Progressive overload training involves gradually increasing the intensity or difficulty of workouts over time. It can promote the development of muscle mass and strength.
Training using the progressive overload method typically involves choosing a goal, working out at a comfortable but challenging level, and then slowly increasing the intensity of the workouts over time. This may involve decreasing rest periods or adding more weight, repetitions (reps), or sets.
People new to progressive overload training may wish to work with a certified personal trainer to ensure that they are using proper form and are progressing safely. Building up too quickly can cause injury and burnout.
This article explains what progressive overload training is and how to do it safely. It also provides some workout plan examples.
Progressive overload training is a type of strength training that involves gradually increasing the intensity or difficulty of workouts over time. The goal of progressive overload is to maximize results by regularly challenging the body.
Strategically stressing the muscles maximizes strength gains while minimizing the possibility of injury and burnout.
However, when trying progressive overload training, it is important to follow a plan. This prevents a person from increasing the weight or intensity too quickly on days when they feel good, and it also drives progress by ensuring that a person knows what to do in the gym each day.
As a rule of thumb, a person should aim to keep increases in time, weight, or intensity to 10% or less each week.
This allows the body to adapt slowly while minimizing injury risk. Gradual increases challenge the body while preventing plateaus in muscle growth.
However, it is important to note the importance of always listening to the body. If a person has sustained an injury or is feeling tired or weak, they should take a break or decrease the intensity of their workout.
A person’s progressive overload training plan will vary depending on their goals and starting fitness level. They may aim to increase the weight they can lift, the number of reps they can do, or the duration of their exercise session.
The following are examples of progressive overload training plans for these goals.
Gradually placing additional stress on the muscles causes them to break down, rebuild, and become stronger. Increasing the weight a person uses for exercise is one way to overload the muscles.
- Week 1: Perform a bench press with 100 pounds (lb) of weight.
- Week 4: Perform a bench press with 105 lb of weight.
- Week 8: Perform a bench press with 110 lb of weight.
Increasing the length of a workout helps a person build endurance. This can improve both cardiovascular fitness and strength.
If a person’s focus is cardiovascular training, they can aim to increase the length of their sessions steadily.
For example, they can try running, cycling, or swimming an additional 15 minutes weekly:
- Week 1: Perform a 30-minute session.
- Week 4: Perform a 45-minute session.
- Week 8: Perform a 60-minute session.
If an individual is strength training, they can build muscle endurance by increasing the number of reps but keeping the weight the same.
Increasing the intensity or tempo of an exercise session can improve fitness. A person can do this by exercising at a faster pace or by taking shorter rests between sets.
If an individual is doing cardiovascular training, they can increase the intensity by adding intervals. This may involve alternating between running at a higher speed for 30 seconds and jogging for 60 seconds.
For example, people can try:
- Week 1: Perform 8 intervals.
- Week 4: Perform 10 intervals.
- Week 8: Perform 12 intervals.
For people who are less focused on cardio exercise, another option is to use lighter weights but lift them at a quicker pace. However, it is important to focus on maintaining correct form when doing this to avoid injury.
For example, people can increase the intensity of a weightlifting session as follows:
- Week 1: Perform 10 reps in 60 seconds.
- Week 4: Perform 12 reps in 60 seconds.
- Week 8: Perform 14 reps in 60 seconds.
Forcing the muscles to perform an increasing number of reps improves muscle endurance. A person can do this by adding to the reps they include in a strength training session.
For example, they can try:
- Week 1: Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Week 4: Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.
- Week 8: Perform 3 sets of 14 reps.
The primary benefit of progressive overload training is avoiding a plateau in muscle mass and strength. When a person performs the same workouts using the same amount of weight, they can eventually reach a point where the exercise is not challenging, so they no longer see results.
Progressive overload training helps prevent this by slowly increasing the intensity of workouts, which forces the body to adapt and allows for consistent progress.
As with any type of strength training, there is a risk of injury when performing progressive overload exercises. Therefore, it is important to use proper form and technique when lifting weights and progressively increase the intensity to avoid strain or injury.
It is also important to note that everyone’s limits are different.
What may be a suitably challenging 10% increase for one person may be too much for another. A person should listen to their body and progress at a rate that feels comfortable.
Progressive overload training is safe and effective when a person performs the exercises correctly.
People can minimize the risk of injury while training by:
- warming up properly before each workout
- using proper form and technique when lifting weights
- avoiding increasing the intensity by more than 10% each week
- focusing on quality over quantity
- listening to the body and progressing at a comfortable pace
- drinking enough water
- remembering to cool down after the workout
- including enough rest days
Working with a certified personal trainer can help ensure that a person uses proper form and technique when performing progressive overload exercises. A trainer can also create a workout plan that gradually increases in intensity, allowing the person to progress safely.
Progressive overload training is a type of strength training that gradually increases the intensity of workouts to avoid a plateau in muscle mass and strength. The primary benefit is that it helps prevent a person from reaching a point where their exercise regimen is no longer challenging or effective.
The risks include the potential for injury, so a person must listen to their body and progress at a comfortable pace. Working with a certified personal trainer can help ensure safe and effective progressive overload training.