What is Progressive Overload and How Does it Work?
Progressive overload involves constantly working your muscles harder than before, and is arguably the best way to build muscle. This is done by increasing the weight or number of repetitions each time you workout in order to improve strength, endurance and grow your muscles. Progressive overload works by challenging your muscles and shocking them into growth. It does not only apply to lifting weights; progressive overload can also be used in cardio, for example by increasing the distance you run, or the speed at which you cycle. This can help drop stubborn body fat, which is a key aspect of bodybuilding.
Progressive overload can be used in 3 ways to increase muscle mass:
- Mechanical tension - this means keeping the muscle under tension through a full range of motion, ensuring that your reps are controlled and tension is held until you have finished the set.
- Muscle damage - this mainly comes from eccentric contractions (the action of lengthening the muscle by lowering the weight) and concentric contractions (the action of shortening the muscle by lifting the weight up).
- Metabolic stress - also known as ‘the pump’, forcing as much blood into the muscle as possible creates micro tears of muscle fibres which triggers the muscle to grow (anabolic signalling). If during your workout your muscles have ever felt like a balloon inflating then you know you’ve done it right!
Before using progressive overload, it is important to ensure that you have correct form. If an exercise is done incorrectly, increasing the weight can cause serious damage.
Whether you should increase the weight or the number of repetitions depends on your goals. If your aim is to increase strength, then increasing the weight is likely a better option for you. On the other hand, if your goal is hypertrophy, increasing the number or repetitions may be best. What’s important is that you adapt your workouts to suit you.