One of the biggest challenges many people new to weight lifting face is figuring out how to push themselves without going too hard, too fast. Well-designed programs build in what we call progressive overload to increase the volume and intensity in a gradual manner in order to avoid injury. Beyond that, well-designed programs utilize progressive overload to make sure you continue to see strength and size gains as you become a more seasoned lifter.
When we refer to intensity, we’re talking about the percentage of weight we’re utilizing in comparison to the most weight we could lift for that movement. When we refer to volume, we’re talking about the number of reps we’re performing of one movement multiplied by the weight we’re utilizing.
Without getting into too much physiology, the reason progressive overload is required to continue seeing strength and size gains is due to the way our bodies adapt to stress. Over time, our bodies become more efficient at responding to the same stimuli, so more stress is required to create the environment necessary for growth. Put more simply, without increasing volume and/ or intensity progress will stagnate.
We’ve outlined a simple method for progressive overload below geared towards people lifting to increase muscle mass and strength. We’ve picked a pretty standard set and rep scheme to start and a random starting weight.
Week 1: 3 sets of 8 reps with 15 lbs. (360 lbs. moved)
Week 2: 3 sets of 10 reps with 15 lbs. (450 lbs. moved)
Week 3: 3 sets of 12 reps with 15 lbs. (540 lbs. moved)
Weeks 4: 3 sets of 8 reps with 20 lbs. (480 lbs. moved)
Weeks 1-3 we’re increase the total number of reps, and therefore the overall volume of the routine. In week 4, the volume drops, but the intensity increases. Below I’ve extended this further to illustrate the pattern:
Weeks 5 & 6: 3 sets of 10 reps with 20 lbs. (600 lbs. moved)
Weeks 7 & 8: 3 sets of 12 reps with 20 lbs. (720 lbs. moved)
Weeks 9 & 10: 3 sets of 8 reps with 25 lbs. (600 lbs. moved)
Weeks 11 & 12: 3 sets of 10 reps with 25 lbs. (750 lbs. moved)
Eventually, we will all get to the point where it is incredibly difficult to continue increasing intensity. The easiest way to continue adding stress when we get to that point is to add additional sets so that we increase the volume. Below I’ve extended our example further to illustrate.
Weeks 13-15: 3 sets of 12 reps with 25 lbs. (900 lbs. moved)
Weeks 16-18: 4 sets of 8 reps with 25 lbs. (800 lbs. moved)
Week 20-22: 4 sets of 10 reps with 25 lbs. (1000 lbs. moved)
Week 23+: 4 sets of 12 reps with 25 lbs. (1200 lbs. moved)
As you can see, the rate of progressive overload eventually slows as we become more seasoned lifters. In order to continue pushing our limits, we have to turn to other methods. However, we’ll save those for another time. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below or email me directly.
Founder & CEO