One of my pet peeves is watching individuals that I regularly see in the gym do the same thing over and over again. The same splits. The same routine. The same weight. Sure, the majority of the individuals that belong to gyms in this day and age are simply wanting to feel or look better but if we are serious about building muscle then we should get to know and understand one of muscle buildings best friends… Introducing Progressive Overload.
Progressive overload is commonly overlooked for it cooler brother… The Pump. The pump is like groundhog day. Doing the same thing over and over again trying to find a way to break the cycle to progress to the next day. The pump is addictive and its endorphin releasing capabilities is natures high. Unfortunately it is this addiction that is actually hurting our progress when it comes to actual muscle development.
To progress we need our bodies to adapt to new stimulus. To adapt to a certain stimulus or stressor our bodies will either need to increase cardiovascular endurance, metabolize body fat for energy, build more skeletal muscle, increase power output or a combination of these things. The pump is not going to provide this.
This adaptation is actually what we are looking for, even without knowing it, when we set our gym goals. However, once this adaptation occurs there is no incentive for the body to continue to progress unless it is exposed to a new stimulus or stressor.
In order for this progress of adaption to continue we need to introduce ourselves to Progressive Overload. Progressive overload is the simple process of exposing our body to increased stimulus. We do this by recognizing our bodies adaption and then begin increasing the stimulus in a controlled manner and continue the process to the next phase.
We want to keep certain variables in our workouts the same to gauge our progress so that we have a tangible benchmark to measure progress. At the same time we want to to change or intensify other variables so that me can leap into the next phase of adaptation. This seams simple enough but with all of the 'get big quick, and ‘shred fat fast’ routines out there we all too often overlook the basic principles of progress.
Implement progressive overload in five simple steps;
Step 1 - Weight: This is fairly straightforward. By increasing weight (load) on on a weekly basis in our routines we are forcing our body to progress and adapt. Connective tissue is slower to develop than muscle tissue so implementing weight increases slowly will help prevent injury to connective tissue that might occur in the future.
Step 2 - Intensity: By increasing our training intensity we can force the body into progressive overload. This can be done by reducing our rest interval between exercises or sets. Employing drop sets, super sets, rest-pause sets, etc. we are increasing intensity.
Step 3 - Frequency: Increasing training frequency such as training certain body parts more often or with more regularity can force progression and/or provide improvement in lagging muscle groups.
Step 4 - Volume: By increasing the number of sets, time under tension or reps to a routine will increase stimulus that the body will need to adapt to forcing the body to progress.
Step 5 - New Techniques: If we find ourselves in a development plateau we have the option of incorporating new training techniques. This is reserved when we have exhausted all of the other steps. Caution should be used that we do not try to reinvent the wheel and we use safe and proven new techniques. If we implement a new technique it is important to stick to new routine for a minimum of four weeks.
When incorporating these five simple steps to achieve progressive overload one has to be conscious that we do not want to change routines too often or incorporate everything all at once. Placing the body into confusion is the quick road to nowhere. Start slowly and track your progress as you progress through Steps 1 through 5. Once you achieve adaption in a step make adjustments in that specific area.
Keep enjoying the pump as you learn to incorporate progressive overload. The two combined are a sure cure to what is ailing you.