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Progressive Overload Definition – What Is Progressive Overload And Why You Need To Apply It

What is Progressive Overload?

Progressive Overload Definition

If you’re not applying progressive overload in the gym you’re wasting your time. With a ton of broscience, supplements that are nothing more than overpriced pixie dust and a lot of varying opinions from ‘fitness experts’ it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and confused with what you need to do in order to build muscle, lose fat and continue to progress year-round.

The answer to all your confusion and uncertainty is the training principle known as progressive overload.

Strength and muscle mass are both a result of ongoing progressive overload. You do not need to take a mountain of supplements, change exercises every time you step in the gym, decrease your carbohydrates as soon as the sun begins to set or keep your body guessing by training at different times of the day. These are all techniques that other members at my gym have told me they’re using in order to try and get over the plateau they’ve been stuck on for several weeks or months… as soon as I mention the term progressive overload they tend to display a puzzled look. Shortly thereafter once they understand what progressive overload is and begin to apply it they ditch the ridiculous techniques and protocols that stem from a lack of knowledge.

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The term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.

You should be applying progressive overload in every single workout you’re performing.

Progressive overload pull-ups

Now, don’t get me wrong you’re certainly not going to be increasing the weight you’re lifting every single time you step foot in the gym, certainly not after your first few months of the initial ‘newbie gains’ has passed.

You should be incorporating at least one progressive overload principle for each of your exercises during your workout. The key here is to ensure you’re recording your workouts as if you’re not it’ll merely be a case of guesswork as to whether you’ve actually achieved more weight/sets/reps than your previous workout.

Go old school and dedicate a notebook to your workout regime or download a modern application for your smartphone and record it there. Keep it simple and efficient, no messing around or time wasting – I prefer the old method as there’s no chance of getting distracted with a piece of paper during your workout as opposed to your phone…

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The following training techniques can be utilized to progressively overload your muscles into new size and strength gains.

Increase the weight

The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.

Progressive Overload Dumbbells

Alter your rep range

The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.

Alter your number of sets

Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.
The solution? Because I didn't have a spotter I couldn't lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).

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3 sets of 8 reps was adjusted to 5 sets of 6 reps.

What's your take on progressive overload? Let me know in the comments below!


Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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