If you want to improve your physical development and strength then you need to understand how to properly overload your muscles. Muscle are very adaptive. The more you ask them to do, the more they will become capable of doing. They as also lazy. If you don’t ask them to do any more than they can, they simply won’t. And if you require less of them, they will become weaker than they currently are. Your muscles will go in whatever direction you take them. They will get bigger, stronger, smaller, softer, etc. in response to what you ask of them and how you train them.
If you want them to get bigger and stronger, then you have to challenge them. You have to make your training harder. If you can do 10 reps with a certain weight and you want to overload them, you must push them to do either more reps, or more weight, or in some way work harder. If you can do 10 repetitions of a particular exercise with 100 pounds, you overload your muscle by getting them to do 11 or 12 reps with that 100 pounds, or by doing those 10 reps with 105-110 pounds. By asking just a bit more from your body, it is forced to adapt and improve and become bigger and/or stronger. Your job is to make sure that the overload is progressive. Trying to go too far, too fast can easily halt your progress. It’s that extra rep or two, or those extra few pounds added to the bar that’s just enough to stimulate change and allow the positive adaptions to take place with proper rest and recovery.
As an example, a basic general overload would be to start at 8 reps with a certain weight. Push yourself as hard as you can to get an extra rep each time you train. Once you can get to 12 reps with that weight, then increase the poundage and start back at 8 reps again the next time you do that movement and work your way up once more. The reps are used as an indictor to add or subtract weight. If you can’t do 8 then reduce the weight, if you are doing 12 or more then increase the weight. Now, this isn’t limited only to an 8-12 rep range, which is good for hypertrophy (muscle growth). You can use a 5-8 rep range which would emphasize strength a bit more, or a 12-15 rep range which would emphasize muscle endurance a bit more. But all rep ranges will have some overlapping effect on growth, strength, endurance, etc. The point is that you need to be proactive and progressive to insure that you are overloading and taxing your muscles regularly.
There are many ways to overload the muscles. You can use rest periods, rep ranges, exercise selection, rep speeds, and certain training principles (like forced reps, supersets, etc.) to stimulate them to respond. Overloading is simply pushing them to do a bit more than they are currently able to do in order to get them to adapt. Whether you are going from 10 reps a set to 12, 50 pounds on an exercise to 55, three sets of a movement to four, 90 seconds of rest between sets to only 75, one exercise a body part to two, three workouts a week to four, etc., you are directing your body to adapt and improve via overloading. In coming articles I will give more specifics as to which approaches to take for certain goals. For now, it’s merely the general principle of progressive overload, and how important it can be to keep you improving, that I want you to understand.
The body is an amazing machine. We have the ability to control and direct it to improve by understanding how it adapts and responds. Progressive overload is a principle that allows us to create the conditions for change in order to make our body into what we want it to be.
Photo: Terry Goodlad Model: Kiana Phi