The Progressive Overload Principle

The Progressive Overload Principle

Progressive overload is one of the important and successful principles in bodybuilding. There are multiple training techniques but none beats the advantages of progressive overloading. If you want to grow, you have to do progressive overloading.

Progressive overload commands your body to grow and asks for progress every day and every week. Progressive overload defines new standards in the gym. In the gym, there are people who come for all 7 days but they lift the same set ranges with the same weight and often are more involved in socializing than actually training!

progressive overload principle

The concept of progressive overloading is simple – challenge your muscles and keep giving them shocks. That can only be done if the training regime is changed up every time you hit that body part.

More About the Progressive Overload Principle

In the simplest terms, progressive overloading means to allow the muscles not to get accustomed to a specific workout as after a certain period, there is no growth and training becomes stagnant. Curling 40 pounds of dumbbells for 1 year might look challenging for the first month but muscles become used to it after a certain time and stop growing – moreover the weight falls into your comfort zone. The growth has stopped, you have hit a plateau and yet you wonder why your biceps are not growing bigger!

progressive overload principleA common practice being seen in gyms is to lift a specific poundage for a fixed number of reps for years. This would lead you nowhere. Every workout session should be challenging and you should always at least try to hit a new PR.

An image speaks a thousand words and the image to the right perfectly defines progressive overloading!

Steps to Progressive Overload

There are various methods that initiate progressive overloading. Broadly they can be split into two categories:

  1. Methods that aim at making muscles more work
  2. Decrease the time that muscle requires to do same amount of work.

Perform more than you are required

Progressive overload principle says that to grow more try to do as much as you can. If a current program asks for 12 reps, try doing 1-2 more reps. if you are unable to do even 10 yourself, consider going down on poundage and then add those extra 2-3 reps.

This is a complete mind game. The mind is pre-occupied with the thought that a specific number of reps have to be done and you have been doing the same for the past few months, now a new challenge awaits you. The brain sends signals about the new challenge to the body and the body tries to squeeze out as much as it can.

progressive overload principle

Perform more sets

A typical exercise regime consists of 3-4 working sets. What if I say choose one major exercise and perform 5 sets? Consider a complete muscle builder like bench press and aim for adding at least 1-2 more sets in your current plan. Adding more sets challenges the muscles as they get tired and pushed past their limits.

Call for a spotter

Let go of your ego. If you can manage only 8 reps but you always wanted to perform 12 reps, call for a spotter. After 8 reps, your muscles will begin to fail but the last 4 forced and supported reps can be very crucial for muscular development. So shed your ego and always call for a spotter.

Train more frequently

Most of us train a body part only once a week. Rethink this approach for a muscle group that’s not growing. Training a certain muscle group can be done twice a week with a 72 hour break. Make sure the first time you train it with heavy weight and next time choose different exercises and decrease the poundage and for 3-0-2 training methodology.

progressive overload principle

Work your weaknesses

If your rear delts are lagging when compared to front and medial, add 1-2 more exercises that target the rear delts. Try to go heavy on the weak muscle group and its great if you train it first in your regime. This principle must be followed to obtain an overall symmetry.

Shock your system

Increase the intensity of your workout. Add weights which you think you would never be able to lift and try squeezing out few reps with correct form. A 30% increase in your current poundage should be ok for a first few reps until a partner or spotter comes forward for assisted reps.

Take minimal rest

There is no need to take a 5 minute rest. Decrease your rest timings and keep them around 45-60 seconds unless they are big lifts like squats and deadlifts.

Incorporating Progressive Overload into your Schedule

The steps above define the progressive overloading principle. It’s the choice of every individual to adopt either one or multiple principles into a  training regime. All principles might be tough to incorporate at the same time so it has to be seen which of them works best for you and gives a better result. Also notice that you will adapt to newer training programs, so keep on shuffling the principles accordingly.

progressive overload principle

Check out this demo workout chart for 5 weeks using progressive overload:

  1. Calculate your 1 RM
  2. Week 1 – 70 % of 1 RM wherever necessary
  3. Week 2– 75% of 1 RM wherever necessary
  4. Week 3– 80 % of 1 RM wherever necessary
  5. Week 4 -85 % of 1 RM wherever necessary
  6. Week 5– 50% of Week 4 wherever necessary

There is a lot of calculation. I would advise you to calculate 1 RM for individual exercises you perform and then weekly calculate the percentage as given above.

You might be able to lift a 100kg bench press for 1 rep but for decline dumbbell press, it might be 80kg for 1 Rep. Take some time and calculate 1 RM for each exercise you are going to perform and then weekly calculate the percentages as stated above for maximum result.



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