What Does Progressive Overload Mean? The #1 Rule For Training Success

OK, so in this post, I’m going to be talking about the MOST important training principle that you should be applying in your training for consistently making strength and muscle gains. And that training principle is – you guessed it – Progressive Overload!

So what does progressive overload mean? Progressive Overload means that in order for physical adaptations to occur (e.g muscle growth) there needs to be an incremental increase in stress put on the body over time. Simply put, it means that you need to be mindfully making an effort to get stronger session to session, week to week.

It doesn’t matter what style of training you’re doing – it could be calisthenics/bodyweight training, powerlifting, CrossFit, bodybuilding, what have you – Progressive Overload is and is always going to be KING.

If you’re doing the same exercises at the same intensity week in week out, you are simply not going to be seeing good results. That’s just how the human body works. You need to be striving to improve each and every session.

If you’re a beginner you’ll notice that you’ll usually be able to get stronger almost with every session but if you’re a bit more advanced this could mean you’re ‘only’ getting a stronger week to week, and that’s just how it is.

As long as you’re applying that sweet progressive overload and making a conscious effort to get stronger over time, you’re going to be making great gains for years to come!

What Does Progressive Overload Mean – How To Apply It

There are many ways in which you can increase the intensity of a given exercise. Here are some examples:

  • More Reps;
  • More Sets;
  • More Weight;
  • Harder Exercise Progression;
  • Increased Range Of Motion;
  • More Time Under Tension;
  • Shorter Rest Times.

For example, if on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we start our workout by doing pull-ups and if on Monday you can do 6 Pull Ups then on Wednesday you wanna push for 7 and on Friday you wanna finish off the week by hitting those 8 Pull-Ups.

This is a very linear example and most likely you’ll be able to do more but even just that 1 more rep is what you should have in mind. Just one more rep session to session and week to week.

If you can do more that’s great, if not that’s A-OK too, the important thing is to always push yourself and try your hardest.

Setting Exercise Goals

It’s important to set clear goals for each exercise so you know when to make it harder. If in my workout plan I’m doing Dips (which everyone should be doing, in my opinion) I’ll set some goals for it and when I hit my goal, I’ll apply some form of progressive overload using the methods above.

For example, Day 1 of Week 1 my goal for my Dips are 5-12 reps for 3-4 sets with 2 minutes’ rest in between sets. If by Day 1 of Week 3 I’ve hit my 12 reps for 3 sets, next training session I’ll aim for 12 reps of 4 sets.

Another good way of increasing the intensity of my Dips could also be to increase the Time Under Tension, so the tempo or speed in which the exercise is performed, or I could simply add weight to the movement. Do what you think is best.

So always have a goal in mind for each and every exercise of your training program and make it happen. I recommend that you write down in your journal or notebook what you did every session and that way it is very easy to track your progress and ensure you’re getting stronger!

Mistakes People Tend To Make

Some of the most common mistakes I see people making when it comes to their training is:

  1. Either they’re too lazy to write down their training sessions or don’t know the value of doing so and they don’t really know what they did the previous session or;
  2. They vary their training up WAY too much.

People in category #1 won’t write down what they did each training session so they kind of just go with the flow and just try to remember it. Except that it’s hard to always know everything you did in your training and ultimately this is not a good approach to training for making the best progress you can possibly make.

what does progressive overload mean

Don’t be lazy, don’t get complacent, don’t be one of these people. Write your workouts down, get goals for every exercise, and put your mind to hitting them. This way you can be 100% certain that you’re making gains and getting stronger, over time.

People in category #2 are those who are constantly changing up their routines or programs, constantly changing exercises and this is a BIG illusion of Progressive Overload and is not the best way to get strong. Don’t get me wrong, I like having fun with my workouts as much as the next guy – what’s the point if you’re not having fun? – but to me, the most fun and gratifying way of training are by making sure I’m getting stronger and hitting my goals over time.

So if you can’t stick to a routine or program for more than 2 weeks and are constantly changing the way you train, you’re most likely not going to be seeing good results. Give it at least a good 4 to 5 weeks to any routine you take on and always think of continuity and progressing with your training.

Key Points to Take Away

Here are some Key Points I want you to take away from this article:

  • You should be making a conscious effort to get stronger session to session, week to week;
  • Write down your workouts to make it easy to track your progress;
  • Set exercise goals;
  • Train hard! 😉

Take Action!

I hope that this article has been helpful and you understand what Progressive Overload is all about. It’s great to know all about something but what is even better is going out there and actually applying what you’ve learned and put it into practice!

A lot of people know this training principle in theory but they don’t really do it. Don’t be like everyone else, apply the principle and reap the rewards!

If you have any questions or feedback just leave them in the comment section below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Happy training everyone!

8 thoughts on “What Does Progressive Overload Mean? The #1 Rule For Training Success”

  1. Hello, I am a novice when it comes to the work out game, but would this progressive overload be good for toning up  and not just gaining muscle? I will admit I haven’t kept a journal on my exercise since college, but I am pretty good at sticking to the same thing every time I go to the gym. I like to swap between adding more weight, or a little less weight and more reps.   Though after reading this, I think I may try to keep a journal again on it again. I mean I write down everything else I do, so why not my gym stuff too. 

    • Hi McKenzie,

      Yes, applying Progressive Overload will definitely help in every aspect of your training, whether your goal is to tone up or build muscle. I’m glad I’ve convinced you to write down your workouts and keep a training journal, as it really is the best way to simply track your progress when it comes to your training.

      Hope this helps! 

  2. This makes total sense that you should increase the stress on the body overtime to increase muscle, although i had never thought of it in that way before. You have given some great tip son how to go about applying this.

    I’ll be taking your advise about setting goals, I seem to work better with goals in other aspects in life so applying it to my workouts will really work for me. Great article thank you

    • Hi Dianne,

      Exactly, setting goals is the key to staying motivated and is a great way to achieving anything in life, in my opinion.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for your feedback!

  3. So that’s what they call they call it! I’ve always had this feeling of pushing my limit to try to do more challenging things than ones I usually do so that I don’t get bored but somehow, I feel good about it when my friends say otherwise and told me to stick to my routine. Is there any drawbacks that I should watch out for if you keep pushing your limit constantly when I exercise?

    • Hi Riaz,

      Not really as long as you’re taking the time to warm up properly and do your stretches after your training sessions, you should absolutely always push yourself beyond your limits. Will you always be able to do it? No. Should you always try to do it? Yes!

      Hope this helps!

  4. the way you apply progressive overload will depend ob your goals. Because not every type of progressive overload will fit with out goals. For example: I want to be stronger, I don’t care about being big (hypertrophy). In that case I cannot increase the amout of reps, instead I should focus on increasing the amount of weight.

    That was just a little observation, I have to admot that your post was very informative and useful.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and let’s get stronger!

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