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What is progressive overload?

In the dynamic world of fitness, one principle stands tall as the key to unlocking the door to exceptional results – progressive overload. As a fundamental concept in British English fitness, progressive overload has long been regarded as the cornerstone of success in strength training and overall physical performance. In this article, we will delve into the essence of progressive overload, understand its significance, and discover how to apply it effectively to take your fitness journey to new heights.

Understanding Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is a foundational principle in exercise science, built on the idea of systematically increasing the intensity and challenge of your workouts over time. This approach entails pushing your body beyond its current capacity, encouraging it to adapt and grow stronger in response to the imposed demands. The result? Enhanced muscular strength, increased endurance, and improved overall fitness performance.

The roots of progressive overload can be traced back to the pioneering works of the legendary British physiologist, Sir Archibald Hill. His groundbreaking research in the early 20th century laid the groundwork for understanding muscle physiology and the adaptation process. Alongside fellow British physiologist John C. Haldane, Hill’s studies revealed the importance of gradually increasing resistance during training to maximize muscular development and performance.

Gradual and Steady Progression

The fundamental principle of progressive overload is gradual and steady progression. Rather than making sudden leaps in intensity, focus on incremental increases in resistance, repetitions, or duration of your workouts. This approach allows your body to adapt progressively without overwhelming it.

As an example, if you were to programme a barbell bicep curl in the 8-10 rep range your programming would look as follows;

Week one: 20kg 8 reps

Week two: 20kg 10 reps

Week three: 22.5kg 8 reps

Thus increasing reps for more volume until you hit the top end of the rep range before increasing load and then increasing reps to add more volume week by week. 

This ensures you are constantly experiencing a novel stimulus, a key driver of hypertrophy.  

Individualisation and Personalisation

Fitness journeys are inherently personal, and what works for one individual may not be suitable for another. Tailor your workout program to suit your unique fitness level, goals, and physical capabilities. Respect your body’s limitations and work within your capacity to avoid injury and burnout.

Periodisation for Optimal Gains

Periodisation is a structured approach that divides your training into distinct phases, each with specific objectives. This strategic planning allows you to vary the intensity, volume, and focus of your workouts, preventing plateaus and optimising long-term progress.

Ample Rest and Recovery

In the pursuit of progressive overload, remember that growth happens during periods of rest and recovery. Overtraining can lead to exhaustion and hinder progress. Prioritise sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, and rest days to allow your body to repair and rejuvenate.

Programming with progressive overload is a meticulous and strategic process that requires careful planning and consideration. To effectively program with progressive overload, start by setting clear and realistic fitness goals.

Once you have established your objectives, design a structured training plan that includes a variety of exercises targeting different muscle groups and fitness components. Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts by progressively adding resistance, repetitions, or duration over time.

Employ periodisation by organising your training into distinct phases, with each phase focusing on specific aspects of fitness and intensity levels. Monitor your progress regularly by tracking performance metrics and making adjustments to your program as needed. Remember to prioritise proper rest and recovery to allow your body to adapt and grow stronger. Seek guidance from experienced fitness professionals to ensure that your program aligns with your individual needs and goals.

With a well-thought-out progressive overload program, you can maximize your potential and achieve exceptional results in your fitness journey.

Progressive overload doesn’t just have to be used in strength training. The same principles can be applied to any form of exercise.

Focus on the key variables, change one each session and you’ll either have an increase in intensity or an increase in volume to elicit change. 

Here’s a few exmaples:

In weight training, progressive overload involves gradually increasing the resistance or weight you lift. As your strength improves, add more weight to your exercises to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains.

Even without access to weights, you can achieve progressive overload with bodyweight exercises. Increase the number of repetitions or try more advanced variations of exercises as you progress.

For cardiovascular workouts such as running, cycling, or swimming, progressive overload can be achieved by extending the duration or intensity of your sessions. Gradually increase the distance, speed, or resistance to challenge your cardiovascular system and enhance endurance.

Incorporating progressive overload into your fitness routine is essential for unleashing your full potential and achieving remarkable results.

By systematically challenging your body and gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts, you stimulate muscle growth, improve strength, and enhance overall performance.

Progressive overload prevents plateaus and ensures continuous progress, keeping your fitness journey dynamic and exciting. Moreover, it cultivates mental resilience and self-confidence as you surpass previous limitations and achieve new milestones.

The adaptability of the human body allows for ongoing growth and improvement, making progressive overload a powerful tool to unlock your true fitness potential.

Whether your goal is to build muscle, increase endurance, or improve body composition, embracing progressive overload empowers you to attain long-term improvements in results. 

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