March 27, 2023
End Your Fitness Plateau with Progressive Overload!
Written By Megan Brandt • 3 min read
Are you feeling overwhelmed and uninspired with your current exercise routine in the gym? Frustrated with your gym routine not yielding desired results? This happens to a lot of us. The good news: There’s a solution to your problem—Progressive Overload.
What is Progressive Overload?
Progressive Overloading follows the scientific Principle of Progression. This rule states that in order to facilitate adaptations in your muscles, while minimizing the risk of injury, you should increase your routine’s increased weight, repetitions, intensity, duration or tempo of an exercise gradually. Your body will then adapt to the stress and grow stronger. It’s important to note that this stress should be in small increments from 5% to 10% to prevent injuries. This is sufficient and recommended. With this gradual overloading of your muscles, you can finally plow through that plateau!
Why is it important?
As you work hard to push your body to its limits with your current resistance training program, you’ll soon notice that the same sets and reps that used to leave you exhausted are becoming easier and easier. Eventually, you realize that you’ve arrived at a plateau—a state of little or no change. At this point, if you fail to increase your load, you can begin to experience muscle atrophy—a loss of hard earned skeletal muscle mass and strength!
How does it work, practically?
No two paths to progress are the same – whether you are a beginner or advanced lifter, there is always a way to progress. Take squats for instance: a beginner may work on slowly lowering the depth of their squat each week, while an advanced lifter might add 5-10% more weight or reps per week. Whatever your level, by progressing and varying your workouts, your muscles will be pushed to the limit. Which is key in achieving the results you want.
Examples of progressive overload training.
1. Increase resistance:
Adding more resistance to your muscles allows them to break down and rebuild stronger. One way to achieve resistance is to increase the weight you’re lifting. Remember to not sacrifice proper form and increase to a weight that allows you to feel 80% max eﬀort in your muscle on the last couple reps of each set.
- Week 1—Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps bicep curls with 10 pound weights
- Week 3—Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps bicep curls with 12 pound weights
- Week 5—Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps bicep curls with 15 pound weights
2. Increase repetitions:
In order to increase endurance in a muscle you will be performing more reps at lower weight. You can use weight or not as long as you are getting to the 80% max eﬀort on your last few reps.
Example of increases in muscular endurance:
- Week 1—Perform 3 sets of 10–12 squats
- Week 3—Perform 3 sets of 12–15 squats
- Week 5—Perform 3 sets of 15 squats
3. Increase duration:
Progressive overload training can be used for cardio training as well. You want to slowly increase the duration of each workout and how many days each week.
Example of increase mileage in running
- Week 1—Run 20 minutes at a moderate pace, 2 days per week
- Week 3—Run 30 minutes at a moderate pace, 2 days per week
- Week 5—Run 30–40 minutes at a moderate pace, 3 days per week
4. Change the tempo:
Changing the tempo of your workouts can help you get stronger and ﬁtter. You can change the tempo by working at a quicker rate during your workout, decreasing rest time or by changing up the tempo in the exercise.
Example of changing the tempo:
- Week 1—Perform tricep pushdowns with 1 second on the way down and 1 second on the way up
- Week 3—Perform tricep pushdowns 2 seconds on the way down and 2 seconds on the way up
- Week 5—Perform tricep pushdowns 3 second on the way down and 3 second on the way up
The Bottom Line:
If you want to reach your fitness goals safely and effectively, gradually increase the intensity and volume of your training through progressive overload. This will help you stay on course and make progress. Also, it’s helpful to create a journal or use a fitness tracking app to monitor your progress. For added motivation and assistance, consider working with a certified personal trainer who can provide you with the focus, inspiration and encouragement. If you’re feeling a bit stuck in a rut with your current routine, give Progressive Overload a try this week!
MS, ATC, CPT
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