You’ve been on Instagram or Facebook and seen people post infographics such as The 30-day
Squat Challenge or The Ultimate Chest Workout Guide and thought let’s give this a try. You
begin one, see some changes, but after a while it feels like nothing’s happening. Why is that?
How do you get more results? The answer is progressive overload. Progressively making the
exercise more challenging workout after workout to illicit a training response.
Most workout templates have a prescribed exercise set and repetition selection. For example,
three sets of ten reps. If you keep hammering out the same bicep curls, bench press, or leg
extension using this format with the same weight, your body will quickly adapt and those initial
changes you were thrilled to see will quickly stop coming. You need to challenge your body or it
will have no reason to adapt. That desirable, toned, or athletic look you might have initially
sought won’t develop if you don’t push for it. Our bodies need to be shocked into changing and
to do that you need to change the parameters of your workout. There are three main ways to do
this, changing the load, changing the volume, or changing the rest time between sets.
Changing the load is pretty straightforward and the most common way. Load means weight
lifted so to change the load you adjust the weight. Put more weight on the barbell, pick up a
heavier dumbbell, or go to the next higher setting on the machine. Eventually though, just
adding weight to the bar becomes an issue. Also, if you do not have access to more weights,
you can’t really add weight.
You can also increase the volume. Simply put, do more work. You can either increase the
amount of reps you do per set or do more sets. Instead of 3 sets of 10 reps, do 3 sets of 12 reps
or 4 sets of 10 reps. You could also keep everything the same but just go more often. Instead of
lifting weights twice a week, find time to make it to the gym a third day. As long as you are doing
more work than you did previously, you are pushing the training effect and your body will be
forced to adapt.
The third main way to progressively overload is probably the least considered but it can be a
good option if you are unable to do the previous two. You can shorten the rest times you take
between sets. Instead of taking 2 minutes to rest, chop it down to 90 second or 1 minute. As
long as you feel mostly rested, you can make your workout more intense by not giving yourself
as much time to recover. This can also be great if you do not have a lot of time to spend
Progressive overload is the only true way to push the training effect and make your body adapt
into the lean, mean fighting machine you want it to become. Try one to start and mix and match
all three as you see fit.
– Emily Mannen, Personal Trainer