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Progressive Overload Workout 101: All Your Questions Answered

Have you ever noticed that your exercises get easier and easier the more you workout? That’s a great sign! Your efforts are working—your body is growing stronger, and that perky booty proves it. 

But what happens when you keep doing the same workouts over and over and you start to not see much change despite all your hard work? 

Whatever training regimen you’re using, your body will always adjust to it and adapt to new challenges. Unfortunately, this means the dreaded weight loss or muscle gain plateau is coming. 

To keep plateaus at bay, effective workout plans are designed to become more and more challenging over time. This strategy is called Progressive Overload, and it’s the key to successful and long-term fitness. 

Today, we’ll take a close look at Progressive Overload Workouts and how you can use it to keep yourself moving toward your health goals.

What is a Progressive Overload Workout?

A Progressive Overload Workout is a strength training tactic that challenges your body more and more over time. This type of workout involves gradually increasing the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions of a particular exercise. 

Think of progressive overload like a class at school. When you took 5th-grade math, you increased your mental capacity and increased your knowledge of the subject. Eventually (if math was your thing), the new concepts became easy to understand, and you didn’t have to work that hard to solve the problems. 

Then, you moved up to 6th grade, and the mental load increased once again. This progressively increasing challenge made sure that you progressed further in your studies instead of plateauing in your knowledge. 

Progressive overload moves a little quicker in the gym than it did in the classroom. For example, if you were to use Progressive Overload during your upper body workout, you could increase the weights you use by 3-5 pounds every 4 weeks. Below, you’ll learn about three types of Progressive Overload Workouts, and see examples of these workouts in an 8-week schedule. 

By gradually increasing the demand on your musculoskeletal and nervous systems, POWs can help you gain maximum strength. Progressive overload is highly adaptable—later, I’ll show you how to apply this tactic to any exercise and fitness level so that you can start reaping the benefits. 

Why Progressive Overload Workouts Are So Effective

By slowly adding more tension to your muscles, Progressive Overload Workouts will help your body resist a plateau. For those fitness nerds like me out there, here’s the science behind it: 

A hard workout actually causes damage to your muscle fibers. After the workout, your body repairs or replaces the damaged muscle fibers by fusing the fibers back together. This cellular process forms new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. The new myofibrils are thicker and more numerous, resulting in muscle hypertrophy (a.k.a. growth). 

Because your body has created larger and stronger myofibrils, it eventually can handle the same workout without causing any new damage to your muscle fibers. Until you increase the demand on your muscles by increasing the weights, repetitions, or frequency of your exercise, your body will not need to repair your muscles with stronger myofibrils. 

When you train the same way week after week, your body will eventually adapt to the resistance. If this happens, you’ll stop seeing gains in muscular strength. Unless you progressively increase your workouts, at some point you’ll notice that your body is no longer challenged and has stopped improving. 

If your goal is to look more toned, continue losing weight, improve your flexibility, or increase your physical strength, you have to up the resistance. Progressive Overload Workouts do the trick! This strategy allows for a safe and gradual increase in resistance that’ll keep your body moving forward.

How to Adapt a POW to Your Fitness & Ability Level

Progressive Overload Workouts can be applied to anyone’s workout regimen. Here’s how you can best customize this technique to fit your specific fitness level. 

1. Start with a Study of Your Current Workouts

The first step to applying POW to your fitness level is determining your current baseline. If your current fitness goals include building a strong core, complete your go-to core workout. Next, note how much weight you used for each exercise, how many reps you completed, and how frequently you could complete this workout. 

2. Increase at the Right Speed

When creating your progressive overload schedule, keep your increases in weight, repetitions, or frequency within 10% or less each week. This slow progression will allow for a gradual adaption in your muscle strength. Jumping ahead too quickly could lead to injury, which means a dead end to your workout routine. 

3. Let Your Body Be Your Guide

Sore and aching muscles are a sign of good muscle damage (the kind that triggers your body to build stronger myofibrils). If you’re still struggling through your workout and feeling sore the next day, rest easy knowing that you’re currently making gains. Wait until the workout is easier or your performance has noticeably improved before increasing your physical challenge. 

Here’s What a POW Schedule Might Look Like

There are three primary factors you can increase when creating a Progressive Overload Workout schedule: the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions of a particular exercise. Let’s look at a few examples so that you’ll know how to adjust each factor. 

1. Increased Weight

Week 1: Complete 3 sets of 12 squats with 10-pound weights

Week 4: Complete 3 sets of 12 squats with 12-pound weights

Week 8: Complete 3 sets of 12 squats with 15-pound weights

2. Increased frequency

Week 1: Complete 5 core exercises once per week

Week 4: Complete 5 core exercises twice per week

Week 8: Complete 5 core exercises three times per week

3. Increased repetitions

Week 1: Perform 1 set of bicep curls with 10-pound weights

Week 4: Perform 2 sets of bicep curls with 10-pound weights

Week 8 Perform 3 sets of bicep curls with 10-pound weights

Give Your Workout Routine a Boost of POWer!

Much like our go-to afternoon snack or how we wear our makeup, we often gravitate to a routine when it comes to our workouts. Progressive Overload Workouts can be that extra strategy you take with you to the gym that can make all the difference in your future fitness. 

If practical tips like this help you out, you’re the perfect match for my weekly newsletter. Sign up here. Or join the next LEAN session for a killer 7-week fitness program that’ll help you fly forward toward those weight loss and fitness goals.

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