Gradual overload. If you're a gym-goer or sports training enthusiast, you've probably heard this term. But what does this mean exactly? Why is this so important as part of a training program? How do you apply it correctly to maximize your muscle gains and athletic performance?
This is what we will see together in this article in which I invite you to understand the nuances of this training method, how to apply it in your own routine and why it is important for your progress.
Understanding progressive overload
What is progressive overload?
Progressive overload is a fundamental concept in bodybuilding and athletic training. Simply put, it's about gradually increasing the workload you're training for. This can be done in several ways: by increasing the weight you lift, the number of repetitions you perform, the frequency of the exercises, or even the intensity of the exercises.
But why is it so important? To understand this, we must examine how our body reacts to physical exertion.
How does progressive overload work?
When you put your body under “stress” (such as lifting weights or running), you actually create small tears in your muscles. This may seem strange, but it's actually a good thing. These tears signal to your body that it needs to repair and strengthen these muscles so that it can better handle this stress or “trigger” in the future. This is how we get stronger and build muscle.
However, our bodies are incredibly adaptable. If you do the same exercise over and over again, your body adapts and becomes more efficient at handling the effort. This is where gradual overload comes in. By constantly increasing your workload, you continue to challenge your body, create those micro-tears, and stimulate muscle growth and strengthening.
Progressive overload and linear progression
It is important to note that progressive overload is not the same as linear progression, although they are often confused. Linear progression is a specific form of progressive overload where you continually and predictably increase your workload, for example, adding 2.5kg to your deadlift each week.
On the other hand, progressive overload is a broader concept. It includes linear progression, but can also include other ways to increase your workload, such as increasing volume (the total number of reps and sets you do), progressive intensification (increasing the intensity of your exercises), and even more advanced intensification techniques like drop sets, supersets, and rest periods.
Benefits of progressive overload
Improving performance and muscle development
One of the main advantages of progressive overload is that it allows for continuous progress in athletic performance and regular muscle growth. By regularly increasing your workload, you keep your muscles under stress, which helps promote muscle growth and increased strength.
study(1) It was published in 2011 in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and tested a progressive overload program. Researchers monitored 83 people over the course of 12 weeks as they performed a series of arm strength exercises. They found that progressive overload (gradually increasing the load and number of repetitions of an exercise) was effective in increasing biceps strength and muscle growth in both men and women.
Another benefit of progressive overload is that it can help prevent injuries. By increasing your workload in a gradual, controlled manner, you give your body time to adapt and strengthen, which may reduce your risk of overload-related injuries.
However, it is important to note that progressive overload should be done in increments. It can be dangerous to increase the load or repeat training too quickly, which can lead to injury. It is therefore essential to take a thoughtful approach and always listen to your body.
Preventing training plateaus
Finally, gradual overload can help avoid training plateaus. A plateau occurs when your body adapts to your current exercise routine and you stop progressing. Therefore, by regularly increasing the effort level, you continue to engage the muscles and stimulate muscle growth and strengthening.
How to implement progressive overload?
Now that we understand what progressive overload is and why it is important, let's see how to apply it in strength training.
Gradual weight gain
One of the most common ways to create progressive overload is to increase the weight you lift. For example, if you can comfortably lift a certain weight for 10 to 12 repetitions, you can try increasing your load by 2.5 to 5 kg the next time you do that exercise.
It's important to note that you should always perfect the exercise and make sure you have good technique before picking up heavier dumbbells or adding pounds to your barbell. Lifting weights with incorrect movement may lead to injury.
Another way to apply progressive overload is to increase your training volume. This can be done by increasing the number of repetitions or number of sets you do for each exercise. For example, if you're currently doing 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise, you could try moving to 3 sets of 12 reps, or 4 sets of 10 reps.
Increase in frequency
Increasing the frequency of your workouts is another way to allow for gradual overload. If you currently train 3 times a week, you can try increasing your training frequency to 4 times a week. However, it is important to be careful not to train the same muscle too much if you are starting out, as this may cause too much fatigue and not allow the muscle to overcompensate (repair and strengthen). Therefore, it is essential that you give your body enough time to rest and recover between exercises.
Increase in intensity
Finally, you can increase the intensity of your workouts to achieve progressive overload. This can be done by reducing rest time between sets, reducing the speed at which you perform exercises (increasing time under tension), or using intensification techniques such as forced repetitions and negative repetitions.
What to remember
Progressive overload is a fundamental concept in strength sports such as Powerlifting, CrossFit or Strongman. By regularly increasing the workload you put on your muscles, you force them to adapt, increasing their size, strength, resistance and endurance based on your training parameters.
Progressive overload for optimal strength gains and performance