The Progressive Overload Principle

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Have you been training for several years? Then you’ve probably noticed that your progression is stagnating and you’re moving more slowly. In the beginning, you get stronger and more muscular. But the longer you do fitness. It’s important to keep challenging your body. Do you want to get stronger, build more muscle mass or improve your stamina? Then you’re going to have to work hard for this. Your body is only going to adapt to a higher load than it is used to. Do you stay at the same level of exercise? Then you’re not making any more progress. This includes the progressive overload training principle. But what exactly is this? And how is Progressive Overload important in strength training?


What is Progressive Overload

Okay, to keep moving forward, you’re going to have to keep challenging yourself. At some point, your body gets used to the load. For example, you won’t get more muscular if you continue to train at the same weight for extended periods of time. And so you won’t get bigger calves if you walk. After all, your muscles have already gotten used to that. The human body can continue to adapt to training and physical stress.

This also includes another training principle, namely, super-compensation. A heavy workout temporarily reduces the load level of your body. To prevent this ‘damage’ in the future, your body will repair itself and take it to the top. You become stronger and more muscular to handle the same physical load better next time. Your body is arming itself against the effort.

To keep moving forward, Progressive Overload is important. In other words, training more than your body was used to until that moment. Progressive overload allows the body to continue to progress.

“Overload refers to the observation that a system or tissue must be exercised at a level beyond which it is accustomed for a training effect to occur.” Thus Powers & Howley in Exercise Physiology.


Breaking through plateau

Do you feel like you’ve reached a plateau? Don’t you get stronger anymore, can’t you build muscle mass? Then you’ll have to make adjustments. This may apply to several areas. Think, for example, of increasing your daily calorie intake. Maybe you eat too little, and you need to eat more to get ahead. Or maybe you don’t take enough rest, and it’s important to plan some extra rest days or even a rest week.

As you can see, there are many factors involved in achieving progression. Do you have nutrition and recovery in order? Then it’s important to look at your fitness schedule. Do you still achieve progressive overload during your workouts? Or do you train at the same intensity for too long?

Your body has become accustomed to the intensity you train with. The fitness exercises that previously worked well now have less and less effective. Fortunately, there are several ways to make sure you experience progressive overload again during your workouts. Below I’ll explain to you how!


Progressive Overload in strength training

Progressive Overload is a principle that occurs in every sport. In this case, I’ll focus on strength training. What do you need to do to build up more strength and become more muscular when you find yourself out of progress? Broadly speaking, it comes down to either increasing the intensity (lifting heavier weights) or increasing the volume (doing more work).

As an advanced athlete, it becomes more difficult to stimulate your muscles every workout. Do you want to break that plateau? Below I explain 5 methods to apply progressive overload in your training.


Overload apply fitness training.

Do you want to achieve progressive overload in your fitness workouts? With the methods below, you can overload and increase your progression.

1. Linear progression

In linear progression, the aim is to increase the weight in small steps each workout. This is the most common way to create a progressive overload. It is imperative to choose a good starting weight. This should be heavy enough to overload during the first workouts. Then you go up small steps to hold the progression. Don’t make the steps too big, because you want to keep this up for a longer period of time.

For example, do you want to get stronger on the Deadlift? Then you can follow the structure below, where the number of repetitions remains the same, but you increase the weight.

  • WEEK 1 = 120 kilograms
  • WEEK 2 = 122.5 kilograms
  • WEEK 3 = 125 kilogram
  • WEEK 4 = 127,5 kilogram
  • WEEK 5 = 130 kilogram


2. Shorter breaks

Another way to achieve progressive overload is by taking shorter breaks between sets. Do you ever keep track of exactly how long you take a break between each set or exercise? Often this is about a minute. And when you’re chatting in the gym even longer.

When your rest break is too long, the muscles recover almost completely. From now on, keep your rest with a sports watch or stopwatch and continue with the next set or exercise after 30 seconds—less time for your muscles to recover and thus a shock effect.


3. More sets and reps

This way of achieving progressive overload is very similar to the linear progression. Only in this case do you increase the number of repetitions or sets instead of the weight. Can’t you take more weight without your technique getting worse? Then try to make your exercise longer by doing one or two extra repetitions with the same weight.

Do you normally make 4 sets of 8 repetitions with a certain weight? Next time, try making 4 sets of 10 repetitions with that same weight. Is this easy for you at a data moment? Then you can start increasing the weight step by step.


4. Time under tension

Time under tension is the term used for the length of time your muscles are stressed while performing an exercise. Consciously or unconsciously, we often choose to perform exercises at a certain pace. This is the pace at which we can move the weight most easily without getting too heavy.

For example, the sagging phase (eccentric movement) usually takes 2 seconds, and we push the weight up again in 1 second (concentric phase). You can give your muscles a new stimulus by performing the movement more slowly. This way, your muscles stay under stress longer, and this way, you create a more progressive overload.


Variation in order and exercises

Finally, you can choose to vary more often in your exercises and the order in which you train in certain muscle groups. When we like a training schedule, we tend to follow it very strictly. Where this makes a lot of progress, in the beginning, you fall silent at some point. By doing other exercises for certain muscle groups, you can get a whole new muscle stimulus.

Do you often train solid muscle groups on fixed days? Step away from this and reverse the layout. You probably know the partition chest – triceps, back – biceps and legs – shoulders. Grab other muscle groups together or opt for another full-body or split-schedule workout.

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