Progressive overload gets a lot of attention in fitness articles because it works. Routinely pushing your body further each workout keeps the results coming and makes each workout fun. But what exactly is progressive overload and how can you apply it to your workouts? This article aims to explain progressive overload by providing a foundation that other techniques can build on.

Using a rep range.

I really like using rep ranges in my programming because it’s a very easy way to implement progressive overload. Using a rep range helps make sure that you’re ready for an increase in weight by making sure you’ve been performing adequate volume with a given load before moving on. This serves as the basic template for which other methods of progressive overload trickery can be used.

Now let’s take a look at how this works with an example of some exercise billed out as 4 sets of 8-10 reps (4×8-10):

Progressive-Overload-Sample-1(reps x weight)

As you can see, there is considerable improvement over the eight weeks in terms of volume performed. Weeks 1-3 show an improvement in lifting 85 pounds each workout and once the rep range is fully realized, lifting all sets at the highest end of the rep range with a given weight, it’s time to move up.

Week 4 shows an introduction to the next weight. It’s pretty common to grab a new weight on your last set and not do well with it. Don’t worry about it. Your body will respond to the increased stimulus and next week it will get better. Sometimes you’ll get surprised and completely crush the next weight on the last set. When that happens you still follow this process, but you’ll move along much more quickly.

Week 5 shows all sets falling within the rep range so it’s time to start adding the new weight to the third set in week 6. That goes off without a hitch, and all sets are within the rep range, so you add the new weight to the second set in week 7. Things are getting better here you may find that you can move the weight beyond the minimum reps, but you may be pooped by the last set, as in the example. If you don’t complete all sets within the rep range, repeat the same weights next week.

Week 8 shows all sets within the rep range and so the new weight would now be added to the first set in week 9. From this point you start the process over, grinding out the new weight until it becomes the old weight. Once you get to performing all sets at the top of the rep range again you bring on the next load on and start over. This process never stops.

Another way to get there.

Progressive-Overload-Sample-2(reps x weight)

This table starts off the same way, but this time the lifter chose to stay at the bottom of the rep range in week 7 and expand to the first set with the new weight in week 8. Now the march towards four sets of 10 begins the same.

There’s no right way.

It doesn’t matter which way you choose to go as long as you are pushing yourself and getting stronger over time. You may not get better every week, but you should see improvement on a larger time scale. Month after month you can add weight to the bar (or the dumbbell) and see small changes. Over time these changes add up and yield big results.

Let me know if this is helpful in the comments below and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Keep crushing it,

Sean

 

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