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Training variables: Progressive overload

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As with periodization this variable is key for lean muscle growth. Do you use it? Have you heard about it?

Fitness experts, gurus and trainers always do everything harder than it really is, it´s hard to find someone talking about progressive overload and if you´re looking to gain muscle mass this is the technique that will give you results. Most trainers follow the same routine for a very long period of time and when they get bored they do some changes. Mostly they go to the gym 5 or 6 days a week for an hour or more and do the same day split, with the same weight, the same sets and reps that´s why they always look the same.

It´s not only boring but also discouraging to train and don´t see any change in our body for me it´s a waste of time. If we want to improve the way we look we need to make every workout challenging enough. Muscles grow bigger and stronger in response to training stimulus, we need to continue making greater demands, to progressively overload the muscles by forcing them to do more than they´re accustomed to if we don´t do it there´s no reason for them to grow. Our body is not going to change unless it is forced to, this is why we cannot get comfortable in the gym, once we get to a comfort zone if we stay there we´ll plateau.

Progressive overload means increasing demands on the muscles continually to make gains in muscle size, strength and endurance. We can use progressive overload not only for resistance training it´s also a great strategy to use for cardio training. The most common way to use this technique is by adding weight, every time we train the muscle we must be able to lift heavier, this is how the few trainers that know this technique use it but there are some other options for you to apply it.

The first and easiest option to increase overload is increase resistance, this is the most obvious way to increase the demand on the muscle, we simply add more weight to the one we are already lifting, if we are lifting 60 pounds we can add 3 or 5 pounds more, this makes the exercise harder and we need to consider that when we increase weight our reps are going to reduce for a period of time, then soon enough we´ll be able to do the same reps we were doing before we add weight but now with the added weight, this means we got stronger and we´re ready to add some more weight.

The next option is to increase reps, sometimes it may be hard to increase weight especially if we workout at home then in this case adding reps is one of the options. If we lift 60 pounds for 6 reps then our next workout lift the same weight for 8 reps, and the next workout lift the same weight for 10 reps. As I mentioned before the best reps for hypertrophy is between 6 – 12 reps so when we get to the 12 reps we may consider another option to increase overload. Once we get to 12 reps don´t keep adding more and more reps indefinitely because we´ll be training for endurance and not muscle size.

Next option is to increase the volume which as I mentioned before is the number of sets, on the option before we added more reps so here we increase the number of sets. If we are doing 3 sets of the exercise then do 4 sets, by doing 1 more set we increase the amount of work.

Another option is increasing time frequency, by training the same muscle 2 times a week we increase the overload and we are making your muscle work harder.

The last option for progressive overload is to decrease rest time between sets, with resistance training the workouts are structured in sets and rests intervals, depending on the amount of weight we are lifting this rest intervals may be from 90 sec. to 3 min. instead of resting 90 sec between sets  rest 60 sec. or 45 sec. so we´ll be doing the same amount of work in less time and this requires our body to become more efficient.

If we want to see any change in our body we need to challenge it, we need to give it the right stimulus and the right signal for it to change, otherwise it will stay the same this is why we need to keep every workout challenging and max effort but also keeping our ego out of the way or we can get injured. If we keep doing the same thing over and over we get stuck, it can help us maintain our current physique but our goal must be to improve.

Training is not only about changing exercises, we need to get stronger, we need to force our body that´s when change occurs. In some cases and for different reasons it may not be possible to keep adding weight, reps or sets every workout, this is totally fine we just need to make sure that we maintain strength and progress as fast as possible, if our goal is fat loss since we´re on a calorie deficit it is harder to increase volume and lift heavier so our goal is to maintain muscle mass, when we´re sick it´s harder to workout and sometimes we need to skip workouts, we need to consider this and realize that it´s ok just get back to the gym and keep progressing at our own pace.

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Pam