Nobody begins their fitness journey being able to do loads of reps or lift very heavy weights. You need to challenge your muscles to develop them. A great way to build your strength and fitness is to follow the principles of progressive overload.
What is progressive overload?
It sounds scary, but it’s just the process of gradually overloading your body with reps, weight, intensity and time in order to improve and develop. Simply put: do more each time.
The beauty of this approach is that your current fitness level is irrelevant. It works whether you’re a complete novice, recovering from an injury, or the strongest person at the rack. You don’t need to concern yourself with what anyone else is doing. It’s your journey.
How do you practice progressive overload?
It’s all about increase.
Increasing Intensity: lifting more weight in your next training session.
Increasing Tension: taking longer to perform each rep. Just like the bodybuilding technique, you extend the time under tension (TUT) of a muscle. For example, taking 4 seconds to lower after a bicep curl.
Increasing Frequency: doing more training sessions than the previous week
Increasing Volume: performing more reps/sets in your next training session
What are the benefits of progressive overload?
It’s an effective and time-efficient way of improving and reaching your fitness goals.
It’s also very safe. Jumping from 5kg one week to 20kg the next is the perfect recipe for injury. Instead, by progressively increasing the load or reps you are giving your body time to adjust and grow.
Finally, it makes your workouts more interesting. Doing the same exercises day after day is boring. Changing your routine regularly keeps your brain switched on and your body challenged. More fun. More effort put in. More results.
How can you start?
Form always comes first. There’s no point in performing more reps if you’re not doing them correctly.
Find a weight which challenges you to lift for about 3 sets of 12 reps. Next session, add 2-3kg to the weight or so you can only manage 3 sets of 8 reps. Once you can do this, add more weight again so you can manage 3 sets of 8. And so on.
How quickly will you progress?
We all want to improve as quickly as possible. But fitness progress isn’t a straight line. You won’t see progress at every single workout. It also depends on your starting point. If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably jump up in reps and weight rapidly. But as strength builds this slows down or plateaus.
Your body is an unpredictable creature. Just keep adjusting your routine according to whatever you can manage. You’ll see a definite improvement over the long term.