Progressive overload in fitness


Progressive overload is a simple concept and the foundation to making progress in fitness. Neglecting it may risk fitness maintenance.

Progressive overload explained

It is the increase of a measurable variable over a period. For example, if you want to increase strength, and the deadlift was the measure, progressive overload would be an increase in weight lifted from workout to workout. The idea is to place the body under a stress, forcing it to adapt and then develop. To keep the process going, you must further increase the stress: progressive overload.

This process can be used for any aspect of fitness, whether it be developing endurance, strength, power, or muscle hypertrophy. The overload can be measured by an increase in distance, speed, weight lifted, volume or intensity. It is the vital foundation for progress. Simply put, after recovering from a workout the next one must increase the workload. This increase does not have to be a gigantic leap; in the case of strength it might just be an extra ‘biscuit’ (1.25kg) on the bar, but whatever the jump, it must be an increase compared to the previous session.

Slow and steady wins the race

By making the jumps from workout to workout incremental consistent sustainable progress becomes more attainable. This will also encourage adherence to training; nothing succeeds like success with progress the best reward. However, if you come to a point where you are unable to improve from the last workout, you must consider ‘why’?

  • A lack of recovery time?
  • Too big a jump from the previous workout?
  • External stressors other than the workout
    • job, family etc
    • lack of sleep
    • lack of proper nutrition

Identify the issue, solve it and you will continue to progress.

Progressive overload is a simple but effective way of making progress. Keep a diary, noting down the workouts, the weights and how it felt, making it easier to track and measure success.

Long term fitness is simply: stress, adapt then grow. If the stress is not increasing over time, you will not improve. Keep a track to stay on track of your improving fitness.

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          About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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