More muscle growth is often triggered by manipulating the muscle-building principles like LOAD, VOLUME, FREQUENCY, TIME UNDER TENSION, etc., and exercise variables like no of exercises, their order, and length of rest time between sets.
Read about the training principles:
- FITT Principle – Build your own training program!
- SAID Principle (Principle of Specificity) – Maximize your training output!
Progression at the gym can be made in many ways which creates a WIN-WIN situation for you.
1) Increasing the Weights (Most common & the best way)
This is the most commonly used method for overloading the muscles with progression. Probably, even you may be using this one.
Heavy lifting will cause more micro-tears and the recruitment of muscle fibers. It’s also been proven that high-intensity resistance training stimulates greater results in terms of strength & muscle gain.
So your aim should be to add up more weights every set. Also, they should be heavy enough to make you struggle to complete 8-12 reps (for hypertrophy). For strength gains, you can target 1-6 reps.
Best for? – Strength & Hypertrophy both.
2) Doing more Reps & Sets
Another means you can achieve this is by still keeping weights the same but increasing the no. of repetitions/sets. It comes out to be very beneficial in terms of ENDURANCE.
Suppose 30kgs is the maximum load that you can lift for 12 reps. For the next set, you can try pushing yourself for 13-15, and so on. Those extra 1-2 reps are still adding more stress/progression.
When you hit that same muscle next time, your target should be doing >13-15.
Rep ranges and the amount of weight you can lift depends on your goal and individual differences.
Best for? – Hypertrophy & Endurance both.
3) Increasing Workout Duration & Time Under Tension
This no way means TRAINING until exhaustion and torturing yourself for long hours at the gym. It’s just tweaking your overall workout duration by adding more volume.
Also, TUT is a potent variable when it comes to breaking the plateau and making consistent growth.
Emphasizing the correct form and lifting weights in a controlled way works great in adding more tension to the muscles. This even ensures that the target muscle is been hit fully!
Better the form = Greater stress and muscle engagement.
4) Increasing Training Frequency
Working out more often per week and hitting the same muscle 2x in a week is a very good example of it.
Studies also concluded that training 2x a week promoted superior hypertrophic outcomes compared to training only once a week. Major muscle groups can be trained twice a week, and minor ones 2x-3x to maximize more growth.
It is also said that increasing training frequency allows more frequent increments in muscle protein synthesis.
Though there are also some new contradictory studies which say ‘high-frequency training is not more effective than the low freqs’.
Very helpful for the lagging body parts.
5) Decreasing the Rest Time Between Sets
“Intensity” is the key, and this is a great way to make your workout session INTENSE. Decreasing the rest time would keep your heart rate up & increase the metabolic stress on your body.
Increased metabolic stress trains your body to be more efficient metabolically. Serves great importance during FAT LOSS and increases endurance ability.
Adding Super-sets & Drop-sets works similarly in putting progression overload.
6) Increasing RANGE OF MOTION
Suppose you usually do partial reps, you can go with the full ones now. The full range of motion recruits more muscle fibers.
Even it goes vice versa i.e doing partial reps may increase the TUT factor & keep your muscles constantly under tension. That’s why partial reps have their own place in training.
⇒ Points to Remember
1) You’re not at the gym just for swinging weights but for a purpose → PROGRESS.
2) Lesser you use your muscles, the higher the chances of muscle atrophy/muscle loss. That’s why being SEDENTARY won’t do any good for the muscles! USE IT or you lose it – This is how it goes.
3) Don’t just go crazy adding a large number of weights every set compromising your FORM →
4) PROGRESSION practically takes time and happens over time, not overnight or necessarily over a week. The objective should always be acquiring a higher level of workload.
5) If you keep overloading your muscles with immense stress over time and don’t focus on the recovery, your body goes into an exhaustion state which is OVER-REACHING followed by OVERTRAINING.
6) The growth happens in the RECOVERY process → Proper sleep and Nutrition which includes adequate protein intake are important ingredients for the progression.
7) Don’t keep changing your exercises/routine every now and then for muscle confusion that you MISS OUT on the important concept of progressive overload. Sticking to your goal/routine for at least 8-12 weeks and progressively overloading should be more of your concern.
→ Heavy & light-mod weights both have their place, just pumping the muscles won’t give you any gains.
The PUMP is not an indicator of growth. It will just give you transient hypertrophy. Training just for a pump shouldn’t be your sole focus. You can surely periodize lighter weights along with heavy lifting.
Eg: 3 sets you are going heavy, you can blast the last set with low-mod weight and super high reps – like a pump set.
“Slow progress is better than no progress”. Without a purpose and progression principle, you won’t get satisfactory results.
Regardless of the goal, Progression Overload is the key that would ultimately help you in building more muscle consistently. I would recommend going with the first method i.e focusing on increasing weights.
You can try periodization of high-intensity & low-intensity training.
- Thomas L. DeLorme – Science of Progressive Resistance Training
- ACSM – Progressive Overload is crucial and must
- High-Intensity Resistance Training stimulates greater gains
- Principle of Progressive Overload
- Training 2x a week is superior for Hypertrophy
- High-Frequency Training vs Low Freqs
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