Progressive Overload

Everything you need to know about progressive overload.

You hear everyone in the health and fitness industry talking about progressive overload and you’re wondering what it is and if you should be applying it to your training regimen. We are going to break down what progressive overload is and everything you need to know about it to help you get the most out of your training.

What Is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is when the weight in your working sets is being increased over a chronic period of time. This can also apply to your reps and sets and is not limited to strength training alone. It can also be applied to endurance training such as cardiovascular endurance like running.

The purpose behind progressive overload is to increase the tension being put on your muscles during training by continuously challenging them. This is going to help you not only progress in your muscle building goals but it is going to help prevent plateaus to keep you tracking forward in your goals.

What Are The Benefits Of Progressive Overload?

Implementing progressive overload is beneficial for preventing plateaus in your fitness journey both aesthetically and physically. It can help increase strength, support muscle building, support fat loss, and increase endurance.

How Do You Implement Progressive Overload?

It’s important to really focus on progressive overload over a chronic period of time. Ensuring that you are focusing on the proper form mechanics of each exercise before moving into progressive overload training.

For Resistance Training:

One example of progressive overload is say you start with 10lbs for a set of 10 repetitions of bicep curls. Let’s say that this weight is challenging but doable for you in the beginning weeks of your training. You are approaching failure by the last two to three reps of each set. Over the next 4 weeks that 10lbs starts to become less challenging and you’re able to complete 10 reps with ease.

This is when you would increase your weight to a more challenging but doable weight that does not compromise your form. Maybe you increase to 12.5lbs from 10lbs. Over time that weight will become less challenging and you would increase your weight again or you can increase your sets and repetitions with that weight depending on your goals. This would be a common example of progressive overload.

Increase Tempo:

For increasing your tempo, focus on shortening your rest times in between sets. An example of this would be to take 30 second to 1 min rests in between each working set. If you had 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions you would take a 30 second rest between each set.

Increase Endurance:

For strength training you can focus on increasing your repetitions and lowering your weight load in those exercises.

For running you can focus on weekly time progressions. Slowly increasing time each week focusing on longer distances at a light to moderate intensity. See referenced examples below.

More Progressive Overload Examples:

Endurance Progression For Runners light to moderate intensity

  • Week 1: 20 minute pace
  • Week 4: 25-20 minute pace
  • Week 8: 30 minute pace

Weight Load Examples:

  • Example of a seated hamstring curl progression.
  • Week 1: 10-12 reps with 40lbs
  • Week 4: 10-12 reps 45lbs
  • Week 8: 10- 12 reps 50lbs

Increased Volume Examples:

  • Week 1: 10-12 reps squat bodyweight to moderate weight load
  • Week 3: 12-15 reps squat bodyweight to moderate weight load
  • Week 5: 15-20 reps squat bodyweight to moderate weight load

You should be sticking to a training program that is consistent and changing no sooner than 4-6 weeks. It can feel a little repetitive in the beginning but this is important for the success of your progression. It’s okay to change up some exercises in progressive overload training to give some variety but the underlying sets, reps, and rest times should remain consistent through those changes or modifications.


Sam Wallace

I am a fitness professional Located in Los Angeles, California. Fitness for me is not only a hobby, it changed my life.