Progressive Overload 101


In the world of resistance training, most of us have heard of the term “progressive overload”. But what exactly is it?


Before going into ways of properly executing progressive overload, we must first understand why weights training creates a hypertrophic response.

The human body is constantly trying to adapt to its surroundings, so naturally, when it's placed in a stressful situation it will want to undergo a change to make these situations easier.

In this case, we are challenging our bodies to do something that it has not done before (i.e. a more challenging workout). 
This stress on our muscles will then stimulate growth and adapt to ensure that it can overcome a difficult task the next time it is required.

Progressive overload defined?

Progressive overload should not be a goal for entire workouts as there are far too many variables to be tracking during a session.
One exercise, possibly a second for larger muscle groups, per workout should be focused on overloading the target muscle.

Less volume, be it reps per set or total sets completed, is also a good idea as it is again eliminating variables for more accurate tracking.

For example, pick one movement for the start of your session that lines up with your target muscle.

Let’s say it’s chest day and you’ve chosen an Incline Dumbbell Press.
Your first WORKING SET will be the set that you track. 
(Note: working sets should be taken to failure within your chosen rep range).

You should then be noting how that set went, weight used, reps completed, comments on form, etc. The next session will be where the overload part comes in.

During your next chest session, you will then attempt to ‘beat’ your previous session, creating a new stimulus to the body, therefore requiring a muscular adaptation.

But before you just jump in and smash that PB there are a few things to consider.

Your execution of the movement should not compromise the lift, ensure that proper execution of the movement to ensure that mind-muscle connection is sustained through the full range of motion. 

The progression comes from a consistently increasing stimulus, meaning that you should be overloading the muscle consistently every single session to ensure maximum activation of muscle fibres.


There are three ways to progress: 

  • Improving execution, therefore creating extra tension on the targeted muscle rather than dispersing it through your accessory muscles.
  • Extra volume, this could be an extra rep or, if you have a good spotter, take the set past failure. 
  • More load, this should be the last method you use once you get to the top of your given rep range with strict form.


Realistically, all of these things should be progressing at a consistent, steady pace that is easy to track.
If you find that your strength is fluctuating week to week, it may come down to a couple of things.


Inconsistent effort:

  • Are you putting 100% effort into your working sets every time you step into the gym?


Inconsistent nutrition:

  • If your nutrition is up and down on a daily basis, you may not be getting the energy and nutrients required for each of your workouts leading to fluctuating performance.


Lack of recovery:

  • You may need to look and your methods of recovery, such as a post workout protein like Redcon1 Isotope or an intra-workout fuel and recovery source like Primeval Labs Intracell 7.


Overall, Progressive Overload has and always will be the king of building quality muscle tissue.

If you have serious physique goals or want to continue building muscle over a long period of time then you should be using some form of progressive overload.

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