Your Guide to Progressive Overload: Getting Results in the Gym

Your Guide to Progressive Overload: Getting Results in the Gym

Get ready to take your training to the next level! The secret to unlocking your full potential lies in understanding the science behind progressive overload. No more pseudoscience, just real, evidence-based principles that can lead to remarkable muscle development and improved performance over time.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of neuromuscular systems and how to strategically modify your training to achieve continuous growth. Say goodbye to stagnation and hello to progress! Let’s explore the power of progressive overload in resistance training and unleash the gains you’ve been waiting for. Get ready to level up!

Progressive Overload Explained

The Principle of Progression says that we should increase time, weight, or intensity in small steps, like 10% or less each week. This gradual increase helps our body adapt and prevents injuries. If we don’t keep progressing, our muscle growth can stop.

On the other hand, if we decrease the load for a long time, our muscles can get smaller and weaker. But with regular and consistent training, our body adjusts to the changes and meets the challenges we put on it.

Note: Hypertrophy is the process of increasing muscle size through the enlargement of muscle fibers. It occurs in response to progressive overload during resistance training. When we progressively increase the stress placed on our muscles through heavier weights or higher intensity exercises, the muscle fibers respond by growing larger. This adaptation, known as hypertrophy, is responsible for building and developing muscle mass, strength, and overall physical performance.

Why You Should Implement Progressive Overload

As you keep doing your resistance training, you might notice that the exercises become easier to do. But don’t worry! We have some tricks up our sleeve to keep challenging you to avoid hitting a plateau.

You can do simple things like increasing the number of reps, making the exercises harder, changing the timing or distance, or introducing new movements. One common and effective way is to add more weight to the exercises.

For example, if you started doing 3 sets of 12 reps with a certain weight, and now you can do 15-20 reps, increase the weight by 5-10%. This way, you’ll have to do 8-12 reps with good form, keeping you in the hypertrophy phase.

How Does Progressive Overload Work?

There are 3 ways to build muscles through strength training: metabolic damage, muscle tension (force), and exercise-induced muscle damage. When we talk about progressive overloading, we focus on increasing muscle tension by adding more weight to the exercises. This change in load makes the muscles work harder and adapt to the increased force over time.

To get the most out of this process, it’s crucial to keep an eye on form and difficulty. This way, you can tell when it’s the right time to increase the force and push the muscles to keep growing and getting stronger. Remember, working smart and safe is the key to building muscles effectively!

How to Progressively Overload

In this section, we’ll explore the exciting concept of progressively overloading your muscles to make continuous progress and achieve impressive results. By learning how to intelligently challenge your body and gradually increase the demands on your muscles over time, you’ll unleash a whole new level of strength and fitness.

Periodization and Programming

Periodization and programming are essential for achieving progressive overload in your training. They involve gradually adding more challenging exercises, weights, and intensity to your plan. Progressions can happen on a larger scale over several weeks (macrocycle), within a few weeks (mesocycle), or even during a single workout (microcycle). Learn more about these cycles.

As you move through the phases of periodization, your body faces increasing challenges, promoting progressive overloading. But sometimes, you might need to adjust the intensity within one workout itself. To know when it’s time to increase the weights, pay attention to the difficulty of your training. If it seems to be getting too easy, it may be time to change the weight, sets, or repetitions.

It’s common to increase the weights every few weeks as your body gets used to the exercises and intensity. Another way to challenge yourself is by adding more working sets. Instead of doing 3 sets, you might increase it to 4 or 5 over time. This not only helps with hypertrophy but also challenges your strength endurance. By set 4, you might reach your limit of 8-12 reps, which keeps you in the ideal strength hypertrophy range.

Techniques To Use In Your Workout

Other effective tools used in athletic training, such as bodybuilding and powerlifting, are pyramid sets, partials, drop sets, super sets, and negatives. Here is what you need to know about them:


For pyramid sets, you will incrementally increase the weight used for each working set. Most people decrease the number of reps as they are increasing the weight. For example, a set of 4 squats might be:

  • 135 lbs for 12 reps
  • 165 lbs for 10 reps
  • 195 lbs for 8 reps
  • 225 lbs for 6 reps

This style of set helps decrease the chances of injury and recruits slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Drop Sets

You may also know this method as stripping. Drop sets are a great way to overload the body and increase muscle hypertrophy.

Most people complete these after all working sets are completed. After your final working set, decrease the load. Then without any rest, perform a set to failure. You can perform more than one drop!

This method is great for overloading the muscles and cardiorespiratory system.

For the squat example above, you might perform a drop set of 135 lbs to muscle failure.

Super Sets

Supersets are one of the most common lifting techniques you will see in the gym. They involve pairing two exercises together back to back. They can be either adjacent, complimentary, or unrelated muscle groups.

If you use complementary or adjacent muscle groups, they will increase your pump by maximizing blood flow into the muscles being worked. On the other hand, working agonist and antagonist muscles together can massively decrease gym time without lowering training volume.

Some examples of this would be triceps and biceps, chest and back, or hamstrings and quads.


Partial reps are commonly used in strength training programs, especially in a powerlifting setting. As the name suggests, you complete only a partial range of motion, generally with 90-110% of your 1RM.

Find your 1RM here.

The goal of this style of partials is to increase force output for that specific movement through muscular adaptation and stronger neuro-muscular control. However, many bodybuilders will use light partials performed quickly to pump more blood into a muscle after a set.

It is incredibly important to use a spotter when performing heavy partials.


To get the most out of negative reps, use a weight that is above your 1RM and always work with a spotter. The spotter will guide with the eccentric movement of the lift and help lift on the concentric portion.


It might sound counterintuitive, but deloads can help your body recover from intense training. This leads to better results over time and a more sustainable approach.

Who Should Use Progressive Overload Training

Everyone! When you’re working out, it’s essential to make progress over time. This doesn’t always mean lifting a lot more weight, but you should have a plan to help you keep improving and avoid getting stuck in a plateau. Challenging your neuromuscular system continuously is important to make the right changes in your body.

After an 8-12 week overloading phase, always make sure to follow a de-load phase so your body can recover from the increased intensity and keep making progress.

Benefits of Progressive Overload

Some of the benefits of using the overload principle in a training regimen are:

  • Improved cardiovascular efficiency
  • Beneficial hormone and cholesterol adaptations
  • Loss of body fat
  • Increased metabolism
  • Increased muscle, tendon, and ligament strength
  • Increased muscle fiber density
  • Increased bone density
  • Improved coordination
  • Improved endurance
  • Increased strength and power


Although there aren’t typical cons of increasing the intensity of your training, there are some things to watch out for:

  • You must understand how to apply this principle correctly to avoid injuries
  • It takes a level of creativity to increase the load when you can no longer increase the amount of weight or when it isn’t safe to do so.

Need A Progressive Overload Workout Plan?

You should have a basic understanding of what this progressive overload is and some ideas of ways to progressively overload. But, if you would prefer to find a proven training plan rather than trying to formulate one yourself, just check out our free training plans section!

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