Out of all other factors that effect your progress towards building muscles and becoming next big fish at your gym, progressive overload is most important of all. Its so important that you simply can’t afford to overlook this, and this one single factor can help you build muscles mass and reach to the next level. So what is principle of overload anyway? Progressive overload simply mean you need to continuously increase difficulty level of your workout at gym while making progress.
This involves increasing stress every workout for example if you performed 30 reps at 150 pounds on your previous workout you can either perform 155 pounds for 30 reps or 32 reps for 150 pounds, this is progressive overload, either you increase number of reps or you increase resistance. If you are not improving in terms of weight you are lifting you won’t be progressing and there is a good change you will even hit a plateau.
Why is progressive overload needed?
Progressive overload is needed if you are looking to gain muscle, build strength, improve endurance and even lose weight, if you keep on performing same training at same pace and with same resistance you won’t be progressing in fact doing same amount of training at same pace and same intensity will even put you in a plateau, this is one of the reason many body builders stop progressing because they train at same intensity doing same exercises with same weight, same number of reps every week.
Our body does not like to change this is something called homeostasis this means body wants to stay in its current state and if you want your body to grow or improve in terms of strength, endurance or muscle mass you will have to give your body a reason to grow, our skeletal muscles need to be pushed in order to grow without continuously increasing resistance body will stop growing and even worse you will start losing strength and as a result start losing muscles. Instead of improving your muscle and strength gains if you don’t apply progressive overload your body could even start going backwards.
How to apply progressive overload
Now we know what progressive overload it, lets look at how we can apply this technique and implement this in our workout schedule. There are a few ways to overload your body you can either increase total number of reps, weight you are lifting, rest between sets, number of total sets, replacing one exercise to new one in your workout. Lets look at each of them in more detail.
1. Increase weight
This one is most common progressive overload technique and probably used most often. When you are training at same weight and are stuck for example benching 120 pounds and you are not progressing for a month try adding 5 pounds and decrease number of reps for last set to 6 instead of 8 eventually you will reach to 6 reps for 125 pounds. Also try doing forced reps by asking a friend to help you perform last two, three reps for first few workouts this way you will gain strength and next workout you should be able to perform 8 reps with 125 pounds on your own.
2. Increase total number of reps
When performing same exercise your muscle gets good at performing same movement after certain time and that movement becomes easier for you. For example if you are performing 12, 10, 8 reps of bicep curls for same weight chances are your body has adopted to this movement and even though you stop at 8 reps you could squeeze 2 more reps till you can no longer perform one more rep. In your last set instead of stopping at 8 reps just because you have performed 30 reps per exercise won’t help you increase your performance instead try to perform 2 more reps this will your increase strength and next time you should be able to perform 8 reps with more weight.
You can also ask your friend at gym for forced reps and perform few more reps each set, this extra stress will increase overload and will increase your stamina and strength for next workout as well as more volume would result in hypertrophy. This is also one of more common techniques of progressive overload.
3. Increasing intensity, less rest period between sets
Increasing intensity is also one of the progressive overload technique which help you improve your gains as well as help you with increasing strength. If you are lifting heavy weight chances are you are resting for longer duration between sets for example 90 seconds rest is optimal when lifting heavy weight and most of the time its recommended to rest for longer duration so you don’t burn out during workout and allow your muscles to recover from previous set and restore glycogen.
This strategy will help you gain more stamina and will push your muscles, one done in short term this is good strategy, you can cut down your rest period from 90 seconds to 60 seconds or from 60 seconds to 30 seconds, you will lift less weight if you cut down your rest period this is because your muscles need rest to restore glycogen burned during last set but this will put extra stress on your muscle and will result in better gains.
4. Increase total number of sets
I always recommend performing 150 reps for larger muscle group and 90 reps for smaller muscle groups per week because this helps you keep progressing and avoid over training, but if you increase your training volume that is either adding few more reps or adding another exercise for same workout you will increase overload and your body will show gains that will surprise you.
One thing to remember with this progressive overload technique, don’t overdo this one as doing more than 150 reps for larger muscle groups and 90 reps for smaller muscle groups in long term will almost always result in over training, and we all know how over training is, you will be losing all your gains and even worse your body will start to lose its strength and muscle mass so be careful with this technique but this is necessary once a while.
5. Increasing frequency of training
Training frequency is how often you train or how many days a week you go to gym, if you go to gym 4 days a week adding one day temporarily will also show better results but again same advice I gave you with increasing intensity this is not a long term strategy, don’t overdo this one but try this once a while or training your weak muscle group twice a week can also increase training frequency but make sure not to overdo this as this also results in over training.
Progressive overload and over training
Its important to keep this in mind even though its necessary to increase overload progressively you should be careful not to try and perform progressive overload every workout as this will only result in over training, but if you are not improving for month and are stuck at same rep range and same weight you can try one of the above progressive overload techniques.
Don’t try all of these techniques at together try one of these techniques and look for gains in long term, as muscle building is a long term process it requires time, patience and proper diet and rest its not magic whatever strategy you choose make sure not to ignore the basics our body will grow when proper stress is applied but our body is not a machine and its our responsibility to take care of our body.