The Secret To Strength Training: Progressive Overload

The human body was designed to adapt. We adapt to climates, altitudes, and stressors that are constantly surrounding us. One of these stressors is your workouts! Exercise adds physical stress to the body that challenges the muscles and causes them to adapt by getting stronger. When your workout is no longer challenging, you begin to notice a plateau because the muscles are not being stressed and will therefore not get stronger. 

This is where the principle of Progressive Overload comes in. To avoid a plateau in your strength, you must consistently increase the demand on your muscles. Hence, “progressive overload” is what allows you to build and maintain strength.

There are many ways to apply progressive overload in strength training. At All Day Fit, some ways are by:

  • Increasing how much weight you are lifting.
  • Increasing how many reps of each exercise you are doing.
  • Increasing the number of sets in each strength block.
  • Increasing the volume of exercises (i.e. adding a third exercise to a strength block).
  • Changing the tempo of an exercise (i.e. slowing down the up phase, the down phase, or adding a pause).
  • Decreasing the rest time between exercises, sets, or strength blocks.
  • Increasing instability (i.e. turning a bilateral movement into a unilateral or contralateral movement).
  • Making an exercise more explosive (i.e. adding power by turning a movement pattern into a jump or throw).
  • Increasing the training frequency (i.e. going from training 2x week to 3x a week).

I get it, this seems like a lot of ways to apply progressive overload. It can be challenging to know how and when you should increase demand on your muscles. At All Day Fit, we use an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale to gauge our client’s progression in their training. See the below image to understand better how this scale works! 

We aim for an overall RPE of 8 in every session: the “perfect” degree of demand on your body.

When a client feels below 8 in an exercise, we know to apply one of the progressive overload principles to increase their RPE for the next set. If a client feels above an 8, we will first look at their habits. Did they have a poor sleep the night prior and their body feels tired? Or did they not get enough carbohydrates in their meals to provide them with proper energy? After looking at their habits, we then determine if we need to reverse one of the progressive overload principles (i.e. decreasing weight, reps, sets, increasing rest time, or regressing an exercise). Progressive overload is programmed into our client’s training sessions to ensure they are always being challenged appropriately. 

    Progressive overload is the key to building and maintaining strength.

    There is no wrong way to apply progressive overload, but working with a certified strength coach can ensure you are doing it safely and effectively. Workout with one of our strength coaches in either Personal Training or Small Group Personal Training. See you there!

    Sarah Truesdale

    Sarah Truesdale

    Strength Training Coach

    Sarah not only wants to help you feel strong, she wants to educate you on how you can improve your life both mentally and physically. Sarah is a certified in Personal Training, Animal Flow, and Barebell Strength. 

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