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Progressive Overload: What is It?

Published May 21, 2020 Read Time: 8 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"Progressive Overload: What is It?", "datePublished":"2020-06-01", "dateModified": "2020-06-01", "description":"Progressive overload basically guarantees you'll get results simply by incorporating it into your training. Here's a run-down of what it is, and how to integrate it!", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is progressive overload?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Progressive overload (PO) is a fitness concept where you slightly increase the difficulty of an exercise or workout to improve your fitness. These small jumps from one workout to the next force your body to constantly adapt to a new, more challenging exercise stimulus—which ensures you'll continue to get results from your routine." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Is progressive overload good for you?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Yes, definitely. Applying progressive overload to your fitness program helps your muscles grow and get stronger. It also helps you advance other fitness skills simultaneously, like balance and coordination." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How often should you progressive overload?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Every time you exercise, if possible. Realistically, though, 80 to 90 percent of the time is a good goal to set. This gives you more flexibility with your routine and peace of mind if you simply can't make progress on a given day." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Is Progressive Overload?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Progressing Movements, Not Weights, Is Best</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Is Progressive Overload Good For You?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">How Often Should You Progressive Overload?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Pitfalls/Common Mistakes Of Progressive Overload</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Takeaways</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>If there's one fitness concept that can guarantee you'll get results from your workouts, it's <i>progressive overload</i>.</p> <p>This method places an emphasis on making small "jumps" in difficulty from one workout to the next. Over time, those tiny advancements compound into the results you're looking for.</p> <p>Progressive overload is a simple but powerful way to improve strength, add muscle, and keep you psychologically engaged with your fitness program.</p> <p>Here's everything you need to know about implementing progressive overload into your fitness program.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What is progressive overload?</h2> <p><i>Progressive overload (PO)</i> is a fitness concept where you slightly increase the difficulty of an exercise or workout to improve your fitness. <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>These small jumps from one workout to the next force your body to constantly adapt to a new, more challenging exercise stimulus—which ensures you'll continue to get results from your routine.</p> <p>PO can be implemented several different ways, which we'll look at below.</p> <h3>What is an example of progressive overload?</h3> <p>Here are some common examples of how you might advance your workouts. Let's say you've just started exercising, and your current workout routine uses kneeling push-ups<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup>:</p> <ul> <li>Switch to half-kneeling push-ups instead of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">kneeling push-ups</a>*</li> <li>Add 5 more total push-ups to your workout than last time</li> <li>Add 10 extra seconds to a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">plank hold</a> on top of your personal record</li> <li>Complete the same workout faster (i.e. doing 30 <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">burpee walkouts</a> 20 seconds faster than last time)</li> <li>Add .5 to 5lbs if you are doing weighted exercises</li> </ul> <p>*This is an example of <i>progressive movement overload</i>, which we'll review in the next section.</p> <h3>What is an example of progressive movement overload?</h3> <p>Progressive movement overload focuses on making exercises slightly more challenging instead of adding repetitions or resistance.</p> <p>A good example is the 7 levels of Warrior Made's push-up progression*:</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Wall pushups"> <h4>1. Wall pushups</h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="High chair pushups"> <h4>2. High chair pushups</h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Low chair pushups"> <h4>3. Low chair pushups</h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Kneeling pushups"> <h4>4. Kneeling pushups</h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Half kneeling pushups"> <h4>5. Half kneeling pushups</h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Pushups"> <h4>6. <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Pushups</a></h4> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Explosive pushups"> <h4>7. Explosive pushups</h4> <p><i>*We'll use this pushup progression a few times in the article to help further explain PO.</i></p> <p>If a person started at wall pushups and progressively overloaded the movement, meaning they slowly mastered each level on this push-up progression, they would eventually work their way up to level 6 or 7—the most advanced level. </p> <p>And in the process, they would get stronger and add muscle, just like with any other type of progressive overload.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why progressing movements, not weights, is best</h2> <p>As you can see, progressive overload can be achieved in many forms. A few more reps, faster performance, and adding a small amount of weight are all ways to make a tiny "jump" from one workout to the next.</p> <p>But <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">our exercise philosophy</a> focuses on <i>progressing movements</i>, not weights or the pins on a weight machine. In our experience, this is the best way to get results using progressive overload.</p> <p>Here are 4 reasons why:</p> <ul> <li><strong>You don't need any gym equipment</strong>- Progressing movements simplifies your workout routine. It can be done at home without any equipment, and because your workouts will be largely based on bodyweight movements, you'll reap the many benefits of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">functional training</a>, too.</li> <li><strong>You'll naturally recruit more muscle fibers</strong>- Movement progressions slowly add more bodyweight resistance to each exercise as you climb up the movement "ladder" (see the push-up example above). This helps your body <i>naturally</i> recruit more muscle fibers, and doesn't isolate any muscle groups like gym machines do. <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></li> <li><strong>You'll build just as much muscle</strong>- Studies show bodyweight training is just as effective for <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">adding muscle</a> as lifting weights.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup> So there is definitely no drop-off in terms of getting fitter, stronger, or more muscular by using bodyweight resistance, especially when incorporating PO.</li> <li><strong>You'll improve other fitness skills</strong>- <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Full-body</a> bodyweight resistance exercises almost always incorporate <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">your core</a>, and force your muscles to work together as one unit. This helps develop skills like stability, balance, coordination, and (for more advanced movements) power. <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>This is why we use movement progressions in our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">at-home workouts</a>: they simplify your workouts but are still highly effective for getting fitness results!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>Is progressive overload good for you?</h2> <p>Yes, definitely. Applying progressive overload to your fitness program helps your muscles grow and get stronger. It also helps you advance other fitness skills simultaneously, like balance and coordination. <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></p> <p>Let's look a little closer at some of the benefits PO can offer you.</p> <h3>Progressive overload benefits</h3> <p>These 4 reasons will help you see why progressive is so beneficial:</p> <ol> <li><strong>You're less likely to plateau</strong>- With progressive overload, you rarely repeat the same workouts. The next workout is always slightly more challenging than the last. This decreases your chance of hitting a plateau with your training (a plateau is a long stretch where you stop getting results from your workouts). <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a>,<a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></li> <li><strong>Keeps your workouts fresh</strong>- Besides the fact that doing the same workout over and over again won't lead to great results, PO ensures that your workouts are different all the time, which helps keep it fresh and exciting.</li> <li><strong>It's sustainable</strong>- Sustainability is a key to making a habit out of your fitness routine.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup> Exercise stays interesting as you continuously change things up, making small advancements (a slightly harder exercise, a little bit more resistance, a few more reps) each time you workout. And even more importantly: you're not placing too much stress on your body at one time, which decreases your chance of injury, and increases your ability to continue functional movement as you age. <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup></li> <li><strong>It's a good way to stay motivated</strong>- Certainly related to #1 through #3, many people quit working out because their routine gets too hard, they stop getting results, or they get injured.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup> Focusing on small advancements each time you workout is like an antidote to preventing all three of these problems, which makes it a great way to <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">stay motivated</a> long-term!</li> </ol> <p>Now, let's look at how to implement PO into your routine.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>How often should you progressive overload?</h2> <p>Every time you exercise, if possible. Realistically, though, 80 to 90 percent of the time is a good goal to set. </p> <p>This gives you more flexibility with your routine and peace of mind if you simply can't make progress on a given day.</p> <p>Here are a few variables that might cause you to repeat a workout instead of practicing progressive overload:</p> <ul> <li><strong>How your body is feeling on a given day</strong>- Sometimes your body might not feel strong enough to progress an exercise. If you didn't eat well the day before or get a good night's sleep, for example, that might affect your strength levels.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup> In this case, it might be a good idea to just do an active recovery day instead, then try advancing your regular workout tomorrow.</li> <li><strong>Your fitness level</strong>- As you get fitter, certain movements may simply become too challenging to progress from (or add to) in each workout. For example, if you can do 20 or more regular push-ups in one set, or are using explosive push-ups in workouts, you might only be able to practice progressive overload once or twice a week.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup> In this case, it's okay to sometimes wait a few sessions to progress, or to scale back for a day in between.</li> <li><strong>If your technique isn't perfect yet*</strong>- Proper form should <i>always</i> be a priority over advancing levels of exercises; this helps ensure your workouts are safe. You might prefer to repeat a workout so that you can improve your technique, which is definitely the right thing to do.</li> </ul> <p><i>*Sticking with the push-up example from earlier, if you can do 10 perfect kneeling push-ups (level 4), you *might* be strong enough and ready to advance to half-kneeling push-ups.</i></p> <p><i>However, if your form isn't perfect—for example, say that your core isn't activated and your body isn't in one straight line during the reps—you're better off staying at level 4 for a few more workouts and moving your focus to your technique for a few more workouts.</i></p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Pitfalls/common mistakes of progressive overload</h2> <p>Finally, here are a few things to avoid when implementing progressive overload into your routine:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Making too big of a jump from one workout to the next</strong>: PO might seem like a slow process, but it's really not (see below). Avoid adding large amounts of reps (10 or more) or jumping several movement "levels" at once.</li> <p>Here's a good way to look at it: if you increase reps by 2 every time you workout for a month, that's 24 more reps you've added to your workout routine! Or, if you set a goal of progressing to the next level of an exercise every 3 weeks, you could be doing explosive push-ups in just a couple months.</p> <li><strong>Making too big of a jump every workout</strong>: Similar to the first mistake above. If you're advancing levels every week or adding 5 reps per workout, that might start to get too difficult in time. Remember that as you get fitter it gets harder to advance levels each time. Don't be afraid to lower the number or give yourself more time at a level. Progress is progress!</li> <li><strong>Feeling like you <i>have</i> to do a certain exercise</strong>: If you have exercise limitations, such as not being able to perform explosive movements due to joint pain, stick to what your body <i>can</i> do. For example, don't feel like you "have" to do explosive push-ups because they're next in the progression. If you master push-ups, try a variation instead, like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hindu pushups</a> or <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">dive bomber pushups</a>.</li> </ul> <p>Basically, stay patient, trust the process, and listen to your body. You will get results!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>Takeaways</h2> <p>Before you go, here are 5 keys to remember when using progressive overload::</p> <ul> <li>Progressive overload is a fitness concept that emphasizes small jumps from one workout to the next to continually drive fitness results.</li> <li>There are many types of progressive overload, like increasing exercise difficulty, adding reps, adding time, and adding weights.</li> <li>Because it's simple and offers great results, we like <i>progressive movement overload</i>, or slightly increasing the difficulty of exercises instead of lifting weights.</li> <li>Aim to make a small "jump" 80 to 90 percent of the time on your workouts. Good examples include harder movements, a few more reps, or a few more seconds. It's really all you need. </li> <li>Avoid making overly large jumps from one workout to the next, or trying to "speed up" the process by adding lots of reps each time you exercise. Trust the process!</li> </ul> <p>If you want to see how we implement this fitness concept, check out some of our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">at-home workouts</a>.</p> </section> </article>

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