Progressive Overload

As I have been talking with my clients consistently on a certain topic over the last two months, I noticed that by applying this topic to their programs, it has really helped them get the most out of their training sessions, and break through barriers that have been stopping them from losing weight or achieving health goals. This topic is called Progressive Overload. This is the term used to describe the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during an exercise program. It is recognised as one of the fundamental principles of resistance training. It applies to all areas of fitness, such as training for a fun-run event. For the purpose of this article, I want to talk about resistance training.

On its own, resistance training is a hugely beneficial form of activity. It helps improve joint stability, bone density, increases strength and boosts metabolism. But our bodies are smart, and they adapt to ensure minimal energy is being expended at any one time. For example, when you first start a program, 10 body weight squats may be difficult. However, after repeating these each session, a few times per week, for a few weeks consistently, your body will adapt. Your muscles beomce stronger and you start to find 10 squats easier and easier.

Your leg muscles will have adapted to the demands you placed upon them. Yet there is no longer a need for them to grow bigger and stronger, because the demands are no longer sufficient. You could continue to perform 1 round of 10 squats for the rest of your life, but your strength and muscle size would never improve beyond a certain point.

For your leg muscles to become stronger, we need to place a higher demand on the muscles, to keep improving this strength. This will help us enjoy further health benefits, such as increased metabolism, increased bone density and increased joint stability. This technique, when applied properly, keeps your body in a constant state of adaptation. However, there are many ways in which you can increase this demand. I can think of 7 great ways to progressively overload an exercise, therefore increasing your training intensity and maximising your chance of health gains:

1) Increase resistance/weight you are lifting – Provided you can maintain correct technique!

2) Increase the amount of sets performed – Progress from 2 sets to 3 sets.

3) Increase the number of repetitions done.

4) Increase frequency – eg: 2 resistance sessions per week to 3.

5) Increase exercises – Add more exercises to your program to work your muscles in different ways.

6) Increase Intensity – Increase the perceived effort put into each exercise.

7) Decrease rest time – Decreasing the rest time between consecutive sets will force your body to adapt metabolically, by removing by-products of anaerobic exercise (lifting weights) faster, and more efficiently over time.

Employing Progressive Overload is the key to improving your health. However, the key is to ensure that you increase this in a controlled method. As with anything, doing the appropriate amount is the key. Excessively overloading your body can lead to a decline in training performance over the course of a program, if not done correctly. This often increases the risk of illness or injury, hence decreasing the desire to exercise. In order to help avoid this problem, the technique of periodization is needed. Here at Optimum, we love helping people get the most out of their training. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting out after many years of inactivity, or a seasoned trainer. The key is to ensure your program incorporates progressive overload, so you’re moving your health forward and maximising the benefits of exercise.

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