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Progressive Overload - Get Fitter, Stronger and Build Muscle

Regardless of what work out you do or what type of training you do, they all involve progressive overload.


In theory it is very simple and straight forward. However, there are a lot of people who go to the gym and keep doing the same thing over and over again and wonder why they don’t get anywhere.


This is because your body wants/needs to be challenged.


When you first start something new, it’s challenging. Then after a while, it starts to get easier. This is because your body is adapting to what you are throwing at it.


What is Progressive Overload?

It is simply increasing the weight, volume, frequency, intensity and time spent training. Basically anything, even the smallest amount that ups or improves what you are doing each time you do any work out.


So this can be running further than normal, doing extra reps, extra set, and shorter rest period. Anything that pushes you to go to the next level is progressive overload. Subject your body to more than you did before.


Now these don’t have to be big jumps. In fact I would encourage you not to do anything too drastic. It’s all about small steps. Those extra few reps or extra set all add up in taking you to the next level and progressing.


Your body likes to be in a state of something called Homeostasis.


Simply put, this is your body’s ability to maintain a stable internal state.


So when your body temperature is good, immune system working well and everything else that happens inside your body without thinking about it that keeps your body running like a well oiled machine, this is homeostasis.


Your body maintains this stability only if it is capable of modifying itself with the external stimuli and adjusting to the stimulation. The reason it is stable is because it can change and be modified. That slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.


So this stimuli and stress that we put our bodies through, impacts our homeostasis and is what causes us to improve and adapt.


How to Progressive Overload


Now although the theory is very straight forward, there are still ways to go about it to make sure that you don’t put your body through too much stress and over train. It’s not quite as simple as more stimuli and more stress make you stronger.


It is very important that you have a good understanding of stress and stimuli to get the most out of your training.


For example, let’s say you want to do long distance running.


At the start of your training, it makes sense that you would start small. Say you ran 5 miles. This is easy to build on and progress. It is low level stimuli and stress, so you can adapt to this become fitter.

But instead of dong 5 miles, let’s say you wanted to start at 10 miles. So straight away at the start of your training you’re going to start running 10 miles. I dare say that’s a bit ambitious.


With this approach, you’d probably find progress to be very slow if you make any because of the higher stress on your body.


Let’s go a step further and say you wanted to start at 15 miles. That’s a lot more than running 5 miles so that should get you fit, right?


Wrong. The odds of this being successful are very low. And even if you did complete it, do you think you would be good to go again the next day?


You cannot just aim for one large dose of stress and stimuli.


This would definitely be over training if you were to do this. You need to work with your body’s adaptation energy.


This is very closely related to your body’s defence and immune system. If you feel good and full of energy and ready to rock, then there’s a good chance your body’s adaptation energy is good and you can get the most out of your work out.


If you’re feeling run down and dragging yourself to the gym, then your adaptation energy will be low and you won’t respond well to your training. In fact running your body into the ground can make you sick as well.


Now this can all be tracked accurately by monitoring blood cells and your hormones. Obviously this isn’t realistic just so you can know if you can train or not.


All you have to do is listen to your body. You’ll know when you can push it and when you need to back off. Now this isn’t an excuse to ease up because you’re lazy and don’t want to push yourself. So be honest with yourself and judge for yourself if you are good to go or if you need to recover.


Just because your program says you’ve gotta do something that day doesn’t mean you have to do it. Yes it’s good for accountability which is key to keeping you on track.


But if you’ve got a big run planned and you’re feeling run down and maybe under the weather. Then it’s probably a good idea to take it easy instead.


This is where you can work on mobility instead, or technique if you do a sport. Or even stay at home and put your feet up and relax. There’s nothing wrong with just taking a day to yourself and recharging the batteries and living to fight another day.


Progressive Overload is NOT Linear


Though the theory of pushing your body that wee bit more each time and adding that bit more weight than last time makes sense. Sadly it just isn’t possible.


Strength, speed, fitness, building muscle and fat loss are not linear.


If you could add only 1kg to your deadlift each week, you’d add 52kg to your deadlift each year. Which just isn’t possible.


Instead it works more like a wave rather than a linear progression.


In some training sessions you’ll feel on top of the world and your strength can go up and build muscle. The next week can be the opposite and not be able to pull the numbers you could be before or maybe you’ll not be able to run 10k in the time you did last week.


Be smart. Kick it up a gear when you’re ready. Adapt to the new challenge. Then progress again and repeat. It’s all about baby steps. It will take time. There’s no quick fix. But trust the system and with consistent training you will continue to progress.

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