What Is Progressive Overload and Why Is It Important?

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is a term that is commonly used with strength training. It is when increases to the training session or workout are made to increase the difficulty or intensity. It makes it harder! This is done gradually overtime to make sure the body is ready for the increase in intensity. It is important to be done slowly to reduce the risk of injuries. If we go too hard too soon and the body is not ready for it, we risk injuries such as muscle, bone, ligament or tendon issues along with experiencing excessive fatigue or performance declines.

Why Is It Important?

Whilst exercise can always feel hard and like it never gets easier our bodies do adjust and get used to it. In the first 6-7 weeks we start to see neural changes and our muscles start to switch on and work better. Once the muscles start to switch on and do their job then we can work towards improving our muscle strength and that happens in about weeks 7-13. Sometimes we can see some strength changes earlier and this is often just because the muscle starts to work. If we continue to do the same workout with the same weights, reps, sets, duration, frequency and intensity our bodies will adapt and get used to the workout which will then see our results such as strength increases start to plateau. This is where progressive overload becomes important. If our bodies adapt and our gains such as strength, endurance or even speed plateaus it doesn’t mean that that’s the strongest, fittest or fastest we can get it just means we are used to that load we are placing on our body. If we increase the load by increasing the weight, sets, reps, duration, frequency or intensity then we are progressively overloading, increasing the stress and our bodies will work towards this new workout load to continue to see improvements such as getting stronger, have more endurance or even walk or run faster.

Ways to Progressive Overload

There are many ways to progressively overload. We can increase a weight we are lifting, increase the amount of reps (how many times we lift something in i.e. 10 times in one bout) increase the sets (how many times we lift that weight i.e. 3 sets) If we see 10 reps by 3 sets, it means we are going to lift a weight 10 times and then repeat those ten 3 times. We can also increase the time of our workout to assist with endurance or the frequency, how often in a week we will do that workout. We can also try to walk or run that bit faster to increase out heart rate or even add a hill to our walk or run.

When we are progressively overload as mentioned above, we want to do it gradually. We generally pick one component to increase at a time. We will usually increase the reps when looking to gain muscle strength, build them up and then when we feel able, we will start to increase the sets. Once we are happy and able to lift the required reps and sets then we can increase the weight we are lifting. As we increase the weight, we will often decrease the reps then gradually build them back up again to repeat the cycle.

As we do progressively overload our workouts very rarely feel easier, but we do get stronger!

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