Are you trying a bunch of new exercises, even the ones the influencers swear by, and still not seeing the results you’re looking for? As a certified personal trainer, I've seen firsthand how the concept of progressive overload can be a game-changer in achieving your fitness goals. Sure, it might sound like some technical fitness jargon, but trust me, it's a key principle that will enhance your current workouts, challenge your muscles, and drive you closer to the results you’re wanting from your hard work and consistency in the gym!
So, what exactly is this magical training trick called progressive overload? Well, it's not as complicated as it might sound. Put simply, it means gradually increasing the demands on your muscles over time to make them work harder than they've become used to.
Why is this important? Because our bodies are incredibly adaptive - they adjust to the stress we put them under whether it be our workouts, sports or even daily activities involving movement and strength. By consistently challenging our muscles with varying weight, reps, and intensity, we force them to adapt to the increased demands, leading to improved performance, strength and muscle growth.
If your aim is to build muscle and burn fat effectively and efficiently, then progressive overload needs to be your best friend. Without it, you're basically running on a treadmill (forever) – lots of movement but not getting very far. Think of it this way, would you rather continue to do the same exercises or workouts week after week simply to stay active without seeing or feeling net new results OR enhance your current exercises and workouts by integrating progressive overload and seeing and feeling new results in as little as 4 weeks?
Now, let's talk about the kind of results you can expect by embracing progressive overload in your strength training routine. Picture this: increased muscle strength, improved endurance, enhanced muscle tone, stronger bone density and, yes, a faster metabolism to burn fat efficiently, as an ongoing result.
So, how do you actually start incorporating progressive overload into your training? I’ll share with you the secrets to integrating progressive overload training that goes into the building blocks of all of my custom client programs.
When you sign up to work with me 1:1, you’ll receive a fully custom program based on your current routine, equipment you have access to, where you’re exercising, your workout preferences, lifestyle commitments and, of course, your overall fitness goals and where you see your future self.
In all of my 1:1 client programs, I incorporate progressive overload starting from where you currently are in your fitness routine. This way we aren’t backtracking your current progress and are meeting you where you are to propel you forward. To keep you accountable with your program, we have
scheduled 1:1 video check-ins to review form, discuss any obstacles coming in your way with getting in your workouts and adapt to overcome those, as well as get clear on where we are heading in the upcoming week of workouts. Think of it like a personal trainer you have on demand, in your pocket, anytime you need me!
Okay back to the HOW, of progressive overload training. Within any workout program, there are several variables that can be manipulated to change the trajectory of the workout and thus, the results you’re getting from it. With progressive overload in mind, we’re going to hone in on a few of these variables. To keep it simple, we won’t go too in depth on any one variable, but if you want more details on how we can build an effective, tailored program for you, with progressive overload, let’s talk offline!
You can increase the weight you lift, add more reps, adjust the sets, or even tweak your rest time between sets. The goal is to keep challenging your muscles in some way during each workout session, over time.
Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty with a couple of examples. Take bodyweight squats, for instance. You may start with bodyweight squats in one workout and then the following week, you can add on resistance squatting with a resistance band, before jumping into the weights. Now if you’re a more intermediate exerciser who is already comfortable with weighted squats, let’s say you’re currently using 10lb weights with your squats. Perhaps this is a place of comfort to you or hey, maybe those are all the weights you have access to right now–no shame!
When it comes to progressive overload, you want to continue challenging your muscles over time. I like to use the “rule of 15” as a distinguisher for the number of reps performed with relative ease, or about a 6 on a 1-10 difficulty scale. Meaning that when you are able to successfully perform 15 reps of any exercise, at a 6 or lower with proper form, it’s time to start incorporating progressive overload. This is when in your next workout, instead of going back for the 10lb weights, grab the 12.5lbs and perform a lower amount of reps, while still maintaining proper form. In this instance, I would recommend performing 12-15 reps with the 12.5lbs weights and seeing how you feel after 1 set. You can go back to that 1-10 difficulty scale and ability to
maintain proper form to support your decision making. If you’re increasing in increments of 5, I would recommend decreasing the reps further to 10-12 to start to ensure you’re maintaining proper form and not getting too high on your difficulty scale before increasing reps.
So if you’ve been using the weights you’ve had for the last 3 years, I totally get it and I’ve been there, but it’s time, let’s add to your Amazon cart shall we?
Moving forward, keep working with those increased weights and aim for 10-15 reps over your next couple of workout sessions, increasing the reps each time. When you reach your lucky number 15 with relative ease and proper form, then it’s time for our next, progressive increase. Keep increasing the weight gradually while adjusting reps and sets accordingly every time you come back to that exercise in your workout. This same concept of progressive overload can be applied to EVERY exercise. The only difference is the variety of variables you can manipulate based on the exercise you’re doing.
For example, if you’re working on progressive overload with a plank, reps are arbitrary. You would more so want to focus on time, form and intensity. To increase intensity of exercise, this is where you could incorporate plank variations to increase the demands placed on the body, which is the essence of progressive overload.
By systematically incorporating progressive overload in your workouts, you'll notice remarkable improvements in strength and muscle definition over just an 8-week period. You know in a video game when you defeat the “boss” and you level up? This is the same concept of progressive overload: defeat the current weight and reps and level up to the next!
To sum it up, progressive overload is the secret sauce that takes your workouts and results from average to exceptional.
Ready to level up your fitness journey with this powerful principle? Let's craft a tailored program just for you, your lifestyle and your goals. Schedule a consultation with me here to take the first step towards a more effective, efficient, consistent & results driven workout routine!
Stay strong, stay motivated, and remember – continued progress & consistency are the name of the game!