No matter what your goal is, the number one rule when looking to progress in your workouts will always be progressive overload.

This simply means that you do more work over time.

The problem is most people think the only way to apply this rule is either by adding weight or reps.

Whilst these are the most effective methods, it can lead to ego-lifting, injury and plateaus if abused incorrectly, or for too long.

There comes a point in everyone’s training career where adding weight or reps isn’t feasible every week. Over the long term you should certainly strive to lift more weight for the same reps, or the same weight for more reps. However, on a week-to-week basis, you need to train more strategically, and look at other ways to progress, as traditional progressive overload is never linear.

This is especially applicable to those who are past their initial beginner phase of training.

13 Ways to Apply Progressive Overload

  1. Add weight to the bar
  2. Lift the same load for more reps
  3. Lift the same load with better technique.
  4. Lift the same load with increased range of motion.
  5. Lift the same load and reps with less effort.
  6. Lift the same load and reps with less rest time between sets.
  7. Lift the same load and reps with longer and different tempos.
  8. Lift the same load and reps whilst ‘feeling’ the muscle contractions more intensely.
  9. Lift the same load with more acceleration (less grindy reps).
  10. Do more sets with same load and reps.
  11. Do more work in the same amount of time.
  12. Do the same amount of work in less time.
  13. Do the same work at a lighter bodyweight (especially applicable for those who are aiming to maintain their loads during fat loss phases – it still progress!).

As you can see, progressive overload can be achieved in a number of ways. Remember, improvements in form will always come first, and increasing reps and load come second.

In order to track progress reliably, we have to standardise technique. That’s the only way you will ever know if you’ve really improved.

Bouncing reps, a little added body English, cutting depth and rounded backs can all contribute to ‘perceived’ progress, but very little muscle overload.

If you’re struggling to add weight or reps to a bar, here’s a 6-week example with the squat that works well

Week 1 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 20X0 tempo, 3 minutes rest.

Week 2 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 30X0 tempo, 3 minutes rest.

Week 3 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 40X0 tempo, 3 minutes rest.

Week 4 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 31X0 tempo, 3 minutes rest.

Week 5 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 31X0 tempo, 2 minutes 45 seconds rest.

Week 6 – 5 sets of 5 with 100kg, 31X0 tempo, 2 minutes 30 seconds rest.

Week 7 – ADD WEIGHT 5 sets of 5 with 105kg, 20X0 tempo, 3 minutes rest.

Progressive overload will never be linear. The key is to be able to more over time. If you’re lifting the same weights as you were 6 months ago, you probably still look the same. Using these techniques will help stimulate progress week-to-week so that in the long run, you’re safer, stronger and sporting a better physique!

Struggling with fitness terms? Try UP’s Glossary of Fitness Related Terms to Build Your Knowledge.