If you’re giving all your efforts in the gym but don’t see the results you want, what will cause you to keep going? Everyone has different goals in the gym. Some are there to improve their health and others are there to improve their appearance or both. As an experience lifter who has been training for 7 plus years, I can honestly say that seeing progress was one of the main sources of motivation to continue my journey. Back then I didn’t have all the information that I know now therefore I’ve committed myself to share the information I’ve gather to help others throughout their own journey. If your goal is to build muscle and your not seeing the development you would have hope for, you may not be implementing the “progressive overload” principle effectively.
Progressive overload simply means in order for your muscles to grow, strength to be gained or improve performance, your body must be forced to adapt to a stimulus that is greater than what it has previously experienced. Our bodies were meant to adapt to a specific stimulus. For example, if someone steps foot in the gym for the first time and performs 5 sets of 5 reps on the bench press at 135lbs, after the first week, 135lbs will become easier and easier because the body has had time to adapt and weight stimulus has not changed. I see this a lot in the gym. Members complain about not seeing the results they want but they continue to train within the lines of their comfort zone. If you want to continue making progress in muscle size, strength and endurance, you have to continuously challenge your body by changing the training stimulus to force that change.
There are several ways to change the stimulus of training. If you’ve been performing an exercise easily for quite some time, implementing any of the changes below can force further progress.
- Gradually Increase Weight: This is the most popular way of progressive overload by the majority of the fitness community. In simple term, using the example I stated above, if 135lbs on the bench press for 5 sets of 5 reps is easy, simply add 5-10lbs to increase resistance of that exercise. Now your muscles must work harder to complete that set of 5 reps being that the resistance has increased. I’d suggest performing this on a week to week basis to prevent any plateaus.
- Gradually Increase Reps: I personally love implementing this when I’m in a caloric deficit. Increasing the weight constantly can lead to recovery problems, if your not eating sufficient calories therefore increasing the total number reps will apply added stress to the muscles. For our example above, instead of performing sets of 5 reps, performing sets of 6 or 7 reps will increase the stimulus on the muscle tissues.
- Increase Frequency: After training for some time, we tend to notice those lagging muscle groups or area that we want to improve. Increasing the total number your train a particular muscle group each week can spark up more muscle growth. If our example above was performing the bench press 2 times per week, adding a third session can improve chest development that much greater. This is one that I’d suggest to the more experience lifters who have already committed to training 5-6 times a week. The more frequent you train the more time your body needs to recovery. Make sure you program your training accordingly to prevent recovery issues or over training.
- Increase Volume: Volume is defined as “Reps x Sets x Weight”. If you ever seen someone post the total amount of weight they lifted during their training session from a specific app, that total number of weight is their volume for that day for all of their exercises they performed. I prefer to increase volume two ways. One increasing the amount of sets I perform. Using our example above, instead of performing 5 sets, simply adding an additional set with the same reps will increase volume. The other way is to add in an additional exercise to your routine. After the bench press you can move over to dumbbell flat bench press or a hammer strength machine for 4 sets of 8 reps to increase volume as well.
Progressive overload is a tool that I believe everyone should be using to help transform their current physique. If you neglect to implement this principle, you run the risk of being frustrated and/or not motivated to remain committed to the fitness lifestyle. The ways to change the training stimulus can help further enhance your progress but keep in mind that adjusting all of them at once isn’t recommended. First start with adding more weight on the bar. If that no longer works, look into increase reps and so forth. It can become easy to become comfortable in the gym due to life stresses, low energy levels or mood changes but in order to continue making the progress you desire, you have to challenge your body by using the progressive overload principle!