Progressive Overload 101

Posted on 19 December 2013

Grant Lofthouse is a trainer, RKC, Primal Move Fundamentals Instructor and the owner of Cardio Haters Training. He has been featured in Australia’s Women’s Health & Fitness as well as Muscle & Fitness magazine. For information check out his Facebook ~ Vince


Hey what’s up Vince Del Monte Community, I hope you’re doing swell. First off I got to thank Vince for having me and allowing me to share with your my skinny guy story.

i arm row
i arm row
Just like Vince, I too was a long distance runner all through my teens and weighed about 154 pounds soaking wet! (yeah, I was massive). When I finally decided enough was enough and it was time to grow my confidence I got into the gym.

I had absolutely had no idea what I was doing and ended up getting a program off a buddy of mine who was a lot bigger than me. I managed to put on about 5 kilos in the first year. But then all the gains came to a screeching halt and I was wondering why…

My diet was the same.

My program was the same.

My intensity, dedication and motivation were all the same.

Why wasn’t I growing?

After hunting around in search of the answer to bust through my muscle building plateau. Vince finally opened my eyes and made me realise that my answer, “nothing has changed”, was the reason behind my muscle building stalls.

I was doing the same thing, day in, day out and was never taking my body to a new level to force it to grow.

As Vince has stated a numerous amount of times and in his muscle building programs like Hypertrophy Max (which is currently closed but it opening December 15 which you can get on the early notification list HERE), progressive overload is one of the most important factors if you wish to add muscle mass and strength to your physique.

Put in simple terms progressive overload is when you increase the stress placed on the body, whether that be CNS, musculoskeletal or the cardiovascular system, over time in order to avoid plateaus and continually make progress in the gym.

If you ignore the rule of progressive overload you will simply not make any further muscle, strength, cardio vascular or physique gains in the gym.

You may be already aware of this, and to avoid sounding like a broken record, I’m going to reveal to you the mistakes I made when I THOUGHT I was applying progressive overload correctly and give you an additional 5 tips to spark new gains…

Top 3 Most Common Progressive Overload Techniques

The 3 most common methods you can use when applying progressive overload to your training regime include…

  1. Volume – the overall total amount of weight lifted for the day. How to calculate your volume is to simply multiply your sets, reps and weight. For example 100 kilos x 5 sets x 5 reps equals 2500 kilos lifted for the day.

    To use volume as your progressive overload method you could simply add one set each week to a particular exercise. So week one you complete three sets, week two 4 sets and so on.

  2. Intensity – refers to how heavy the weight is. The closer the weight is to your 1 repetition maximum the higher the intensity. For example if your 1 rep maximum for the deadlift is 100 kilos and you train with 75 kilos. You are currently training at 75%.

    To use intensity are your progressive overload method you could simply add 2.5 kilos to the bar each week. So week one you deadlift 75 kilos, week two you perform 77.5 kilos and so on.

  3. Density – refers the amount of work you complete in a certain amount of time. For example if takes you 10 minutes to complete 5 sets of 5 on barbell squats.

To use volume as your progressive overload method you can reduce the amount of rest you take between sets. So week one you could rest 120 seconds between sets of squats, week two you reduce the rest down to 90 seconds and so on.

#1 Mistake Where People Go Wrong With Progressive Overload

Grant Lofthouse
Grant Lofthouse
Most fitness enthusiasts apply progressive overload incorrectly by adding too much too soon. Usually each week they will add an extra set, plus more weight and also try to reduce the amount of rest between sets.

All this will do is set you up for an injury. The body can only take so much before it breaks.

Also, if you’re not getting any results from your training program, how do you know what is working and what isn’t? If you are applying all three progressive overload methods you won’t know which one to manipulate.

5 Tips to Apply Progressive Overload Correctly
  1. Choose one method and stick with it for a set period of time, at least four weeks, before manipulating another variable.
  2. Volume is the easiest to apply because each week you aren’t always necessarily stronger to perform more weight or reps. But you can always add another set.
  3. Due to recovery and strength levels; beginners can increase volume at a faster rate than advanced trainees because their body has much more room for adaptations.
  4. Take things slow, if you add too much too soon you will just get injured or hit the dreaded training plateau. Remember that you can’t keep adding more and more sets each session and perform 100 sets per workout.
  5. Accept and understand that some days you will fresher and stronger than others, it doesn’t mean your program isn’t working. Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell who is easily one of the greatest power lifting coaches in the world has his athletes work up to the heaviest weight they can lift for that day. If it was weaker than last session they just accept it and move on. They understand that it’s not the end of the world.
  6. Bonus tip – When you feel that you can no longer recover from your current session because there is too much volume, cut the volume, take a deload week and switch to a different progressive overload method and repeat the process.

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