It's a term often used within the gym atmosphere, as well as many fitness related pages on social media, so chances are you would have heard of it before - but what does it mean?
Progressive overload is often spoken about in relation to strength training (although the same principles can be applied to cardiovascular training like running) and is the act of gradually and continually increasing the load placed on your muscles in order for them to become stronger.
There are a few different ways to achieve progressive overload and some basic principles to follow, which I'll cover below!
So, how do we achieve progressive overload and what would this look like in our training? There are a few ways of doing this:
Increasing the number of repetitions of an exercise
For example, in week one, you might do 4 sets of 4 Squats at 40kg. Week 2, you would increase this to maybe 2 sets of 5 squats and 2 sets of 4 squats at the same weight. Week 3, might be 4 sets of 5 squats at 40kg, and so on. You can see that by gradually (progressively) increasing the number of reps, we are placing more work on the muscles involved, therefore requiring them to adapt and become stronger.
This works well in conjunction with the above formula of increasing the number of reps. Using the example above, when you have worked your way up to maybe 4 sets of 8 Squats at 40kg, you would then INcrease the weight and DEcrease the number of reps. So it might look like 2 sets of 4 Squats at 45kg and 2 sets of 8 Squats at 40kg for the first week. In the second week, you might increase this to 4 sets of 4 Squats at 45kg, then repeat the same gradual weekly increase of reps as above. Before you know it, you'll be doing 8 reps at this higher weight no trouble...Boom! There's your gains right there!
Alter training frequency
If there are specific areas you are wanting to increase your strength in, you could consider adding more exercises to your training week that target that area. For example, if you are wanting stronger legs, you might add an extra lower body exercise into one of your training days. Or if your workouts are split into upper and lower body days, you might even add an extra lower body session into your week - ONLY if you are recovering adequately from your current sessions!
Tempo, holds and pauses
These 3 tricks can be your best friend if you're working with a limited weight selection or the jump to the next weight available is just a little too big at the moment!
Try slowing down your movements, adding a hold at the top or a pause at the bottom - all sure fire ways to fire up the intensity! This might look like pausing at the bottom of your Squat before explosively pushing up, holding at the top of a Bicep Curl or doing Push Ups at a count of 5 seconds down and 5 seconds up (OUCH!).
3 important things to remember when implementing progressive overload:
Proper form is key! Start with a light weight selection for a week or 2 and get that form perfect. This lays the foundations for your training will help you achieve the strength goals you are aiming for - as well as help prevent injury. Invest in a couple of sessions with a coach, utilise the mirrors where appropriate (not while deadlifting, please), or one of the most helpful ones - make use of that phone and film yourself!
2. LOG YOUR WORKOUTS! Buy a fancy notebook, use the notes section on your phone, draw up a spreadsheet...It doesn't matter what it looks like as long as you do it! Without this information recorded, there is next to no way of knowing how you are progressing or what you should be lifting each week. Write it down and make life easy for yourself.
3. Only change one thing at a time, whether it's the number of reps, sets or the weight. Altering more than one of the variables might be more strain than your body can handle and result in injury. Be patient, increase gradually and you will get to where you want to be!
The best and most effective training programmes are often not the prettiest or most Instagram worthy! Strength gains happen with repetition over time. This usually looks like repeating the same programme for 8, 10 or even 12 weeks at a time! For example, my training for the past year has looked like 4 sessions a week with 3 rest days. These sessions are broken down into either 2 lower and 2 upper, or 4 mixed full body sessions (I prefer the latter). I repeat these same 4 sessions for 10-12 weeks before a new programme is written.
The real satisfaction comes at looking at where you started compared to where you get to - not just in the amount of weight being pushed or pulled, but also in the confidence within each movement and perfecting technique.
Take each session as it comes and enjoy it! Celebrate the little wins along the way and remember to take time to notice how far you've come. With a bit of patience, repetition and hard work, you will soon be where you want to be today...Albeit probably with a new set of goals to conquer, having forgotten that one day all you wanted was to be where you are now!!!
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of strength training and why we should ALL be implementing it in some way, take a look at this previous blog post!
Feel free to get in contact if you have any questions or comments - I love hearing from you!
Find me on Instagram - @kando_training, or Facebook - @KANdoTraining.