The importance of progressive overload

Training and getting a better physique have always had some myths and posible untruths associated with them in order to sell information and products;  these lies continue to this day with cherry picked studies and folk science, otherwise known as ‘broscience’. However, one of the elements of training that everyone can depend on in terms of being efficient is the ‘progressive overload’. It’s an old technique that has been implemented for a very long time for a variety of different sports.

How the body responds to workload:

When it comes to training and reaching a certain goal, it is all about being efficient in your workload capacity, do too little and you’ll get nowhere, do too much and you’ll cause injuries that will set you back even further. Your body responds to workload as stimulus that you have to create in order to utilize to get better every training session.

Your job in training is to create a type of stimulus that will have an effect on your body when recovering so you can get better the next training session. Powerlifting use workload efficiently by reaching a level of perceived exertion. The workload capacity becomes as important as anything else such as the diet, recovery and sleep.

Progress vs. hard training:

Progress is often misunderstood for hard training and going over your limits. Though these two might seem synonymous, they are not the same, and in fact can be opposites. Both hard training and progress aim at the same thing, which is reaching a certain goal. But the application is different, progress aims to use whatever means possible to make consistent progress which can sometimes be taking a step back. Hard training is all about intensity and going over your limits every single session. There are time when you need to train hard, but your primary goal should be to make progress and not training hard for the sake of training hard and potentially cause unwanted injuries that can stick for a very long time.

The importance of progressive overload in training:

There are many reasons why implementing progressive overload in training as a base method is crucial, and one of those reasons is goal management. Progressive overload ensures that you stay in line with what you do, it keeps you consistent on your goals rather than wasting your energy and nervous system stimulus on other things as shown in the data of studies.

Another reason why progressive overload is important is because it helps keep you consistently making progress, as you dive deeper in overtraining, you’ll be quick to realize that it is not always about lifting heavier weights, sometimes it’s about pushing yourself harder, doing more reps, more sets, adding bands, resting more, recovering faster and so on.

Why progressive overload is king:

Progressive overload is a technique whereby you use increments of strength every time in order to progress in your training journey. These small increments are not always about the actual weight, sometimes they are about how many repetitions are done, how many sets, amount of volume, using external forces such as bands, chains, deficit training and all sorts of tools to help you progress.

Progressive overload is all about having a set plan that you follow, it is not instinctive training, and it’s a training method that takes into account both the current standards and the goals. There are basically two cycles for the progressive overload, the big cycle that has the start and the finish, and meso cycles. These cycles are micro progressive overload training phases that are interlinked.

Progressive overload training is all about using small increments to ensure that you are moving into the right direction of pursuing your goals. It stands above all training methods because it is the base of almost every single training method out there, it seeks to consistently up the workload in a way that would stimulate growth in strength and muscle without overworking yourself. This is true not only in practice, but also in numerous studies that would the effects of adding more weight consistently beneficial.

How to apply progressive overload into your training:

One of the easiest ways to do progressive overload in your training is to add more weight every time you train or more resistance. For instance, if you are an NFL athlete, then add a tougher hurdle to jump over in your sprints, increase the incline in your treadmill, or add more weight. You essentially cannot do all of those at the same time because you risk under recovering.

If your main goal is to build strength overtime for specific lifts in the gym, then add a few more pounds to your lifts every time you train. Although this would be impossible to maintain overtime, but it is still something you should consider trying. Some of the most famous programs in the world in strength such as the 5.3.1 or the starting strength method by Mark Rippetoe encourage their trainees to add 5 pounds to their lifts each time they train. Eventually, 5 pound increment would seem almost impossible and that would be the time where you embark in a new progressive overload training.

If you are experiencing a plateau in your training by not being able to add more weight to the bar, then the best way to progressively overload is to not add more weight, but to add more volume. For instance, if you continuously experience the same plateau of not being able to deadlift 405 pounds, then it would be smart to lower the weight, and do 4 sets of 5 reps at 345 pounds. This would still challenge you, but not as hard as the intensity of adding more weight.

Progressive overload training still applies if your goal is to build muscle, all you need to do is to put your muscles at tension and force it to grow every time. For instance, instead of using heavier weights to your next bicep training, try adding negative reps and time under tension in your training. What this means is instead of focusing on the amount of weight your bicep is curling, challenge your muscles to work for a longer harder time.

Progressive overload in athletes:

One of the biggest problems athletes face in their training journey is overtraining. Many athletes suffer injuries while training because their training focused on the materialistic approach of running faster, lifting more weight, jumping higher, and working the longest each and every training session. This style of training might work for a few days or weeks, but it sets the trainee or the athlete for failure because it overworks the training capacity. Progressive overload comes in handy for athletes because it can be sport specific and modeled in a way that simulates just enough tension without over exerting the athlete. In addition to that, progressive overload is all about specific training, so it would have the athlete focus on different goals for different phases instead of trying to excel at everything at the same time.


Progressive overload is the tried and true formula that always works. As effective as it can be, progressive overload can be, the progressive overload method can be harmful to athletes if it over done, other elements of the methods that are just as essential as the training itself are the diet and recovery aspects. These are what is really going to ensure that your muscles and nervous system is ready for more stimulus the next time you train.