Progressive Overload 101: Results in the Gym Made Easy

"Train the same or Remain the same”

We’ve all heard this before right?!
To build muscle, get stronger & burn body-fat in the Gym we need to be utilising ‘Progressive Overload’ in our Training Program.

But what does 'Progressive Overload' mean exactly?

It's basically a means of measuring your progress in the gym, - bettering yourself each week as you train towards your goals. But there are many ways you can progress and add new forms of stress on the body to induce growth. It can be as simple as; adding more poundage on the bar, doing a few extra reps or training more often.

At Physique Performance Specialists we like to use 3 primary forms of Progressive Overload:

  • Volume (Increasing total load over time)

  • Intensity (Increasing total weight lifted over time)

  • Frequency (Increasing number of times a muscle group is hit each week)

Progressive Overload:  Volume 

It's generally accepted that the most effective way to build muscle is to increase total volume lifted  over time. Volume is basically the number of (sets x reps x weight) you complete for each muscle group during a session.

For Example:

Bench Press:  3 sets x 12 reps @ 100kg = 3,600kg of total volume

A volume progression in this instance means that we need lift more than 3600kg of volume in the Bench-Press next week.

Does that mean they should do 3 x 12 next week and 3 x 14 the week following of the same weight? 
Do reps stay the same and weight increase?
What happens if they can't increase load at the same weight etc?

Here's a basic example of how we would increase volume on this lifters Bench-Press over a typical 4-week training block:

Week 1: 3 x 12 @ 100kg = 3,600kg Volume
Week 2: 4 x 10 @ 100kg = 4,000kg Volume
Week 3: 5 x 8 @ 102.5kg = 4,100kg Volume
Week 4: 5 x 8 @ 105kg = 4,200kg Volume

Although we did eventually progress in weight lifted, we also manipulated the rep scheme to ensure we didn’t fail. Accumulating an extra 600kg of volume over the month which should blow our Pecs up nicely.

After this month, they could then start the next month at 3 x 12 @ 105kg and repeat, to then have progressed again by the end of the month.


Progressive Overload:  Intensity

Intensity isn’t how ‘hard’ you train. It is the amount of weight you lift each week.

How do we measure Intensity?

% Percentage of 1RM (1 Rep Max)
A simple percentage of your max effort or estimated max effort in any lift.
i.e. 3 x 10 @ 60% Squats is 60kg if your max effort is 100kg

RPE Scale (Rated Perceived Exertion)
We can also just gauge our intensity using a scale out of 10 known as the RPE scale.
i.e. 10 = Fail, 9 = 1 Rep left in the 10, 8 = 2 Reps left in the tank

So how can we put this altogether into a typical 4 week training block?

Example Lifter's Max Bench:  140kg

Week 1: 5 x 5 @ 75% (105kg) 
Week 2: 5 x 5 @ 107.5kg = (Week 1 +2.5kg)
Week 3: 4 x 4 @ 112.5kg = (Week 2 +5kg)
Week 4: 3 x 4 @ 117.5kg = (Week 3 +5kg)

We could use a basic example where the sets x reps stay the same and we progress in weight alone.
However we can risk failing or reaching a plateau. So in this example; as the weight climbs each week, we start to reduce the amount of sets x reps we do, to ensure we don’t fail.

Our training app makes it easy for clients to track progression in the Gym

Our training app makes it easy for clients to track progression in the Gym

Progressive Overload:  Frequency

At PPS we are big fans of high frequency training.
Why train a body part 1 x per week (or 52 x per year) when you can train ir 2 x per week (or 104 x per year).
This allows you to spread the volume & intensity out over a week, instead of cramming it all into one session.

Allowing for greater recovery and improved performance.

PPS 4 Day Upper/Lower Split

Day 1: Upper Power
Day 2: Lower Power
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Upper Hypertrophy
Day 5:  Lower Hypertrophy
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

This is a popular example where we use all forms of Progressive Overload in one program.

Frequency = Each body part is trained 2 x per week
Intensity = Is utilised on our power days
Volume = Is the main focus on our hypertrophy days

Whether your goal is to burn body-fat, build muscle or just to get stronger - you need to train like the person you wish to become. Utilising Progressive Overload in any form is crucial to achieving your goals in the Gym.

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