Progressive Overload Training & Why It’s The Principle for Muscle Growth

Have you looked in the mirror lately, disappointed at what you see? You’ve been working out regularly, lifting weights, completing your reps and sets, only to not see results? What if we told you, you could be working out all wrong to meet your gains goal? That a simple technique called progressive overload could be all that’s in your way of loving your physique?

What is progressive overload, you ask? There are a lot of misconceptions about progressive overload, mainly that lifting more weight equals better gains. While this may be true for some body types, it’s not true for all. There are several methods of progressive overload you can use to see results.

Before we get into the methodology of progressive overload, let’s dive into the history of how this concept came to be. Using progressive overload methodologies can help you bust through plateaus and meet your fitness goals. Never sacrifice form to add more weight, reps or sets, regardless of how seasoned a lifter you are.


By increasing reps, sets, volume, and frequency, or reducing the rest time between sets, you can improve your PR. Beginners will see quick results using these methods while experienced lifters may take some time.

How to Progressive Overload:

Progressive overload is the key to reducing injuries and maximizing your results in the same amount of time. While progressive overload does mean lifting heavier weights, there are other ways to properly overload.

1. Increase the Reps:

If you’re not at a point of increasing the weight just yet, try increasing the number of reps you do. If you’ve been doing bicep curls with 50 lbs of weight for eight reps and three sets, try adding two reps per set.


Not only will you get six additional reps in, but you’re also taxing your muscle fibers even more with not much more work. The more your muscle fibers are put under pressure, the more they tear. This is where muscle hypertrophy comes into play and increases the size of your muscles.

While increasing the rep volume does work, at some point you’re going to have to add more weight. Depending on the exercise, you’ll want to max out at between 12 and 15 reps per set. Eventually, the volume-only overload will start to improve muscle endurance instead of muscle size. If this is your goal, then keep going. But if you want more muscle volume, then you must add more weight.


2. Increase the Weight:

Another way to build muscle mass is to increase weight. This method is the most commonly used way to max out muscle size. Once you’re able to easily perform your reps and sets with perfect form, it’s time to add more weight.


There is no hard and fast rule to adding weight to your progressive overload workout plan. Adding five pounds doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it could be for a beginner compared to an advanced lifter. For beginners new to lifting and progressive overload, add as little weight as possible to challenge your muscles.

Beginners should see results much faster than advanced lifters. A beginner shouldn’t be surprised if they can add weight and/or volume after a gym session. Eventually, you will reach a plateau and need to employ other methods to continuously build muscle.


3. Increase the Volume & Frequency:

The volume is the total number of reps multiplied by sets multiplied by the weight. Adding more sets to your workout makes progressively higher demands on your muscle tissue. Using this method, you may go from two sets of an exercise to three sets.


Another way to increase the volume is to add in another exercise entirely, working the same muscle. By stressing the muscle in a different way or at a different angle, you’re forcing the muscle to work harder.

An example of this type of progressive overload could mean adding the agility ladder to your calves workout. Or how about trying weighted toe walks or challenging your balance on the BOSU ball? Adding a set or new exercise to your current training program will not only improve using progressive overload, but it’ll also reduce workout boredom.

This method is best left for use when dealing with muscle imbalance or a weak body part. Most lifters only work the same muscle group once a week. With progressive overload, you can improve muscle hypertrophy by adding another day to your schedule.


5. Reduce Rest Time:

The final method that would increase muscle overload is reducing the rest time between sets. Depending on the load and exercise, you could be resting for a minute or more between sets.


If you reduce the time between sets, you’re improving the metabolic efficiency of your anaerobic system. It will also reduce the amount of time you spend during your workout, which isn’t a bad thing.

Don’t do a drastic cut in rest time between sets at first. If you normally rest for 30 seconds between sets, reduce your rest time to 20 seconds. If you can still complete the remaining sets with perfect form, then go down to 15 seconds.

The Best Progressive Overload Method for You:

Each person will have to determine which method is best for them and their current goals. If you’re looking to build muscle mass, you’ll likely want to focus on adding more weight. If you want endurance to improve in sports, for example, increasing reps would be more beneficial.


The next step is to figure out what your goals are in the gym before you try a method. It’s best to try one method at a time so you can see how it works for you. This way, you won’t risk injury from going all in and trying all the things at once.


A Progressive Overload Example:

To start, you should know what your current max reps are for each exercise. This is the total number of reps you can perform through a full range of motion with perfect form. This could be working your glutes in the glute bridge at 50 pounds for eight reps and two sets.


Once you have this baseline information for all exercises, determine your goal. From there, figure out what you want to improve on volume, reps, weight, or duration. Using the above example, here is how you could use each method for improvement:

  • Reps: Increase from eight reps to 10 reps
  • Weight: Increase weight from 50 pounds to 55
  • Volume: Increase the sets from two to three
  • Frequency: Go from one day per week working glutes to two
  • Rest: Reduce rest time of 30-seconds between sets to 20 seconds

Again, don’t try all these at once, but one at a time. Try adding more reps until you notice your body has adapted. Then, work on adding more weight to improve your strength.