Today I’d like to introduce the concept of progressive overload. This is an exercise principle that relates to increased intensity of exercises as a means to show consistent improvement. It is a simple concept that is often overlooked in the gym. I am going to discuss the need for progressive overload and the methods you can follow.
First of all, why is this important? The main idea is that stress will lead to adaptation. This can be applied to a slew of physiological adaptations from a heated argument increasing blood pressure to high temperatures increasing sweat rate. You must understand that if the body is not stressed, it will not adapt. Applying this principle to the gym, when you exercise you will see an adaptation: increased strength, improved endurance, and/or more muscle mass. However your stress on day one should not be the same after working out for a month, six months, or even a full year. This is where most people mess up. Once you adapt to a stress, it must be altered or continued adaption won’t occur. This is the concept of progressive overload; the intensity must be augmented to show continued improvements.
There are many methods to increase the intensity of your workout. For example, if you want to run three miles because you are training for a 5k, then a good start would be to run a few miles. Once you complete this, it would be wise to run either a little longer or faster as a means to improve your time and stress your muscles to work harder. By running faster, you also force the cardiovascular system to provide the necessary blood flow and oxygen delivery.
When lifting weights, a simple increase in resistance changes the intensity. This is often done during a single workout by increasing resistance from one set to the next. Unfortunately, most people forget what resistance they used last exercise session and fail to increase strength because they didn’t apply the correct stress. Another method would be to keep the weights and the rep scheme the same but to modify the rest interval. By completing the same amount of work over a shorter period of time, you will be engaging your body more. This will challenge your energy systems to work harder and cause a positive adaptation.
Obviously progressive overload involves some preparation, planning, and recording. As you continue with your training, be sure to write your numbers down. How many sets/reps did I complete? What was the resistance used? How many days rest did I have between exercise sessions? These notes will help to give you a better understanding of the amount of work you completed. In turn, this will help you to set the correct intensity for continued improvement. And that my friends is progressive overload.