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Progressive Overload

The concept is well known amongst strength coaches, but it is often poorly executed. These principles are powerful not only for your fitness, but your personal development and leadership as well. Let’s first dive down the trail of progressive overload in your fitness, and why you’re probably not making as much progress as you’d like.

One definition of the term “progressive overload” is defined as:

 requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or time in order to achieve the targeted goal of the user.

The variables of exercise are many, and learning how to intelligently manipulate these variables can help you better understand progress with regards to your fitness. I was taught long ago that you should only manipulate one variable at a time, and I think that is good advice for the vast majority of people; however, as you get more mature in your training age (become pretty fit and strong) you could probably handle manipulating two variables. Before I lose you, let’s talk about a few of these variables:

  1. Volume – the total amount of weight lifted in a particular exercise in a session. Ex) 100lbs x 10 reps in a bench press would equal 1,000lbs of total volume.
  2. Intensity – the percentage of your max that you’re using in the lift. Ex) If your deadlift 1-rep-max (1RM) is 400lbs and you’re lifting 90% of your 1RM, you’d be lifting 360lbs in that set. The “intensity” of the set is 90%, which is high.
  3. Rest Periods – The amount of time you spend between sets of an exercise(s).
  4. Frequency – The amount of sessions you train in a week.

So, here’s a very basic, yet effective way to incorporate progressive overload into your training sessions.

  1. Start by testing your 5-rep-max (5RM) in the core lifts you want to get better at. Download a 1-rep-max calculator app on your phone to show you how to convert your 5RM to a 1RM. Now you have a starting point to measure progress from. So let’s just say you want to get make progress in your back squat and you test out a 225lbs for 5 reps. Using your 1RM calculator, you’ll find that mathematically, your 1RM is approximately 253lbs. Now you’ve got something tangible to work with.
  2. Let’s use volume as your first variable to manipulate. Using your 1RM of 253lbs, let’s start in week 1 with a training intensity of 65% of your 1RM. So, 253lbs x .65 = ~165lbs. If we just manipulate volume, you can use progressive overload by increasing the number of reps. For example, in week 1 let’s say you train 3 days per week and you do 3 sets of 5 reps at 65% intensity in your back squat. In week 2, you could gradually increase the volume by going 3 sets of 6 reps at 65%. In week 3, add another rep for 3 sets of 7, and in week 4, add another rep for 3 sets of 8. As you can see, this is very simple to do.
  3. Let’s use another variable to manipulate, intensity. Using the same example above with the back squat 1RM of 253lbs, we can take the training sessions and instead of manipulating the reps, we leave those the same each week and manipulate the intensity. So in week 1, we could train 3 sessions per week with 3 sets of 5 reps at 65% in the back squat. Then in week 2, we could do 3 sets of 5 reps at 70%. Week 3 we could go 3 sets of 5 reps at 75%, and in week 4 we could go 3 sets of 5 reps at 80%.
  4. Now, let’s mess around with rest periods. Let’s say you’ve been using a 90s rest period between sets of squats. You could increase the training stimulus by simple reducing the rest time between your sets to 75s the first week, 60s the second week, 45s the third week, and 30s the fourth week. This is a great idea if you’re training for an anaerobic sport where shorter rest periods match the demands of the sport.
  5. Lastly, you could manipulate the amount of sessions you train in a week as you begin to become a beast and can handle steps 1-4.

I’ll bet 90% of people do not incorporate progressive overload into their own personal fitness. And what’s scarier, many strength coaches fail to incorporate this into their athlete’s programs.

If you’re a self learner, you’ll pick this up pretty quickly and will in short time begin to see how much progress you’ve been leaving on the table. If you want to just be told what to do and have someone do all of this for you, then it’s time you hire out a good coach to help do this for you. Invest in your health and fitness folks. It’s the one investment you’ll be guaranteed to get valuable returns in.

For part 2, we will take these same concepts and implement them into a plan for your personal development and leadership success plan.

fitness, gains, intensity, periodization, plateau, volume