A different way to look at Progressive Overload

Here is a different way you can look at progressive overload.

If you don’t know what it is It’s gradually adding intensity when you’re training to improve your performance. It applies to to all types of training.

It’s a helpful way to improve over time and keep your workouts fresh. You can also use it to build a variety of types of strength, like endurance, speed, or being able to make a movement explosively.

Some people use progressive overload to build endurance, while others have the goal of increasing muscle mass or getting stronger. Basically, it’s a way to increase the difficulty of your workouts, regardless of your goal, to continuously cause an adaptation for the body to respond by improving.

A different way to look at Progressive Overload image

The thing is, progressive overload isn’t about the changes you make to your workout, it’s about the changes your workout makes to you. This means your workout only has to remain difficult enough to cause an adaptation. The parameters of ‘difficult’ in themselves are quite broad too. People assume, “I need to add another 2.5kg to improve” or “Run that extra bit faster”. However, you only really need enough of a stimulus to maintain or cause an adaptation, and this is usually somewhere between your minimum effective dose and your maximum recoverable dose. The least you need to improve and the most you need to improve.

The thing is, progressive overload isn’t about the changes you make to your workout, it’s about the changes your workout makes to you.

In theory, your training intensity and volume could remain the same or decrease, but as long as it is within this ‘effective’ range, you may still improve. You could train near your max one week and near your minimum the next, but in both scenarios, you could see improvement.

A different way to look at Progressive Overload

If you think running faster, lifting more, running longer, or whatever you use session to session is causing progressive overload, you’re more likely just pushing closer and closer to your max, rather than progressing week to week. Keep in mind, working hard continuously under the guise of continuous progress is extremely unsustainable.

Nonetheless, don’t be mistaken forcing progression in such a way also has benefits.

  1. If you’re a competitive athlete, the average intensities of competition are way higher than what we train at, so this may take some getting used to.
  2. In addition to this, you may never truly know where your limits are if you never push yourself toward your max.

When you’re new to any training modality, you will be able to increase whatever the training stimulus is just about every week. This is mostly due to your lack of skill that is improving, not so much the adaptations you are causing. You are getting better at whatever it is you are practicing, ie running, lifting, swimming, etc.

You can keep upping the intensity all the time and that will work for a time, but you will eventually stall or overreach. So the options available to you will be dependent on what you are aiming to get out of your training;

  • Some people will use some form of autoregulation ( basing things on how they feel each session )
  • stick to some kind of intensity-building method ( RPE > )
  • or just keep adding weight/intensity to their training each week

Regardless, the point is to do it because you can, not because you must. You will likely make progress either way.



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