Progressive overload: the key principle explained

It´s one of the (if not the) most important concept in fitness when it comes to achieving results: progressive overload. But a surprisingly small number of athletes is familiar with this concept and even fewer implement it in their workout routine.


If you want to keep making progress then progressive overload is a concept you should know everything about! In this article I will go over the key principle. 


Lack of progress explained

People that start going to the gym often see results relatively quick. The first pounds being shred, the first muscles being build, noticeable increase of strength… But for a lot of people their progress will stagnate.


The reason for this is that they keep doing the same thing over and over!


If you keep doing the same exercises, with the same weight and the same number of reps every time your progress will stagnate. I see a lot of people performing the same workout routine week after week.


At some point your body will adjust to that workout routine. If you don’t push it to work harder then you will stop seeing results!


And this applies not only to beginners. There are athletes that perform the same routine over and over without ever really pushing their body to experience a different form of tension. They will eventually see their results decrease and they are not getting the full potential out of each workout.


Not performing progressive overload is why so many people see their results stagnate. Continue to make great demands on your body. Don´t accept a status quo, if you want to see results you have to keep pushing.


Progressive overload key principle

Progressive overload is the continuing increase of stress placed upon the body during your workouts.


You have to keep forcing your body into situations to which it has to adapt to more and more stress. Let it experience an overload in weight, endurance, volume, intensity, frequency and time.


Achieving result, whether it is building muscle mass, increasing endurance or gaining extra strength, your body must be pushed to adapt to new tension. A tension that is significantly more than what it has experienced in the past.


No matter the goal that are trying to achieve, always aim to improve compared to your last workout. Make your body work harder then you did before, every single time. 


Here are some examples of how you apply progressive overload in your workout routine.


Increase number of reps

Example: you are currently making 10 reps per set. Progressive overload is increasing that number to 11 or 12 reps per set without reducing the weight. 


Increase number of sets

Example: you are currently performing pull ups for 3 sets, 10 reps per set. Progressive overload is increasing the number of sets to 4 without reducing the number of reps per set. 


Increase weight

Example: you are currently bench pressing 200 lbs, 8 reps per set. Progressive overload is increasing the weight to 210 lbs without reducing the number of reps per set. 


Increase performing time

Example: you are currently performing squats with your own bodyweight for 45 seconds per set. Progressive overload is increasing the performance time to 60 seconds per set.


Increase number of exercises

Example: on Monday you train your chest. You perform 4 different chest exercises. Progressive overload is increasing the number of exercises to 5 without reducing any other components of your workout (number of sets, reps etc.).


Decrease rest time

In between sets you rest 90 seconds. Progressive overload is to decrease your rest time to 80 seconds.


progressive overload

But of course this works in theory different than it works in practice. Progressive overload is not a linear concept. If that was the case then you would increase the weight of your bench press with 10 pounds every single time. That means that you would press the weight of a truck after one year. This is completely unrealistic of course.


Sometimes progressive overload is in the smallest changes: increasing by just 1 rep or 1 pound. Or 2 seconds less rest time in between sets. The key principle is that you don’t repeat the same routine over and over again. Keep pushing yourself to the next levellevels.