As we learned in a previous article – what is hypertrophy – muscle growth is caused mostly by small damages to muscle fibers (micro-trauma) done during weight training. Our body heals them with overcompensation – they grow back a little bit bigger and stronger. It happens when we have:
- Right stimulation – not too hard but not too easy training,
- Proper nutrition – plenty of food especially protein,
- Sufficient Recovery – enough resting and sleeping.
However to keep muscle growing throughout longer period of time we have to apply another principle – progressive overload.
What is progressive overload
Progressive overload is providing muscles with harder and harder stimulation over time. We do it by:
- Adding more weight (increasing the load),
- Doing more repetitions with the same weight.
The best and most effective way to overload the muscles is simply adding more weight to the barbell week by week, month by month and so on.
If you can’t increase the weight you should try to do more repetitions with the same load you were using on a previous training session. Once you are able to lift certain weight 10-8 times it’s time to increase the load.
Professional bodybuilders and steroid users overload their muscles also by increasing the training volume – they add more sets and exercises over time. High volume training however doesn’t really work for natural athletes. Too many sets and exercises are counterproductive for them.
How to apply progressive overload in training
The best way to apply progressive overload is simply adding small amount of weigh every week or each training session. It can be literally the smallest increment you can find in a gym – let’s say 5 lbs (2.5 kg).
If you bench press 60kg (135 lbs) and load extra 2.5kg (5 lbs) each week; in a four months you’ll be training with 100 kg (225 lbs). If you apply this principle to the rest of main compound exercises your whole body will drastically grow. Your muscle mass will increase an you will become much stronger.
The good example of this type of progression is our GetStrong Workout.
You can also try to do more repetitions than on a previous session. For example you squatted with certain weight 6 times. Push yourself on a next training and do 7 or 8 reps. This is also progressive overload.
Training without progression
Without getting continuously stronger (overloading muscles with heavier and heavier weight) our muscle will grow very slow, if any. There are many boys at the gym lifting the same weights for many months or even years. They perform hard trainings, get massive pumps, they are sore after each workout for another few days but year by year they look quite similar. They are not getting much bigger because they don’t overload their muscles progressively and therefore train with the same weight all the time.
Lack of results is very demotivating. Most of trainees usually quits and becomes frustrated, very often depressed after doing so much hard work and not improving the look of their body.
Although high volume training has its place in natural bodybuilding, it’s very hard to get stronger while doing so many sets and exercises all the time.
Steroid users don’t have this problem. They can steady do bodybuilding workouts (high volume and moderate reps) and get stronger and therefore bigger at the same time. The problem starts for them when they finish a cycle (stop taking drugs). Their strength, muscle mass and confidence goes down immediately. As a result they have to start another cycle – they become addicted, usually for life.
Track your progress
Make sure you keep a log book. Write there what weight you were using on each training session. It will help you in a future to see if you’ve actually made any progress. You will be able to determine what’s causing the lack of results or what you were doing wrong or right.
It will also help you to realize how advanced you are. If you’ve been training for over a year but can’t squat or bench press your body weight you are probably wasting your time. You need to make some changes.
Progressive overload is simply increasing the weight over time. It is probably the most important factor in building muscle mass especially for natural athletes. Using the same weight over and over again won’t bring us great results.
Plan your progress and note it. Try to increase the load each week in your main lifts – even by very small increments. Over several weeks or months it will make massive difference in weight and therefore your size.
If you can’t add more weight try to do more repetitions with the same load. This is also progressive overload.
Check how advanced you are. Try to think what weight you were using last year. If you are stuck and didn’t make progress in a recent time change your routine into strength training like GetStrong Workout to improve all your lifts. It’s free. Most of trainees made more progress with this routine in 12 weeks than they did throughout their entire life.