Progressive overload: What is it, example plans & how to do it

Why do you need progressive overload? Here
An in-depth look on progressive overload (Image via Unsplash/Gordon Cowie)

Progressive overload is the gradual increase in stress on the body over time. It's a key part of any exercise programme, as it gives the muscles an opportunity to adapt and get stronger.

Progressive overload can be achieved by increasing weights lifted, reps completed, or by changing exercises entirely (such as switching from squats to lunges).

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is the process of increasing the body's demands over time to make it stronger.

By gradually increasing the demands you place on yourself, you can achieve better results than if you were to push yourself too hard or too soon. The key is to make sure that each increase in intensity is small enough to cause any setbacks but large enough not to be considered insignificant.

In the gym, you can successfully perform progressive overload by increasing the amount of weight you're lifting, the number of reps or sets, or reducing the amount of rest between sets.

You can accomplish that by tracking your progress and adjusting accordingly based on how well (or poorly) a particular progression worked out for you in the past. If something feels like a step up from what you've been doing before, it's great. Go ahead and try it out; otherwise, take some time off, or stay at an easy level till another opportunity arises.

Why is progressive overload important?

Progressive overload is important. (Image via Unsplash/Anastase Maragos)
Progressive overload is important. (Image via Unsplash/Anastase Maragos)

Progressive overload is a cornerstone of fitness, and it's an important part of any effective training programme.

Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of stress placed on the body over time - that is, making things harder for the muscles and nervous system to adapt to so that they get stronger. When you repeatedly perform a movement, the body gets accustomed to it, eventually making it almost like second nature. That's the last thing you want in the gym. Progressive overload keeps you on your toes and challenges you in the gym to prevent you from plateauing and stagnating.

You can do that by lifting heavier weights at the gym or running farther than you've ever gone before to improve your cardiovascular endurance. However, if you're looking for a way to get stronger without going through the hassle and expense of joining a health club or buying expensive equipment, there are plenty of options that require little more than some basic strength-training equipment at home (or even just your ownbody weight).

Yes, you can simply do more reps or sets of your favorite bodyweight exercises to keep on getting stronger.

How to use progressive overload?

Progressive overload is the gradual increase in demands placed on the body to help you get stronger, faster, or more powerful. That can be done by increasing the weight lifted, increasing the number of reps performed, decreasing rest between sets (if applicable), and/or decreasing the amount of time it takes for you to complete a certain movement.

If you're new to lifting weights and have picked up a pair of dumbbells for the first time, it might be considered progressive overload. The next time you lift those dumbbells, it would be slightly easier due to the strength gained from previous workouts.

You can use progressive overload to make your workouts more challenging. That will help ensure that you don't lose out on any progress in the gym.

Example plans of progressive overload

Here are a few example plans:

In your first week, do three sets of ten reps with the barbell squat machine. After that, increase the weight by five pounds each week till you get to your maximum weight.

Start out with one set of 12 repetitions at two-thirds of your max lifting capacity. Then, each week (or every other week), add another set, and increase the amount of weight used by 5%, 8%, or whatever seems appropriate for you given your level of strength.

Keep going till you reach ten sets per workout — that’s when you should stop. If you're increasing the weight, try and see if you can perform the same amount of reps as you could with a lighter weight, or at least try to stay in the same rep range.


Progressive overload is a key part of strength training and is essential to realizing your fitness goals. There are many ways you can implement progressive overload in your workout routine.

However, if you are not sure where to start, the aforementioned examples for each muscle group can help you.

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Edited by Bhargav