How to Grow Your Workout with Progressive Overload

You need to constantly make your workouts more challenging to force your body to adapt. The key to a solid long-term workout is called progressive overload.

Progressive overload in theory

Masloski_Dylan_MUG_RGBImagine it is the end of the cold winter, and the weather is finally improving. You want to start working on your summer tan. Every day you lay outside under the sun for exactly 15 minutes. After the first few weeks, you notice you are developing an OK tan.

If you continue to do this all spring, will you have a dark tan by the time summer comes around? No, you will not because you never increased your time under the sun. Therefore, you plateaued with just an OK tan after a few weeks.

The same theory applies in your training. If you always come in and bench press 100 pounds for three sets of 10, you’ll never bench more. If you always run at the same pace on the treadmill for the same distance, you’ll never improve aerobically.

Progressive overload in practice

You need to record your workouts and always progress the difficulty.

There are many ways to progress the difficulty of an exercise:

  • If you are running, increase the speed or tempo you are running at, or run for a longer distance.
  • If you are doing resistance training, you can be a little more creative. Do not feel like you always have to add more weight to the bar to progress the difficulty.
  • If you are not training for improved strength, you can always try to go for more reps, or decrease the rest period.
  • If you can do twenty reps of regular pushups, try incline pushups, Bosu pushups, or one-handed pushups.

Doing the same amount of work in less time is still a progression. You can always progress your type of exercise, too.

The key thing to remember when progressing exercises is to not lose the fundamental reason you were doing it in the first place. You might have gone too far if you are doing squats on a Bosu ball with chains.

Sometimes just adding reps and weight is the best option for progression.

Dylan Masloski, CSCS