Progressive Overload Your Way to Your Goals

If you were to ask for one piece of advice when it comes to training, it would be to make sure you are using the principle of Progressive Overload. What this means is that over time, you are overloading the demand in which your muscles are asked of. We are playing the long game with training. It’s all about getting 1% better everyday and allowing yourself to slowly grow over time. The beauty of training with this mindset is that it is sustainable, you WILL get better, stronger, faster and you will decrease your risk of injury.

Progressive Overload is measured in the following ways

1. Actual weight lifted in each set

This is just simply increasing the total weight that you lifted for a session. Let’s say you are doing Goblet Squats in your lower body workout and below are your numbers in week 1:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 10×40

We can see that for all 3 sets, we did 10 reps with a 40lb dumbbell. Now in week 2, we hit the below numbers:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 10×45

In week 2, we used the same set and rep scheme, except now we increased the weight for the 3rd set. When you do the math, you will have lifted a total volume of 1,200lbs in week 1 and a total volume of 1,250lbs in week 2. That might not look like much, but over time if you focus on getting your total volume up just a little bit every week, you will become much stronger over time.

2. Total amount of sets completed

Taking the same approach as point number 1, below are the numbers for week 1:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 10×40

And below are the numbers for week 2:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 10×40
  • Set 4 – 10×40

In this example, the rep scheme is the same and we lifted the same weight, except now we added a 4th set. This brings the total weight lifted to 1,600lbs in week 2 compared to 1,200lbs in week 1. You still didn’t have to worry about challenging yourself to lift a heavier dumbbell and you managed to increase your volume by 400lbs.

3. Total amount of reps done

And once again sticking to the same concept, your week 1 numbers are the same:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 10×40

And now for week 2 we will add 1 more rep to the third set:

  • Set 1 – 10×40
  • Set 2 – 10×40
  • Set 3 – 11×40

Doing this brings the total week 2 volume to 1,240lbs compared to 1,200lbs in week 1. A much more conservative increase, but that’s still a win. Again, we are playing the long game here.

4. Amount of time under tension

This is known as either tempo work or specifically training the eccentric part of a movement. Tempo work is the speed in which you perform an exercise and the eccentric part of a movement is the lengthening of those muscle fibers.

Perform a goblet squat where you drop down into the bottom of a squat in 1 second, spend no time hanging out in that bottom position and shoot back up to standing in 1 second.

Now, do a goblet squat where you take a full 4 seconds to lower yourself down into the bottom of a squat, hold that position for 3 seconds and then slowly rise back up to standing for 4 seconds. Much harder right?

Instead of just using gravity and momentum to help move that weight, you are now increasing the demand on your muscles during each rep which will make you stronger over time. Using this theory is also great for strengthening your tendons and ligaments and will help bulletproof your body.

5. The amount of work done in a certain amount of time

A great way to measure this is to perform an AMRAP workout. AMRAP stands for As Many Rounds (or Reps) As Possible. To show how this relates to Progressive Overload, let’s use the following workout:

  • 10 Minute AMRAP
  • 5x Push-Ups
  • 10x Air Squats
  • 15x TRX Rows

Let’s say that in week 1 you got through 3 full rounds plus 5x Push-Ups and 3x Air Squats. That would mean the total amount of repetitions you got through was 98 reps.

In week 2 you hit this workout again and this time you got through 4 full rounds and 2x Push-Ups. Doing so would bring your total repetitions to 122 reps. You now increased your total work capacity by 24 reps.

6. Lowering the rest periods between sets

  • 10 Rounds
  • 400M Run
  • 60 seconds rest

This is your running interval workout for week 1. Heading into week 2, you will perform the same amount of sets and you will run the same distance every set, except now you will lower your rest periods to 50 seconds between each round. This will most definitely change the demand on your cardiovascular system and will help increase your endurance.


There are other ways use the Progressive Overload Principle, such as running a mile 1 second faster than your previous mile or rowing 1,000 more meters between week 1 and week 2. The important thing is to make sure that you are focusing on just getting 1% better every week in any one of these aspects. I recommend keeping a training log and recording your workouts, weights, times, distances, etc. Otherwise you will find yourself repeating the same things every week and wondering why you’re not making progress.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: