What Is Progressive Overload?
“Progressive overload requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or time in order to achieve the desired goal of the user. In this context, volume and intensity are defined as follows: Volume is the total number of repetitions multiplied by the resistance used as performed in specific periods of time.” That my friends is straight out of Wikipedia.
When exercising, your body will adapt to a point, but if you want to make further development then you need to exert greater demand on the body by training hard and training smart. If you don't progressively overload the muscles by forcing them to do more than they're accustomed to, then they have no reason to make further adaptations.
Think about it this way, if you go to the gym and do the same exercises with the same amount of reps, sets and resistance, then run 1km at the exact same pace each time, do you think your body will develop? Does it need to?
The answer is NO, your body will not develop unless it needs to! FACT!
To affectively overload the muscles, you need to implement these methods:
1. Increase Load/Resistance
Increasing the resistance/load is the most common and effective way of progressively overloading a muscle. Say one week you do 4 sets of 8 reps on the back squat using 100kg and the next week you do the same amount of reps and sets, but you increased the load up to 110kg, that is the simplest form of progressive overload, progressively increasing the load in order exert greater demand on the muscles.
2. Increase Reps
Consider a strong person doing squats in the gym, instead of adding an extra 10kg to a back squat, you could instead do 10 reps of 4 sets instead of the initial 8 reps.
Note: With this method you're limited as you do want to train within certain rep ranges specific to your goals, for example, if you were training for strength you would not want to keep increasing the reps until you're hitting 15 + reps as you would then be moving towards muscular endurance.
Here are some rep ranges you might want to take note of:
Strength 4-8 reps
Hypertrophy (muscle building) 8-15
Muscular endurance 15 reps +
3. Increase Volume
Volume is simply sets multiplied by reps multiplied by resistance. You can increase demand on your body and muscle groups by adding more exercises, reps or sets. Instead of doing the 100kg back squat for 4 sets of 8 reps, you can do it for 5 sets of 8 reps. Alternatively you can stick with the same weight, reps and sets, but add in another exercise that targets the same muscle group, for example, you could super set your back squats with lunges..... if you're feeling brave.
4. Increase Frequency
This is a very simple and effective approach, especially when targeting a specific muscle groups that you want to particularly develop. This approach is obviously limited as you can't just keep training more and more frequently as you'll end up training every single day. Training needs to enrich your life and not take over it!
5. Reduce Rest Between Sets
This is one of my personal favourites, especially with busy clients who have limited time to train as we can't necessarily just keep increasing volume and frequency every single time. The only draw back is if you're training specifically for strength gains as it's vitally important that you have adequate rest between sets.