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Progressive Overload Principle

Most individuals within the gym go to workout and go with the flow, some follow a routine that is found online from their favorite celebrity or favorite bodybuilders. Nothing is wrong with this but most forget the most important principle. If you are not increasing the workload of the body your body will not get stronger. The principle of progressive overload involves increasing the overall demands of the muscular system to not only increase in size but also increase in muscular strength and muscular endurance. If you want to see muscle growth and muscle gains like those individuals this principle of overload cannot be ignored. If the same stimulus is being placed on the body, then the body has no reason to adapt and change and grow stronger. This being said if the demands you have been placing on select muscle groups are not continued your muscle will atrophy and lose size along with strength.

Progressive Overload Example:

You have been completing dumbbell hammer curls at 2 sets 20 lbs for 10 reps. Over a period of time you will get progressively strong and your biceps will get bigger as a result of this. After a certain point completing 10 reps will no longer be challenging because your biceps have adapted to the stimulus presented prior. In order to see more gains below are some of the most important concepts to remember.

  1. Increasing the reps per set

If we use this same example above adding in 1-5 additional reps will increase the overall weight moved in a single session. To maximize muscle building periodization its safe to stay within a 8-12 rep range for most exercises. This is important because you don’t want to keep increasing reps because this will further increase muscular endurance more then muscular strength and size. I personally max at 12 reps for most exercises and if form is maintained I will increase weight. The reps will decrease but overtime the reps will increase.

A golden rule to follow is increasing 1-2 reps on a weekly basis

Week 1: 3×10 with 3 minute rests at 70% 1RM

Week 2: 3×11 with 3 minute rests at 70% 1RM

Week 3: 3×12 with 3 minute rests at 70% 1RM

The reps increase each week by 1 but the sets remain the same

  1. Increasing the resistance

The most common way to increase overall demands on muscles is by increasing the weight. If you are hammer curling 20 lbs for 10 reps and form is maintained you can increase your weight and reset the cycle. Always remember that reps and loads placed on the body typically have an inverse relationship. When you increase the weight placed on the muscle the reps will fall but as you adapt to the force your reps will increase.

A golden rule to follow is the 2-4% increase on a weekly basis

Example below used within bench

Week 1: 5×5 with 3 minute rests at 80% 1RM

Week 2: 5×5 with 3 minute rests at 82% 1RM

Week 3: 5×5 with 3 minute rests at 85% 1RM

The reps and sets remain the same but the overall % of 1RM increases each week

  1. Increasing sets (volume per muscle group)

Increasing the overload of the muscle can be as easy as increasing your sets of that particular muscle by one additional set a week. If you are completing hammer curls at 20 lbs for 10 reps for 2 sets you can always add in a additional set so next week is hammer curls 20 lbs for 10 reps for 3 sets. By doing this you are overloading the muscle. A key note to remember is that you track this as another variable so your body can recover on a weekly basis to make more gains.

  1. Muscle Training Frequency

In order to bring up lagging or less worked muscles, increasing the overall training frequency can increase volume and increase the likelihood of more contractile gains. An example mentioned above is having curls on Monday for 3 sets and hammer curls on Thursday for 3 sets. You in turn doubled the volume of that muscle and as long as recovery and form are on point will increase the muscles growth response.

  1. Log your workouts

A forgotten concept but logging your workouts allows you to see what you did last week and aim to beat it. This tracking will keep you honest and consistent to yourself and your goals

Most importantly all of these concepts mentioned above should always be gradual, trackable and goal oriented for progression.

If you want to take the guesswork out of progressive overload or any workout programming the coaches at Ryan Howard Coaching will help you progress on a week to week basis to see consistent gains along your exercise journey. Click on our homepage to schedule a free consultation with myself or Stephanie.


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