Have you been working hard on improving your strength and endurance, but noticed a drop-off in results recently? A slow in progress can happen when your exercise routine has become easier to do, when you stop continually pushing your body to increase in strength. That can be part off the reason why you are not seeing the results you hoped for.
Today I’m going to look at a term you may, or may not, be familiar with called progressive overload.
What is progressive overload? Progressive overload is a gradual increase in the stress placed on your body during exercise. I know that sounds a little bit technical, but basically it means making your workout slightly harder as your fitness level improves (this is a good thing!).
As your body adapts to your workouts, it gets stronger and your ability to perform becomes greater. In short, you can do more as your muscles grow to meet the extra strain. You might notice you’re gaining more lean muscle, increasing your strength, are faster or generally feeling fitter.
Why is progressive overload important? Your body is a quick learner. Those reps you started doing a month ago have probably gotten much easier. The 1 mile run you ran at the start of the year may no longer leave you out of breath. Your general fitness has probably improved. Your body doesn’t have the same need to build new muscle as it did when you started.
To strengthen your muscles or continue to increase your fitness, you should aim to challenge your body with progressive overload, which comes in different forms. Following the same routine, with the exact same weights and reps may not give your body the stress it needs to adapt. Varying the exercises you do, changing the weight, reps, sets or tempo stresses the muscles in a new way, causing muscles fibers to grow and helping to increase your strength. This is also especially important if you have been following a fitness routine for quite a while, and have noticed your results slow down or stop - it could be a sign your workout may be too easy!
This applies to all aspects of your fitness routine, including resistance training and cardio. Progressive overload doesn’t just refer to lifting weights. You can use progressive overload to build endurance, strength and power!
How to apply progressive overload? First, it’s important to know you don’t have to up the ante on every single workout. While you should push to increase the demand on your body, there is such a thing as pushing yourself too hard, know when to push or pull back and deload. There is also no set rule for increasing demand on your body. Everyone adapts at their own pace; some people may be able to build strength faster than others.
Here are a few different ways to apply progressive overload:
Increase the resistance. One of the most obvious but this is to increase the load, or weight for strength training. If you used 5 pounds, try 6 or 8 pounds now. Or in regards to running, try stretching the distance you are running..
Increase the reps: You don't necessarily have to add weight, alternatively, as you get stronger, you can simply do more repetitions, which is considered another means of increasing the overload. Never stop a movement when you reach an arbitrary rep count, keep going until you can't complete any more on your own with good form, or the last few reps are a challenge.
Increase the volume. Volume is simply sets multiplied by reps multiplied by resistance. By adding more sets (either by doing more exercises or adding another set for your existing exercises), you're making progressively greater demands on your muscle tissue. Increasing your total sets is the best way to increase total training volume.
Less rest: Decrease the amount of rest time between each rep, it forces your body to work at a higher intensity.
Train more: Increase the number of training sessions you are doing each week. if you trained 2-3 days a week, add another day. Just be sure to give yourself at least one rest day to avoid overtraining and also one day of stretching/rehab.
Make it harder: Modify the exercise slightly to make it harder (for example: add plyometrics to your squats) or if you previously modified an exercise, try one to two reps unmodified as long as form is on point.
Increase the effort: Push yourself to work slightly quicker, without losing form (particularly during resistance training). For cardio sessions, incorporate more sprints into each session.
Progressive overload is not something that you need to consciously think about for every single workout. Whether it’s one of my workouts or something else, just remember that when your workout starts to feel a bit easier than normal, start to incorporate just one of these overload methods. Using a combination of overload methods together can be too much strain on your body. The key here is to progress slowly and to listen to your body. If you have suffered an injury, you should get the okay from your healthcare professional before you increase the intensity of your workout.There are a lot of ways to increase the challenge for your body and push it to adapt. Progression is not a race, so don’t burn yourself out trying to match the fitness level of someone else. If you are still finding your current routine difficult, it’s not necessary to make it harder just yet; remember your only competition is you!