Why progressive overload matters
Lifting the same weights day in and day out will not make you stronger or fitter. If you walk in the gym on day one and lift the same weights on day 100, you have not gotten any stronger and your body composition has most likely stayed the same. Here’s how to ensure that never happens.
Progressive overload refers to a slow, gradual increase in intensity of your workouts. It is very subtle, happening over the course of weeks and months. Done properly, it will make your fitness journey a whole lot smoother.
Putting this concept into practice is very easy: add more weight or more reps to your workouts each week or every other week. That’s it.
The rate at which you increase the intensity will vary between individuals and experience will play a huge role. Beginners can add intensity quicker than advanced lifters due to a rapid increase in technique, but the concept stays the same for everyone: keep making it more challenging, no matter how slow you do it.
There are many, many ways you can put this concept into effect. The easiest way is by adding reps. Say you did 3 sets of 10 squats at 100 pounds last week. This week try to do 3 sets of 10 squats at 105 pounds. And that’s it! You progressed over last week. Then the following week do 3 sets of 10 squats at 110 pounds.
Here are more ways to increase your intensity
The 2 rep rule
If you can do 2 extra reps on your last set on 2 consecutive workouts, add weight. Adding 5%-10% will suffice. These two extra reps have to be done with impeccable technique otherwise adding weight is not recommended.
Each week (or every other week), add 2 extra reps to your sets. If you can manage to do 3 sets of 10 push ups this week, try to do 3 sets of 12 next week.
Shortening your rest periods
If you do 3 sets of 10 squats with 60 seconds rest in between last week. Try doing the same thing this week with only 45 seconds rest in between.
Make your last set tougher by adding finishers to them. Finishers can be drop sets, rest pause sets, repping out or cardio finishers.
Let’s take lunges for example. Your last set consists of 10 reps.
Drop sets: After the 10 reps, drop the weight by 50% and try to do another 10 reps. The amount of weight that you drop is up to you, I like doing 50% but you can do another number.
Rest pause sets: After the 10 reps, pause for 15 seconds and do as may reps as you can (you will most likely get (3-4). Then rest another 15 seconds and rep out again. Do that until you cant do more than 2 reps.
Repping out: This is essentially another drop set. After your last 10 reps, pick a very light weight and do as many unbroken reps as possible.
Cardio finisher: After the last 10 reps, hop on the treadmill and do 4 sprints of 10 seconds each with 50 seconds rest in between.
The possibilities of finisher are endless! Different finishers work better for different exercises. Make sure that your finishers are done safely, and that you keep the quality of each rep.
Progressive overload is a fitness habit you should get into ASAP. The best way to apply progressive overload is to track your workouts. This will take out any guess work. If you don’t remember exactly what you lifted last week, how can you safely increase the intensity this week? You may add too much or not enough.
Performing the exercises correctly is crucial at any stage of the workout. Whether is is your first rep of your set or the last ones you doing, you must have proper form. This will prevent any injuries and ensure your long term fitness progression (can't progress if you're injured all the time).
Some days you will walk in the gym feeling like it's a day you will be able to add weight, some days you won't feel like that at all. On those days, listen to your body and keep the workout the same. Then on the days you feel amazing, try increase the intensity a little.
What if you can't progress?
The examples given in this article are a good guideline for beginners. Once you are more advanced, you will notice your progression will slow down. That is entirely normal. The more advanced you get, the longer it will take you to progress. Patience is your best friend when you become more advanced.
If you struggle to increase weights or rep for a long time and you think your body can still progress, you need to look at your training plan as honestly as possible. Is your nutrition as good as it can be? Are you getting enough sleep? Are your workouts challenging enough?
The more experienced you become in the gym the more details come into play and all need to be done properly for you body to become stronger.
How often should you switch up your routine?
When it comes to workout routines I believe in the "if-it-aint-broken-dont-fix-it" approach. If you find a program that works with you, with your schedule, with your body type, your injuries, your lifestyle and it delivers results consistently then stay with it!
I do not recommend program hopping often. Give any given program a fair shot meaning at the very least 2 months.
On the other hand, if you've been doing the same program over and over and you notice you don't progress any more, then it's time to look at a different approach.
Try to apply progressive overload to your workouts for the next 6 weeks and let me know how it goes!
Enjoy the results,