Progressive overload means carefully increasing the stress on the musculoskeletal and nervous system over a period of time.
Think about the story of Milo of Croton. The legend goes that, as a young boy he had a small calf, which he used to carry on his shoulders. As he got used to carrying the calf, his strength grew, as did the calf. Milo grew to be an incredibly strong man who would carry his, by now, huge bull on his shoulders.
That’s progressive overload! Start off lifting something that you can manage and, as your strength increases, increase the load.
For example, let’s say you can bench press 3 sets of 10 reps at 30kg, with 2 mins rest between sets, and this equates to an effort level of 8/10.
If you do this twice a week for a couple of weeks, your body will adapt and get stronger therefore 3×10 @30kg should become easier – let’s say 6/10 effort level.
If we want to get stronger and build muscle then we need to increase the demand placed upon the body. So we have several possible ways to do this.
- Increase the weight
- Increase the number of reps
- Increase the number of sets
- Decrease your rest time between sets
- Slow down the tempo of each re
- Improve mind-muscle connection to ensure the targeted muscle receives more stimulus.
A well designed training programme would manipulate these variables over an extended period of time so that, with consistent training and appropriate nutrition, you progress from 3×10 @30kg to 3×10 @80kg, for example.
It’s important to remember that the progression won’t be linear. You will have good days and bad days (the same principle as weight loss or weight gain) – what matters is the general trend.