One of the biggest frustrations of bodybuilding and personal trainers is witnessing gym members who work out for two hours or more, 6 or 7 times a week, performing the same using the exact same weight, sets, and repetitions. Instead of challenging their body to do more than it’s capable of, they simply go through the motions. While they do maintain their current strength levels, they never progress beyond this to become even stronger.
What Is Progressive Overload?
The term progressive overload involves gradually increasing the demand upon the muscular system in order to continually make gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance. In other words, in order to become bigger and stronger, you must continually lift more, forcing your muscles to work harder than they are used to. If you don’t, your muscles will not become any stronger or bigger than they currently are. Progressive overload is one of the foundation cornerstones upon which effective bodybuilding workouts are based.
You need progressive Overload!
Let’s say you perform 1 set of the barbell bench press at 150 pounds for 8 reps. As your training progresses, 1 set of 150 pounds for 8 reps becomes easier and easier. Although your chest muscles have become stronger since you first started training, they eventually stop getting bigger and stronger. This is because they have adapted to the weight you are using.
Continuously using the same weight, for the same number of reps, has diminished the need for the muscles to “try” and become bigger and stronger. The demands are simply no longer sufficient. Even if you continued performing 1 set of 150 pounds for 8 reps for the rest of your life, your strength and muscle size would never improve beyond a certain point. In order for your chest muscles to become bigger and stronger, you need to place more demands on them.
Ways To Create Progressive Overload
Unless you are content with your present strength and size, you’ll have to start applying various techniques to force your muscles out of the plateau stage during your bodybuilding workouts. The following are some of the easiest to apply. However, don’t introduce them into your workouts all at once.
Increase the resistance
This is probably the simplest way to employ the progressive overload principle. A good indication that you need to start increasing resistance is when you are able to perform more than your target repetitions. For example, if 10 reps is your goal, but you can easily perform 12 or 15, then you know it’s time to add more weight to the bar (or machine). Do not, however, make the mistake of sacrificing technique just so you will be able to lift more weight. Technique always ranks above weight when it comes to progress and safety.
Increase the number of sets
It won’t be long before 1 or 2 sets of an exercise becomes insufficient at increasing muscle growth. You should increase the number of sets to 3 or 4 around the third or forth week of your training. You’ll notice that you’ll experience the same degree of muscle soreness that you did when you first started working out.
Increase the number of repetitions
Don’t just stop at some random number. Always try to perform 1 or 2 additional reps on each exercise. Initially, you won’t be able to do extra reps without the help of a spotter. However, when the point comes that you can, you’ll know it’s time to increase the resistance during your bodybuilding workouts.
Split the body and increase the number of exercises
One of the primary disadvantages of the full-body routine is that it provides you with only enough time (and energy) to do one or two exercises for each muscle group. Eventually the muscles adapt to those same exercises and plateau. Training different muscles on different days will give you the time and energy to perform more exercises for each muscle.
Increase your training intensity
Increasing the intensity during every set means you can lift more weight and/or add more repetitions. This creates a more productive workout because your muscles have been forced to work beyond what they are normally accustomed to. If you have difficulty motivating yourself, a training partner can be a good external motivator. In addition, a workout partner can help prevent injury and alleviate any subconscious worry about dropping the weight.
Making Progressive Overload Work For You Take a good look at your current bodybuilding workouts and fitness goals. Which of these techniques will work most effectively in creating progressive overload for you? The techniques you chose should be congruent with your current bodybuilding goals. For example, if you are a pre-contest bodybuilder, muscular endurance or losing body fat is probably your primary goal. Therefore, you will probably want to increase the repetitions, rather than the resistance. Conversely if you’re an off-season bodybuilder your primary goal should be increasing muscle strength and size. The bulk of your training should be using as much weight for lower reps (i.e. 6-8). Determine what is important to you and what will improve your overall fitness standing
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