If you feel your body has adapted to your current workout regimen and exercises, it’s time to focus on challenging yourself in new ways. It’s time to talk progressive overload: what, when and how!
Progressive overload (PO) simply means doing more over time, forcing your body to adapt to different stresses. This can look very different from person to person, so engage with your trainer about how they incorporate PO into a session and a long term plan. Before stepping into overload territory, you must have mastered proper form, integrity, and range of motion for the exercise (this is progress all by itself and should be acknowledged and celebrated!).
What indications show it’s the right time for progressive overload?
If you feel an exercise has become easier, you’re less taxed through the movement, or notice loss (or no gain) in muscle mass, it’s time to take it up a notch.
But, don’t just think lots of volume (reps, sets) crammed into a training session will inherently bring abundant strength gains. Whatever weight selection, by the end of the set – be it five, eight, or twenty reps – you should feel close to failure (the point at which your body cannot perform another clean rep). Full contraction and maximal tension will encourage muscle growth as long as alignment is maintained. So you get to rep eight out of ten, it’s really becoming a struggle, but you maintain form and can push through – get to ten and revel in the #gains.
Though training close to failure should not be the only benchmark of a good workout, incorporating it will ensure effective muscle fiber recruitment and continue to push your body in new ways.
Below are some examples of Progressive Overload:
Lift more load (heavier weight)
Move in a larger range of motion
Do more reps or more sets of the same exercise
Take shorter rests (talk with your trainer about when/how)
Add another training session to your week
Modify tempo – slower, faster, or isometric (paused) movements
Each rep, pound, and variation introduces new stress on the body and will encourage adaptation. Get creative! No need to get stuck in a fitness rut – ask your trainer about using new modalities, or trying a new exercise. Having access to a wide variety of equipment ensures that the possibilities are truly endless, and you may surprise yourself with your own strength and ability. You can learn more about using various exercise equipment in our post about resistance bands and dumbbells here.
Most importantly, be patient. Progressive overload isn’t linear. Some weeks you’ll feel like a superhero, others you’ll feel like you have spaghetti limbs. Each training session is a delicate balance of sleep, nutrition, stress, energy and muscle activation. Ride the wave, stay engaged with your trainer, and take confidence in knowing you’re stronger than when you started, and consistency is the best investment in longterm health.
Contreras, Bret. “The Ten Rules of Progressive Overload.” 26 Feb 2013.
MacCormick, Tom. “Effective Training, Make Every Rep Count.” Breaking Muscle.
“Resistance Training Concepts.” NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 6th Edition. National Academy of Sport Medicine. Chandler, AZ. 2018, pp. 310-312.
Hyatt Training is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon.