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Progressive Overload: The Key to Building Strength & Muscle

If you frequently lift weights, or even if you are a beginner weightlifter, you most likely have heard of progressive overload. What exactly does it mean? Progressive overload is a training methodology that emphasizes the importance of gradually increasing the intensity of a specific exercise program over time. Read on to learn about why progressive overload is essential to reaching your strength and physique goals, and how you can integrate it into your exercise program.


As mentioned in one of our previous articles, “5 Steps to Build Muscle Faster”, it is best practice for beginner weight lighters to start their fitness journeys with moderate resistance and volume; from starting with a manageable weight- potential injuries are avoided and you are set down the clear path of continually increasing the intensity of your training sessions.


But the notion of incremental increases in training intensity is not just for beginners; it is applicable to individuals of all fitness levels. The principle of progressive overload is essential to overcoming plateaus in your fitness progression.


How does progressive overload help you to do this?


To minimize injury risk and maximize results, progressive overload demands gradual improvements in exercise resistance, volume, frequency, and interval duration.


1. Resistance

Increasing exercise resistance simply means increasing the amount of weight you are using in the exercises performed as a part of your training program. It helps to discuss this topic with an example; let’s imagine you are completing 3 sets of 10 repetitions on the bench press. If your goal on the bench was to perform 10 repetitions, but you have the ability to complete 12-15 repetitions, the weight being used is most likely too light for your strength and it’s time to increase resistance. Slowly, raise the weight, we would suggest that in this example you raise the weight by 2.5lbs on each side of the bar and complete your next set. If this weight still feels too light, repeat the addition of weight until around repetition numbers 7 and 8, you begin to struggle, but are still be able to overcome that feeling of struggle to compete the total number of repetitions in that set (10 reps in this example).

2. Volume

Exercise volume is another lever that can be “pulled” to implement progressive overload in your training regime. Training volume is the total number of repetitions completed multiplied by the resistance (weight in pounds or kg) used to perform each repetition with respect to a specific exercise. Continuing with our previous example, if the weight being used on the bench press was 200lbs and you completed 3 sets of 10 repetitions, your training volume for that exercise would be 200lbs multiplied by 3 multiplied by 10 equaling a training volume of 6,000lbs. As explained with resistance, training volume can also be increased steadily overtime.


3. Frequency

Frequency is the rate at which an individual engages in a particular exercise activity, or in other words, how often you train. Frequency and consistency go hand-in-hand. No matter how much weight you are lifting and no matter how large your exercise volume is, you will not see results if your training frequency is low. You should be training consistently, but not to the point of overtraining. Proper frequency is highly dependent on the individual because those who are acclimated to resistance training will be able to train more frequently than those who are new to weightlifting. Three to five training sessions per week is generally a good place to start for beginners.

4. Interval Duration

Lastly, interval duration, is define as the time one rests in between completing sets of the same exercise or between different exercises. At this point it should not be surprising that decreasing the interval duration, or rest time between exercises, is another technique used to put the principle of progressive overload into practice. Beginners will require much greater periods of rest between competing sets compared to seasoned weightlifters, but this too will improve overtime as will the other forementioned “dials” of training.


With the details of progressive overload fresh in your mind, there’s no better time to consider the training program that you’re currently following. Does your program implement the essential strength and muscle building concept of progressive overload? If not, you have come to the right place! Gerardi Performance offer evidence-based exercise and diet programs for individuals of all fitness levels. If you’re interested in a 100% personalized training and diet program, click HERE!

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