Progressive Overload – The Only Way To Workout

There is nothing more disheartening than dedicating yourself to a weekly workout and never reaching any of your desired goals.

You could go to the gym 5 days a week, for over an hour each session, yet never increase your strength, endurance or see any change in your body.

How could this possibly happen?

I’m going to share some information that should be obvious, but many people tend to forget while embarking on their fitness journey.

Two words.

Progressive overload

Progressive overload is the single most important factor in getting positive results from your workouts.   Not only that, it’s the foundation of resistance training.

Simply put, it is the process of placing more and more demands on the musculoskeletal system in order to get stronger, faster and fitter.

If you’ve hit a plateau and wondering what you’re doing wrong, one of the biggest reasons people don’t see any difference is because they are doing the exact same workout in every session, e.g. same weight, same reps, same volume and the same amount of effort.

You could be given the most effective program in the world, but if you’re not adding more weight or pushing yourself harder in each session, you’ll never see a difference.

Unfortunately, the human body will only change if it’s forced to.

The body doesn’t care if you want to get stronger, build muscle, and improve endurance or loose body fat.  The only thing it cares about is keeping you alive.  In order to do this it must always do what is needed to adapt to its environment.

Repeated Workouts

Doing the same workout stops challenging the muscles, so they no longer need to grow. You need to provide a stimulus that will overload your body, overload your muscles so it HAS to change and get stronger.

When we perform a workout with sufficient volume and stimulating reps we trigger an increase in muscle fiber size. By tearing the muscle, your body reacts to the attack by increasing the size. It’s preparing itself so it can contract harder and produce more force the next time you attack it in the gym.

That’s why you can never grow complacent with your training. Once you fall into a comfort zone and the workouts are no longer challenging, your body won’t need to increase your muscle fibers and you risk losing the strength you have already gained.

How to perform progressive overload

When 8 reps of a barbell curl stops becoming challenging, the most obvious solution is to increase the weight.

Similarly you can also increase the reps, going from 8 to 12 to make it more challenging.

Exercise science indicates 8-12 reps as a maximum rep range. You shouldn’t need to do an infinite amount of reps in a workout.

Choosing whether to increase reps or weight will depend on your goals. If you are looking to increase the size of your muscle, it is more effective to increase the weight rather than the reps as continuously increasing reps of the same weight improves muscular endurance rather than strength.

As you increase the weight it is natural that your reps will come down. But as you continue to get stronger your reps will improve and you can repeat the cycle.


You can also increase the volume of training.   Volume is sets x reps x resistance. If you’ve already tried increasing your reps and weight, increasing the number of sets is the best way to increase volume. One way of doing this is to add more exercises to your program, or instead you can add another set to your current exercises, e.g. bicep curls 8 reps x 5 sets, rather than 8 reps x 4 sets.

Adding another day of training to your weekly routine is another way to increase the overload. However, you need to give optimal recovery time for the muscle to grow.  Otherwise you are running the risk of overtraining.

Progressive Load Only Works With Honesty

You need to be honest with yourself about the weights your using, is it challenging you?

You know those days when the trainer says you have 6 rounds of conditioning and you feel this massive sense of dread?   You don’t think you’re going to make it but you put on a brave face anyway.

It’s tough and you feel like you’re going to die in those last few rounds – but you make it.

Why? Because our bodies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.

All you need to do is have confidence that you can do it.

So, this week push yourself that little bit more. Be honest about how strong you are and try using a heavier weight. If the next weight up is too heavy, do a few extra reps of the lower weight to really tear the muscle. Then try the heavier weight the next session.

Don’t stop challenging yourself. Push your body so that it can grow, change and adapt to this new environment you’re creating for it.

Then sit back and enjoy the results.

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