Progressive Overload: what it is, why you need it.

Updated: Mar 15

It's no secret at this point that weight lifting provides countless benefits for both men and women. But weight lifting in itself only provides these benefits when executed in a particular way.

Weight lifting is the tool- progressive overload is the framework or context that makes the tool effective.


What is Progressive Overload Training?


You have probably heard the term “Progressive Overload” used when people talk about resistance or strength training programs. But what does progressive overload really mean?

This article is intended to break down the basics of progressive overload training and provide you with a simple example of what it looks like in a strength building program.


Simple stated, “Progressive Overload Training” is a method of program design with the goal of building muscular strength.


Progressive overload training does exactly what you would expect: It increases the load (weight) of resistance that you are using progressively (over time) in order to gradually increase muscle strength.


If you have strength or muscle building goals then you will want to participate in a progressive overload training program designed to increase strength and muscle size in a way that suits your ultimate end goal.



FAQ when it comes to POT:


When should I increase the amount of resistance and by how much?

  • There are a few guidelines that can be followed to ensure you are progressing at the right rate and at the right weight. Some of this will depend on your history with resistance training. If you are a newbie and have very little experience with resistance training then your body is more likely to adapt and progress more quickly than if you have years and decades under your belt. Here are the basic guidelines:

  • If your goal is to build strength then a lower rep range (4-8 repetitions) with heavier is weight is most effective.

  • If your goal is to increase the size of the muscle then a higher rep range (10-16 repetitions) with lighter weight is standard.

HOWEVER, more current research suggests that any repetition range that fully depletes the muscle (causes complete muscle fatigue) is effective in hypertrophy (muscle size increase) which means as long as you are maxing out and fully fatiguing the muscle then you will see muscle size growth. (*Note: Diet plays a huge role in muscle growth so expect that if your nutrition is not aligned with your training program your results will be affected.)


When you begin to notice that your muscles are not completely fatigued within your rep range, then it is time to progress or increase the weight. This is the overload part. Typically, it is recommended to increase the weight in 5% increments. This can vary, however, depending on your experience level as discussed above. If you are new to resistance training, it is very likely that your ability to progress faster than 5% increments is high. I start many of my beginners with almost a 15% overload- this is because their bodies typically adapt very quickly. If you are a veteran and have years of training experience then your progress will be slower.


What does this look like in practice:


Below is an example of a Resistance Training Progressive Overload Template. This template demonstrates what a Leg Press strength progression might look like.


As you can see, the template uses a 12-4 repetition range. It begins with finding the maximum weight that the individual can leg press for 5 repetitions with proper form. This gives us the baseline for our progression. The template then progresses over the course of 12-weeks, increasing the weight every two weeks, and reducing the rep range every time the weight is increased. Now again, this is a simple example, there are a few different variations of this that would also qualify as a progressive overload protocol. but hopefully this helps familiarize you with the concept.


The moral of the story is that our bodies are amazing, they adapt super quickly, so we need to continue to challenge the muscles in order to progress and build strength. A progressive overload training protocol that is designed specifically for your goals should be the first thing you use to achieve any strength or muscle building goals. And even if you are more focused on fat loss than strength building, you will benefit from a progressive overload protocol as building muscle increases latent calorie burn and helps to improve body composition.


So no matter which way your goals align, progressive overload training should be part of the game-plan.


If you still have questions on progressive overload training or are unsure how to use it yourself to achieve your goals then you can book a free exploratory coaching call here to see if coaching could be a good fit to help you use progressive overload training to understand your body and achieve the results you want.


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