Progressive overload is the gradual increase of intensity to force your body to adapt. This type of training is most commonly seen in strength training circles. For example, a powerlifter or bodybuilder would start their training cycle with lighter weights or lower volume and gradually work up to heavier weights or heavier volume in an effort to stress their muscles and keep from plateauing.
The whole point of progressive overload is to make your muscles stronger by overloading them with more weight or heavier volume than they’re used to.
Progressive overload allows the body to lift heavier and heavier weights over time.
How Muscle Growth Works
Lifting lighter weights will not necessarily maximize muscle growth. Progressing to heavier weights at a slower pace allows your body to build muscle size. However, it can also benefit those taking medication, suffering from injuries, or being overweight. It is a method that many recreational athletes use to safely and effectively train their muscles.
Our muscles grow by stressing them. When we exercise, our muscles become damaged and need to be repaired. Our body best repairs them during the recovery phase (which sets in just after exercise) when we are properly hydrated, have proper nutrition, an get plenty of sleep.
During the recovery process is when muscular hypertrophy occurs.
Hypertrophy is the process of our muscles growing.
There are two types of hypertrophy: Sarcoplasmic and Myofibrillar. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to the muscles growing in size due to larger sarcomeres and is generally the type of hypertrophy bodybuilders seek. This type of hypertrophy makes the muscles appear larger, but don’t always result in greater strength gains.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to when the myofibrils (actual tensile fibers in a muscle) grow bigger and stronger. This type of hypertrophy occurs frequently in powerlifting circles, and bodybuilding rings to a lesser extent. This is when major strength gains happen.
Our bodies grow resistant to the same training process, and less damage is done to the muscles when we do not change it up for long periods of time. This is why people who go to the gym and continually do the same workout, with the same weight, sets, and reps week after week rarely make much progress.
Progressive overload avoids the plateaus that the habitual folks find themselves on. You can either increase the weight moved, the total number of reps/sets conducted, or both. You could als throw in super sets, giant sets, or reduce the rest period between sets. As long as each workout is harder than the last, and you can maintain proper form, you are doing progressive overload to one degree or another.
This type of gradually adding extra work to the muscles will help keep you on the path to growth.
The Benefits of Progressive Overload
If generally avoiding plateaus weren’t enough of a benefit, one major beauty of progressive overload lies in the magic of time. You build, connect, improve your muscle coordination skills, and increase your body mass and strength.
Additionally, your Central Nervous System learns how to better move heavier weights and conduct more complex movements over time. A better mind-muscle connection helps with everything related to force production and movement.
Over time, you’re also able to lift heavier weights more often, resulting in more significant strength gains over time.
Progressive overload is typically considered an essential aspect of training because of the noticeable changes and adaptations.
While it’s essential to focus on the weight you’re lifting and the form you are using, it’s equally vital to progress in small increments. Going too hard too fast can lead to major injuries and issues.
With progressive overload, the weight you move is incrementally more difficult over time, which, provided you have good form, greatly reduces the chances of injury and burn out.
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