Routine is great and it’s important to create a semblance of one when creating a workout schedule. However, allowing your body to become comfortable at a particular weight for each workout can limit your untapped strength and growth.
Progressive overload is gradually increasing your weights throughout your exercise for the purpose of avoiding plateauing. You know you hit a plateau when you seem stuck at a certain weight for any exercise you are completing.
How Fast to Progressive Overload
Progressive overload should be increased gradually by increasing the intensity or the weight by less than 10% weekly to minimize muscle fatigue and injury. Confidently being able to complete 8-10 reps is usually a good indicator to increase the weight with a new rep range of 3-5 reps.
A good rule of thumb is to include progressive overload only when you have mastered the form of a particular exercise, first and foremost.
Knowing techniques to progressively overload your workouts can be the key to climbing over that hump to reach your workout goals and gym aspirations.
How Often to Increase Weights & Intensity
The National Academy of Sports Medicine gives a range of 2-4 weeks between increasing weights through progressive overload, but also states this is dependent on your recovery process and experience. Realistically, you can progressive overload every week.
Progressive overload isn’t bound to show results after a day or two of completing it, but instead, being consistent with your goal will take weeks of consistency.
Example: (185 lbs to 225 lbs Bench Press)
If you are benching 185 pounds for 10 reps, but you wish to start doing 225 pounds for 10 reps, you will need to work your way up every chest day you encounter.
This may mean beginning with 3 reps of 225 one day, but by next week you are able to get up to 5 reps and so forth. Once you have mastered 10 good reps on 225, you could see yourself ready to progressive overload to your next goal.
In summary, progressive overloading is an ongoing, fluid practice that may require weeks of commitment and pushing yourself.
Best Time to Progressive Overload
The best time for progressive overload is when you have mastered the form and movement by doing the same exercise. It is vital that you have experience doing the same exercise for some time.
Progressive Overload is a cornerstone to growth, but knowing when to do it is important for many reasons.
Remember this list so you can know when’s the best time for progressive overload:
- Mastered exercise
- Stretch and warmup
- Spotter if needed
Master the Form First
Knowing proper form and movement is as important as anything else in the gym. Beginning to increase weight too soon can result in injury and can prolong your growth even longer.
How to Prepare for the Attempt
It must also be known that the best time to begin progressive overload isn’t at the start of your workout. Make sure to get in some stretches and warmups to create a good blood flow. Then, you can work your way into increasing weight and reps so you avoid unnecessary cramps or injuries.
Get a Spotter for the Attempt
It’s also important to have a spotter on hand when performing exercises like bench press or heavy free weight exercises such as shoulder press.
Example of Weekly Goals
The first thing needed to begin progressive overload is a goal. Strength gain is a popular reason to include progressive overload in your regime, but increasing endurance and stamina is another benefit.
Increasing weight will increase size and strength while increasing reps will increase endurance.
Below are examples of what a couple of progressive overload goals would look like in multiple weeks:
|Squat (Strength)||Cardio (Endurance)|
|Week 1||285 x 3||2.0 miles at 8mph|
|Week 2||285 x 5||2.5 miles at 8mph|
|Week 3||315 x 2||3.0 miles at 8mph|
|Week 4||315 x 3||3.5 miles at 8mph|
More ways you could potentially progressive overload include:
- Increase the weight
- Up your reps or speed
- Raise your training volume
- Reduce rest times
- Train more frequently
How to Advance Faster and More Efficiently
In order to effectively complement your progressive overloading, maintain a good recovery process throughout your week. This means getting enough sleep, fueling yourself with a good diet with protein and vitamins to help repair your muscles, and overall knowing your body.
Progressive overload will allow for faster muscle growth, but will also create more microtears in your muscles that get repaired best through proper recovery. If you do still happen to feel sore from your previous overload workout, don’t overdo it on weight.
The Pyramid Plan
When starting progressive overload, there are different methods that help you add it to your workout. A common plan is the pyramid plan. This essentially has you slowly move up in weight throughout your sets, in turn, decreasing the amount of reps you are to complete.
This can also be done inversely as a way to increase reps as you move along. An example of this would be one set of 10 reps, one set of 8 reps, one set of 6 reps, and one set of 4 reps. The intention is to do the heaviest weight you can safely do at each rep range.
If you happen to know your 1RM, then this can be applied to your pyramid workout. The table below displays what percentage of your 1RM that could be used in each set, making your progression easier to see.
|1RM % w/reps||Bench Press (1RM = 320)||Shoulder Press (1RM = 180)|
|Set 1||50% x 10||160 x 10||90 x 10|
|Set 2||70% x 8||225 x 8||125 x 8|
|Set 3||80% x 6||250 x 6||145 x 6|
|Set 4||90% x 4||285 x 4||160 x 4|
Plateauing in the gym can feel like a frustrating barrier to achieving gains, but applying the right strategy can combat it. Picking the right time and schedule for you to include an effective progressive overload routine in your workout may be the very thing to push you one step closer to reaching your goals.
Austin is the author of loveatfirstfit.com and a personal trainer with extensive knowledge in nutrition. Austin is passionate about helping others to find a suitable healthy lifestyle and feel good about themselves. Austin’s goal is to help people push their limits and achieve their physical performance.