Progressive Overload

This is what you must know to grow!

The progressive overload principle basically states:

“In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.”

In other words, if you were to lift the same weights, for the same number of reps, for the same amount of sets, for the next 20 years… nothing would really happen. Your body wouldn’t change because it doesn’t have a reason to. However, if you increased the demands you are placing on your body by increasing the weight being lifted, lifting the same weight for more reps, or by doing something that increases intensity, then your body will have no other choice but to make the necessary improvements that will allow it to adapt to this new environment and remain capable of performing these tasks.

Overload with resistance training can occur in a variety of ways. We will discuss some of the most common ways…


Progressively increase the weight you lift as you become stronger. A good indicator of when to increase the weight is when you are able to perform more than your target repetitions.

For example, if you perform 4 sets of 8 reps of an exercise with 10kg one week you will have lifted a total volume of 320kg. If you increase to 12.5kg for the same amount of sets and reps the following week your total volume will have increased to 400kg.


Increase the number of repetitions you perform for a given exercise to increase total volume.

For example, if you are using 10kg for an exercise and you perform 4 sets of 8 reps one week, you have done 32 total repetitions and lifted 320kg total volume. If you perform 4 sets of 10 reps the following week, you will have performed 40 reps and 400kg total volume.


Increase the number of sets you perform for a given exercise.

Using the previous example, if you are using 10kg for an exercise, and you perform 4 sets of 8 reps one week, you have done 32 total repetitions and lifted 320kg total volume. If you perform 5 sets of 8 the following week, you will have performed 40 reps and 400kg total volume.


Decreasing the rest time between consecutive sets will force your body to adapt metabolically over time. This may also be beneficial for endurance athletes or individuals concerned with muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness rather than gains in strength and power.


Increase your perceived exertion or how much effort you put into every set. This is essential for creating progressive overload.


Many people do not use proper form when training. By ensuring that you are utilising the full range of motion of an exercise, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise. Make sure you can perform all reps with strict form before you progress.


Increase how often you train a certain muscle or muscle group. This technique is under-utilised and is extremely useful for improving lagging or weak muscle groups. The traditional approach to training a muscle or muscle group only once a week is not as effective as training each muscle group 2-3 times per week.


Total training volume is calculated using the equation: weight lifted x reps x sets

Obviously it would be impossible to continually increase your weights each session so this shows that by manipulating just one of these factors, you can increase your volume and continue to progress. Consistent progression is essential to achieving results, however, it is important to note that in order to ensure optimal progress, you need to make sure your form is not compromised and that you always feel your target muscle working during the exercise.

To make it easier to track your progression, it is important to keep some sort of record system of your workouts. Information to track should include: exercises performed, amount of sets/reps, weight used, and total workout time. Other useful details may include the time of day, energy levels or other factors that may affect your performance (hydration, nutrition, etc).

If you are serious about building muscle and strength, you should also be in a calorie surplus. What this means is that you are consuming more calories than you burn per week, for an extended period of time. Tracking your food and workouts along with your scale weight, measurements and progress photos will give you the best indication of your progress and allow you to take your results to the next level!

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