Unpacking Progressive Overload

Unpacking Progressive Overload

No matter what fitness goal you're striving for, you should always train to achieve progressive overload in your workouts.

So, what exactly is progressive overload? Let's unpack it.

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise. The purpose of progressive overload is to challenge your body and your muscles to help improve your overall strength and performance.

Progressive overload is applied to our training when we include forms of resistance such as the use of power bands, booty bands and free weights (just to name a few), as well as, through the increase of reps, tension and/or endurance in our workouts.

The intention of progressive overload is to challenge your body to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it’s previously experienced.

At Move With Us, you'll find that most of our Programs and Challenges are structured in 2 week training blocks. This means you will perform the same block of workouts for two weeks in a row, before moving onto a new block of training. 

The overall purpose of completing the same week of training twice, is so you can use the first week to become familiar with the exercises and understand your technique and form, and in the second week, focus more on intensifying those sessions.

You should be challenging yourself in the second week of the training block to perfect your form, follow the correct tempo listed, and aim to lift heavier or increase resistance, so that you can apply progressive overload and achieve greater results.

Here are some ways you can achieve progressive overload in your strength training:

Increase the weight

It's not quite as simple as aiming to increase your weights by the same amount each week. Trying to squat 10kg heavier every fortnight just isn't realistic and you're only asking for an injury. 

When you're just getting familiar with an exercise, your weight selection should start as light as possible, and gradually work your way up until you find a weight that challenges you, but you can still perform the exercise with solid, complete reps.

Take squats for example, you might start with bodyweight only reps to perfect the technique and warm up. Once you feel comfortable doing that, add your preferred weights, such as dumbbells over your shoulders, a barbell in the low or high bar position, or a kettlebell in a goblet squat hold, and progressively increase your weight with each new set.

You might start with 3 sets of 12 squats at 20kg in the first week, and in your next week of training, aim for 3 sets of 10-12 squats at 25kg. The rate at which your strength and weight load increases will vary from person to person, so never compare your rate of progression to someone else.

Increase the volume

To progressive overload through volume, aim to increase the number of reps or total sets you perform each week. This will put more demand on your muscles to become stronger and fitter.

An example of this is performing 10-12 reps in the first week, and then aiming for 12-15 reps in the following.

You should feel comfortable lifting the given number of repetitions before you level up to doing more reps at the chosen weight. If you're doing multiple sets, make sure you give your body time to rest in between.

Increase endurance

You can increase your endurance levels by increasing the length of your exercises, or by working at a quicker pace.

To increase the time that your muscles are under tension, slowing down the tempo of your movements is key.

Tempo is essentially the speed or time taken to perform a movement, and will be listed next to exercises in your MWU workouts where necessary.

If the tempo is 4020, the first number (4) is how many seconds you should take to perform the eccentric portion or lower the weight. The second number represents the hold time, so (0) means there will be no pause at the bottom of the exercise. The third number (2) is the time to perform the concentric portion, or raising the weight back up, and the fourth (0) is the time you pause or hold before starting your next rep. 

For cardiovascular exercise such as running, you can apply progressive overload by increasing the length of your session with each run.

How can I track progressive overload?

Did you know you can track your progress in the MWU App?

In your training sessions, we encourage you to track your progress by recording your weights, reps, sets and workout times in the Workout Tracker so that you can review your records and improve in future training sessions.

In your MWU App, head to your workout session for the day, click into the individual exercise you're performing, then scroll down to click Add to your Workout Tracker.

Applying progressive overload when you have an injury

Once you’ve been cleared by your specialist or health professional to return to training after injury, it’s important to note that mastering your form and technique should be your priority.

We understand that you want to see results as soon as possible, but to prevent further injuries down the line we encourage you to listen to your body and to take your return to exercise at your own pace.

If you’re struggling to perform an exercise due to a previous injury, we encourage you to visit the Exercise Swaps and Regression options in the MWU App to find an alternative that suits your abilities.

If an exercise doesn't feel right, stop, read over the instructions, watch the video cues, or seek the opinion of an experienced trainer or professional in the gym for further advice.

Whereas, for those of you looking to make your exercises more challenging, Progression alternatives are also available to spice up your sessions.

Click here for more information on how to use the Exercise Swaps in your MWU App.

Achieving Progressive Overload At Home

Our MWU Coach Emma Dillon is an expert when it comes to applying progressive overload at home. She likes to remind her clients that “Your body doesn’t recognise weight, or how many plates you have on your barbell. It recognises stress.”

To keep your at home (or gym) workouts challenging, Emma recommends applying other forms of stressors to your sessions, including: 

    • Rep variation (¼ reps, higher reps or holds)
    • Volume variation (higher set and rep ranges)
    • Tempo variation (Slower tempos and exercise holds)
    • Intensity variation (Shorter rest periods, to keep your heart rate elevated)

There you have it - the lowdown on how to achieve progressive overload in your training in the gym and at home.

Always remember to focus on mastering your form and technique first before challenging yourself to lift heavier and increase the intensity.

Let's get moving.