Progressive Overload: How To Train Harder Than Last Time

Progressive Overload: How To Train Harder Than Last Time

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to get so much out of their training and others look the same year after year?

Ever wonder what the crucial difference between an effective and ineffective training program is?

Do you ever feel like you’re consistent with your workouts, yet you can’t seem to get much for your efforts? 

If you’ve answered with a yes to at least one of these questions, then you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll be discussing progressive overload, what it is, and why it makes or breaks our fitness results.

Let’s get into it. 

Progressive Overload - The Missing Element For Many People

Your body doesn’t care the least about your fitness goals and aspirations. It doesn’t care about you having 16-inch arms, it doesn’t need six-pack abs, and it certainly doesn’t aspire to squat a 400-pound barbell.

It only cares for one thing: keeping itself alive.

And in fact, the human body has become incredibly good at surviving and adapting to different environments. But this presents an issue when it comes to fitness:

The body likes itself the way it is and is resistant to change. To achieve any results, we can’t merely ask politely; we need to force the body to change and improve. This is where the principle of overload comes in:

To improve our performance, gain strength, build muscle, or see any improvements from our training, we need to force the body to adapt to stressors that are greater than what it has seen before.

In doing so, the body has no choice but to improve to meet the demands of our training more easily the next time around.

Progressive Overload In Practice

The premise of overload is simple:

You need to be doing more over time. The simplest way to determine this is to look at your training from the past few months and ask yourself:

“Is my performance better? Am I able to do more work? Have I seen any improvements in my training recently?”

If your training hasn’t changed in recent months and you find yourself doing the same thing, there is a good chance that you haven’t induced much overload and you haven’t improved in any capacity.

Different Ways to Cause Overload

In the context of strength training and building muscle, prevailing wisdom suggests that progressive overload is about lifting heavier weights. To be sure, this is one way to cause overload and see improvements from our training. 

But, there are multiple ways to push ourselves and make our workouts more challenging. Here are some examples:

  • Lifting heavier weights
  • Lifting the same weight for more repetitions and/or sets
  • Lifting the same weight but with smoother form
  • Doing the same amount of work (sets, reps, and exercises) but in less time
  • Lifting the same weight with greater speed

Getting better is not just about lifting more weight. There are many nuanced ways to push yourself and gauge improvements. The most important thing is that you track your progress and notice when it stalls. When that happens, you can tweak your approach or go the old fashioned way: push yourself harder.