WTF Is Progressive Overload

Progressive overload seems to be the strength-training topic of the day, but why? 

Put simply, the use of resistance or cardiovascular training to challenge your body will cause it to adapt and overcome the challenge. The training acts as a stimulus that, once overcome, can be continually increased to ‘progressively overload’. 

Sounds simple. Lift a little more every session. Run a bit faster each race.

Progressive overload in fitness and workouts

If you’re training with a purpose (sprint speed, bodybuilding, underwater swimming), you can target your activities and workouts in the direction you need. If you’re working with a trainer, they will be able to create a programme that overloads your body in the most effective ways to reach your goals.

If you’re building your own workout programme and you’ve identified your activities, you can build progressive overload into your training in several ways. The different overload styles will give various benefits, and again, should be used depending on your specific goals.

  • Repetitions: The first way to progressively overload is to increase the number of individual but identical actions (reps) you can group together before a rest period, whether that’s running sprints, swimming lengths or lifting on a bench.
  • Sets: The next way is to increase those groups of reps by adding another ‘set’. Building up your number of sets instead of reps can have a slightly different benefit and work towards conditioning and aerobic benefits.
  • Interval duration: Shorter interval/rest breaks between sets will add an extra challenge and push your body to reduce its recovery period. 
  • Resistance: As your training progresses, most people will increase resistance. This will challenge your body to deliver more power and stimulate strength improvements more than endurance.
  • Tempo: The tempo of your movements can be altered to slow your movements and recruit more muscle fibres or quickened to develop explosive and fast power.

Take head though!

It’s called progressive overload because the overload needs to progress as your body adapts. It can be tempting to change those incremental steps into jumps, trying to speed up your muscle growth. However, this is a speedy way to injure yourself and set your training back while you recover.

Progressive overload keeps your body developing against set challenges. You can also challenge your body by changing these challenges entirely but that is an article for another day.