What Is Progressive Overload – The Key To Muscle Growth!

By | March 5, 2015

What Is Progressive Overload – The Key To Muscle Growth!

You’ve probably heard the term progressive overload quite a bunch of times in your training career. Almost every single channel and group in youtube and facebook has published something about it.

What is Progressive overload in a nutshell:

Training with high enough intensity to “overload” your muscles using more reps or weight compared to previous sessions, in other words doing more over time.

How Important is Progressive Overload?what is progressive overload

Progressive overload is definately the most valuable tool in order to secure muscle and strength gains. You can have your reps, sets,weights and technique down to a T along with your nutrition and rest BUT if you’re training with the same reps, sets and weights over longer periods of time you will not build any muscle after your body gets used to the certain ranges and weights you’re using.

For example if you’re squatting 225 lbs for 3 sets of 10 repetitions per set for the next 3 months, after some time you will not make any gains because your body has adapted to that stimulus through hypertrophy (building more muscle to your body).

This is by far the most important principle in order to pack on muscle and gain strength through weight training. But that being said you should always aim for heavier weights when you’re strong enough! If you rush it too fast you might not be able to maintain proper form and you might end up injuring yourself.

Don’t neglect proper form while aiming for progressive overload!what is progressive overload

This is one of the reasons why you should aim for a more gradual progression. First add reps and when you’re strong enough with a certain weight add weight and perform less reps per set. Then build the reps with the new weight again and add weight AGAIN when you’re strong enough to do so.

There is one thing to avoid though when aiming for progressive overload on different exercises and that is concentric muscular failure. In short terms failure.

Failure And Progressive Overloadwhat is progressive overload

Failure is the term used for going “all-out” for a given set, performing as many reps on a given set as you can. When you’re benching and your cranked out 7 reps and you think you can do one more rep and go for it and the weight gets stuck on your chest you’re reached FAILURE.

Don’t get me wrong, failure is also a good tool to be utilized SOMETIMES but when aiming for gradual progression you should leave all your sets 1-2 repetitions short of failure. If you start failuring every single workout you do you’ll fire your central nervous system up in no time and you will stall, so no more progress and remember, it’s gradual progress you’re after!

Also only incorporate failure with proper safety measures. Have a spotter or if you don’t have one use a bench where there is safety pins or power rack with safety pins. It can be really dangerous to get crushed under weights!

#1 Secret Tool For Progressive Overloadlog_book_pen

Here are THE MOST important items that you’ll need in order to stay on top of your progressive overload game:

  • Training Log book
  • Pen

Kinda fancy right? These really affordable items will ensure that you keep hitting more reps, sets or weight over longer periods of time. By literally writing down every exercise and sets and reps you do each and every session you’ll have tangible goals to break the next time.

If you try to go by just memorizing your work done I can guarantee you that you’ll not make as fast progress since it’s really difficult to memorize every set and reps each workout. I first thought since I have quite good memory that I can do it without a problem. But after I started to log all of my workouts I started to progress at much higher rate! That was the proof that I did actually forget eventhough I thought that I didn’t.

Also it gives you kind of an extra boost when you can look at the previous numbers and try to break them today.

Progress Is Not Linear!not_linear

This is another thing you have to really hammer down. It’s virtually impossible to progress all the time. Sometimes you might stall with the same reps or weights for weeks or even months. And you might get a bit discouraged that your progress is stalling and you’re not making any gains. But this is not true. It’s perfrectly normal to hit plateaus and stall.

To give an example for you let’s say you start benching with 155 lbs for two sets of 8 repetitions. Then you add up every week 2.5 pounds to the bar. If this would hold true, after 5 years you would be benching with 805 lbs. You know how many people in the world bench 805 for 8 repetitions? None.

But this works on both ways. Sometimes you will stall and sometime you’ll just experience a sudden burst of holy shiiiet and wonder where the hell did all this strength come from.

And it has to mentioned that people with different training ages can and will progress differently. Beginner lifters will progress at much higher pace than advanced. Also another factor is the exercise. Bench is a really difficult lift to progress compared to squat and deadlift.

The bottom line of progression is not to get discouraged if you’re not hitting your personal records on a constant basis, it’s perfectly normal. You’re still growing and progressing, just at a slower pace.

Conclusion On What Is Progressive Overload

When it all comes down to it, progressive overload is THE solution to your muscle building routines! Ultimately if you don’t aim for progression, you will be holding yourself back and will not experience the results you’ve been looking for.

To recap all the important points to take away from this article, here is a list for you:

  • Progressive Overload in it’s bare essentials means doing more over time
  • It’s the most important factor taking part to your muscle growth within your weight training sessions
  • At the beginning the progress is faster but decreases over time
  • Leave your sets 1-2 repetitions short of failure, but don’t be afraid to hit failure from time to time
  • Start writing your exercise log book
  • Progress is not linear, there are ups and downs to weight training
  • Don’t aim for progression with the cost of proper lifting form

Here is a good video on progressive overload by Omar Isuf:

That’s it. Did you find this article helpful? Do you have a question or suggestion in mind? I’d love to hear what you think! Leave me a comment down below and I’ll get back at you.

Remember to train hard and train SMART!

Some other helpful articles written by me:

Beginner’s Guide To Muscle Building

How To Eat To Build Muscle

Supplements That Really WORK

10 Health Benefits Of Weightlifting

8 thoughts on “What Is Progressive Overload – The Key To Muscle Growth!

  1. dlansing

    I like your article on progressive overload. I read about this before but your article is even more detailed and I certainly get to learn more about this specific technique for muscle growth. Thanks!


    1. Jesse Post author

      Dominic I’m glad you got soething out from this article!

  2. Kinya

    I like that you pointed out that it’s perfectly natural to hit a plateau. People tend to freak out when they hit plateaus when it comes to their body. I used to freak out. But everyone is different, and a plateau is not a sign of failure. Your body is an individual. What works for someone else may not work for you.

    TL;DR: Don’t flip a table if you plateau.

    1. Jesse Post author

      Kinya you’re on point with this. It’s funny but I’ve found that this kind of progression applies to almost every single skill in life. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Diondre

    As someone who actively works out this is very useful information to me. The funny part is that I was doing this constantly as I felt it would give me great results and had no idea there was a name for it. Thanks for the great article.

    1. Jesse Post author

      Yeah! Using the log book you can reach even greater heights! I’m glad if you gained something from this article 🙂

  4. Mary

    To many people get discouraged when it comes to exercising, I to was one of them. I was going to the gym regularly for a good 6 months-everyday. I managed to lose 30 lbs. Anyways, I noticed that my muscles would shake every time I would lift weights and then I would give up. This article made me aware that I was doing it all wrong. Thanks Jesse!

    1. Jesse Post author

      I’m glad if this article helped you in any way Mary! 🙂


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