what is progressive overload

What Is Progressive Overload? – Build Stronger Muscles

Progressive overload is the key to building muscle! Here you can find out how you can effectively improve yourself during workout and what you need to consider.

Progressive overload means a continuous increase in your performance during training. 

Your muscles can “remember” the previous load intensity. This means that over time the training stimulus should be increased so that the muscle has to adapt again and grow. In this way you increase your strength over time, effectively build muscles or improve your endurance.

Why is it important to improve while working out?

Imagine you go to the gym regularly and always do exactly the same thing. This means that, for example, you train the squat with the same weight and with the same number of repetitions. And never change the intensity.

Not only does it sound boring, it doesn’t get you any closer to your goal! Are you wondering why you don’t see any changes in yourself even though you regularly work out and watch your diet? Result: You are frustrated, unmotivated or give up completely!

But it doesn’t have to come to that! The reason for your problem is very simple. You haven’t improved over time in your training sessions. So your body has no reason to change or build more muscle mass. Unless you force it!

Muscle building is nothing more than adaptation to the stimuli from our environment. When you set new training stimuli, you give your body a signal. You will need more strength to cope with the stress next time. So new muscle mass is built up during the recovery phase. The process is known as the principle of supercompensation. After you have recovered, you are ready for a new challenge.

Important: Without progressive training, you won’t build muscles and won’t get stronger over time. Get out of your comfort zone!

When is the right time to improve with your training?

Are you over-motivated and want to increase your weights at all costs? Not a good idea! Before you step up, you have to be sure that you are ready. If you increase too quickly, it will have a negative effect on the way you perform the exercise. A clean execution must always remain in the foreground. Otherwise there is a risk of injury! Neither you nor your muscles benefit from it.

The idea behind Progressive Overload is to gradually increase your performance. If you get your exercises wrong and put stress on your joints instead of the target muscle, your muscles may not get stronger.

Don’t forget: listen to your body. Don’t pay attention to what the others are doing or how much weight they are exercising. Focus on yourself! We are all individual and go our own way. You can only improve when your technique is right and you notice during the last repetition that there is still room for improvement. Your training should challenge you, but not overwhelm you.

Important: Your active musculoskeletal system or your muscles adopt new loads faster than your passive musculoskeletal system. These include: bones, joints, and ligaments. For example, your muscles can have recovered within a short time after the training stimulus, while the structures of the passive musculoskeletal system need weeks or months to regenerate.

This is because muscles have a higher capillary density. Capillaries are small blood vessels. A material exchange takes place through them. Nutrients are supplied, waste materials are removed. This means that where there are more capillaries, the metabolic activity is correspondingly higher.

Result: muscles regenerate faster than joints or bones. Therefore, when planning your training, keep the healing process of the passive musculoskeletal system in mind and increase slowly.

Methods for progressive overload

In order to make your progress with progressive overload measurable, you should focus on specific exercises and get stronger step by step. Instead of doing a completely new training program every day. A structured training plan can help you measure a progressive increase in stress. Keep this in mind as you use the following methods.

Increase weight

This method is very popular in strength training. Here the weight is increased during a certain exercise in order to challenge the muscle again. How fast and by how much you can increase your weights is individual, depends on the muscle group and depends on your performance level. Better to increase in small steps, but regularly. Always make sure that the technology is clean.

More repetitions

This method is all about doing more reps than the last time with the same weight and clean technique.

Shorter break

In order to set a new training stimulus, you can make your breaks between sets shorter. This means your muscles have less time to recover and are challenged as a result.

Higher training frequency

For optimal muscle growth, 2 to 3 workouts per muscle group are recommended weekly. In this way you can increase your exercise frequency for better results.

Greater amplitude of movement

A muscle is optimally trained in its full range of motion. Your genetic, anatomical nature can also determine how deep you can go, for example when doing a squat. The amplitude of movement is therefore individual. But if it is possible for you to increase it, you are setting a new training stimulus.

Better technology

Clean technique should always be your priority. In your exercises, make sure that you perform the movement correctly and in a controlled manner.

TUT (Time Under Tension)

Time Under Tension refers to the duration of the load. A new training stimulus is set when you do an exercise more slowly than usual. With a squat, for example, you could go slowly down three beats and then come back up as normal.

In addition, you can also work with different intensity techniques such as drop sets or partial repetitions to challenge yourself during your workout.

Our tip: In addition to training, your diet naturally also plays a major role. Make sure you get enough protein and meet your daily needs. If you’re having a hard time getting enough protein from food, try protein bars. Delicious and convenient for on the go!

Which Comes First - More Weight Or More Reps?

As you can see, you are spoiled for choice and there are many methods for progressively increasing stress. But which one should you choose best? That depends entirely on your personal preference, your starting position and your training goal.


For beginners, scope over intensity. If you are new to training, it is better to increase the number of repetitions or increase the training frequency before reaching for higher weights. For advanced users, increasing the amount of training is usually not possible, so they should increase the training intensity.

If your goal is to build muscle, it is advisable to stay in the hypertrophy range with reps of 8 to 12. If you can do 12 repetitions easily and, above all, cleanly, it is time to put more weight on. In addition, for progressive strength training it would be advisable to increase the volume and do more sets for the respective muscle group per week.

Do you want to improve your endurance or strength endurance? Then shorter breaks between sets or a higher number of repetitions can be beneficial for you. Ultimately, you can decide which method suits you best, as long as you have seen an increase in performance.

Progressive Overload principle: Beginners vs. Advanced

As a beginner in particular, you can improve your training regularly and fairly quickly. Your body does not yet know the stress and reacts well to the stimuli. Your muscles also learn to work together better thanks to new movement sequences.

Just don’t think you’re the next Superman or the next Wonder Woman. Rather enjoy it while you can and let your success motivate you! Your progress will slow down over time. Before long, you too will be fighting for every personal record, like the rest of us mortals.

As an advanced person, this is not an easy game for you. Your body has already adjusted to the load and you find it harder and harder to increase your weights or to do one more repetition. Your training plan must therefore be carefully considered in order to continue to challenge your body.

So you can apply the principle of periodization and cycling by putting more and more stress on yourself in your training, or by trying out a new exercise.

Don’t forget: the increase in performance is not linear, but wavelike. Sometimes you can see great progress in a very short time and sometimes nothing happens over a long period of time. There can be many reasons for this. Your sleep quality, everyday stress, recovery phases and diet have a major influence on your increase in performance.

In addition, it plays a role whether you are currently in a calorie deficit. If you are about to lose weight and you are not high in body fat, it will negatively affect your strength. During this time, try to hold your weights instead of breaking new records. Bodyweight exercises like push ups or chin ups may now be easier for you because your body weighs less.

Tip: As an advanced athlete, you tend to neglect your shape over time. Dare to do your exercises with less weight every now and then to check your technique and the mind muscle connection. With this you will improve the quality of your training in the long run and build muscle effectively.

Summary: Progressive Overload

  • Progressive overload stands for a continuous increase in your performance during training
  • Beginners can improve more easily than advanced
  • Progressive overload serves as a means of building muscle, can make you stronger and improve your endurance
  • Factors such as the quality of sleep, everyday stress, recovery phases and diet have a major influence on your performance improvement
  • When the load increases, the following applies: technique over weight
  • A structured training plan makes your progression measurable
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