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What Is Progressive Overload? The 4 Laws Of P.O.

4 min read

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What’s up Cheeksquad! Today we’re discussing Progressive Overload. It’s probably the single most important factor in you hitting your goals- except for diet but we’ll get into that in another post.

If you’re not entirely sure what progressive overload is, or why it applies to you, we’ll be breaking everything down from start to finish.

In a quick sentence: progressive overload is just you doing more over time. You might be thinking, “okay, I work out an hour every day, what am I supposed to do now? Workout two hours a day? Then three?”

There are many different ways to measure progress, and since as weightlifters we’re not long distance or endurance athletes, we’ll be focusing on x

Poundage- literally how much weight are you moving. This is our primary focus. If you get lift progressively heavier weights, your body will adapt by building muscle. If you did 135lbs for 5 reps last week, then did 140x5 this week. Even if you “only” went up 1 pound, that’s progress.

Volume-Volume takes a little more math but is still similar to poundage. It’s weight lifted x number of reps x number of sets. So it could look like 95lbs x 10 reps x 5 sets = 4,750lbs of volume. Increasing, or decreasing volume is an important part of your programming. Strength going up, but not seeing visible progress? Maybe you need to run slightly higher volume. Already doing tons of volume? You’re possibly not recovering and need to decrease your total volume.

Frequency-This is the number of times you train a muscle group in a week. If you hit a progress plateau and only train your glutes once a week, try a higher frequency program (bump that up to 2x a week). Note, if you are increasing frequency, do it cautiously! Don’t expect to be able to use the same volume and poundage on a 3x a week program that you would normally use once per week.

Notice there’s nothing there about time spent training. You’re only going to grow from what you can recover from. No one gets bigger or stronger IN the gym- in fact you get weaker. The body responds to what you do in the gym, and then it adapts OUTSIDE of the gym. More isn’t always better.

“There’s no such thing as overtraining, just under recovering.”

With that quick explanation out of the way, let’s get into the X commandments of progressive overload.

1. Master Your Form Before Adding Weight

You need to be able to perform the exercise correctly and consistently. How can you claim a squat PR if you only hit half the depth on your new “PR” as your old one?

Take a session or two to really lock in a new exercise if it’s one you want to focus on.

Get the exercise down, and be able to do it the same each and every rep. Never prioritize progressive overload over proper technique

2. Progressive Overload Is Not The Same For Beginners & Advanced Trainees

There is a strength curve involved here. An untrained lifter can easily add 10 pounds to a hip thrust from week to week. Going from 65lbs to 75lbs isn’t too difficult. Conversely, if you have an advanced lifter who can hip thrust 450lbs+ this week, jumping up another 10 pounds, or even 5, might be impossible.

This is because the closer you get to your genetic potential (meaning, the maximum you will ever be able to lift), the harder it is to make progress.

Untrained-beginner trainees can adapt week to week, making 5-10lb increases at a time. Intermediate lifters on the other hand may be forced to make the same 5-10lb jump month to month.

Advanced lifters could be working on 3-6 month cycles to eek out a 10lb PR.

It gets harder and harder to progress the closer to you genetic potential you get. This leads us to #3.

3. Linear Growth Works (in the beginning) 

The way a beginner and advanced lifter trains is very different. This is again related to your genetic potential. The closer you get to it, the harder progress becomes. Or said another way, the stronger you get, the harder it is to keep getting stronger.

A beginner’s 4 week progressive overload system might look like:

Week 1: 135x5 

Week 2: 145x5

Week 3: 155x5

Week 4: 165x5
….and on and on.

The more advanced lifter may need to train in waves, more like 2 steps forward, one step back.

4. It’s hard to lose weight AND gain strength at the same time

Periodize your training. If you’re focusing on losing weight, progressive overload becomes increasingly difficult. If the next 6 months is a strength cycle, make sure you give your body the fuel it needs to recover. You’re forcing more stress onto your body and giving it less to recover with. It’s a recipe for injury, frustration and poor results on both fronts.

These are our 4 laws of progressive overload. Now go on out and make some progress!

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