Guide to progressive overload (including expert muscle-building tips)

What is progessive overload? 

Progressive overload means being able to handle more weights over time. For today’s post, I gathered expert tips from two of my favourite articles that I have found on progressive overload.

Expert guides on hypetrophy 

The first article in this review is called “The ten rules of progressive overload” and is written by Bret Contreras. The second one is called “Muscle Hypertrophy- How to build muscle” by Roope Uitto and is taken from Wodconnect blog. 

Here is a link to both of these insightful articles: 

  1. Bret Conteras article on progressive overload

2. Robert Uitto article on maximizing muscle hypertrophy

Use these as resources to optimize your training program 

What is wonderful is that both of these articles go into details in their own ways. One is excellent at deepening your understanding of progressive overload and strength while the other one provides a solid guide to load, volume and training frequency.

Furthermore, they both provide useful perspectives to center training around if you find that your program needs tweaking.

Why is progressive overload important? 

Understanding progressive overload will allow you to better understand the principles required to build muscle. Primarily involved in this process is the concept of body adaptations. Simply, the stronger you get, the more your body adapts to the stimulus. 

Aiming to get stronger in a myriad of ways over time is going to lead to body adaptations for the process of hypertrophy and overall muscle development. 

Review of Bret Contreras’ article“10 rules for progressive overload”:  

This article was wonderfully written and is quite succinct in it’s exploration of progressive overload. It outlines many of the factors required for getting stronger and can be used in order to enrich further learning on the subject required for hypertrophy. I broke down this article into just a few points that I found noteworthy. 

First takeaway: According to Bret Contreras, progressive overload starts with “whatever you can achieve in perfect technical form” (Contreras, 2019).

Practical application: Do not compare your training to anybody else’s (this includes not being tempted to follow Instagram female fitness model’s training styles). 

Additionally, only measure your success according to how you are doing. Role models can be useful but they are no measure to how well or successful you are or have the potential to be. 

Second takeaway: Bret states that “Progressive overload is not a linear process” (Contreras, 2019). This means that the process of gaining strength requires a different perspective and one that ideally anticipates peaks in strengths on certain lifts and days.

Practical application: Reframe your expectations of fitness so that you enjoy the process and not the destination. 

Third takeaway: Bret’s principle stipulates that “Progressive overload should never be a priority over having proper form”(Contreras, 2019).

Practical application: Train with the intent of perfecting form and you have a higher chance of avoiding injury and increasing probability of long-term strength gains. 

I will add that the boredom associated with repetitive weight routines and training is not a bad thing. It does not mean it got easier, nor does it mean that the training program needs fixing. 

The better you are at sitting through the boring bits (fixing your squat form, using less weights and correcting deadlift technique), the higher chance you have at actually utilizing the power of progressive overload. 

Fourth takeaway: Progressive overload requires standardized technique. The only way to test actual (vs.perceived) strength is to perform the lift the exact same way every time. 

Practical application: In his article, Bret recommended using standardized technique in the form of “thrusting to full lock out for the hip thrust and squatting below parallel” (Contreras, 2019). He also recommended “controlling the weight throughout the entire range of motion (ROM)” (Contreras, 2019).

I quite like this point and I do not see it stressed enough. For this reason, I will elaborate on it a little more.   

Do not be tempted to measure strength by heavy weights. If your form is off and you are managing to lift a heavier amount of weight, it is not a quality rep and may not indicate actual strength. 

My advice (supported by my experience as a lifter):

Add in a third-person perspective to your training: Seeing as though strength training is highly subjective for the participant, aim to control the weight throughout the entire execution and only start adding weights once you can execute the lift within a range that would be acceptable if somebody else were to perform it as you are doing.

A third person perspective also can help you visualize your lifts so why not start applying a third person perspective to being mindful of both your form and execution. This will ensure that you attain progressive overload.

Review of Roope Uitto’s article “Muscle Hypertrophy-How to Build Muscle” 

I recommend checking out this article if you want some pretty solid advice on volume, load and training frequency for optimal muscle growth.The article was pretty straight-forward so I went and organized accordingly. 

Volume: 

Finding of a study by Schoenfeld et al. (2017b) examined the relationship between hypertrophy and volume. The study concluded that weekly volume of at least 10 sets per body part is ideal for hypertrophy of that muscle. (Uitto , 2018)

Load: 

Schoenfeld et al. (2017a) also investigated what the optimal load is for muscle growth. The findings recommend a high load as opposed to low loading. Additionally, the load was recommended at 65%-80% of 1RM according to the comparison between low-load and high-load for hypertrophy.

Finally, the study found that higher rep ranges are more optimal for muscle growth. (Uitto , 2018)

Frequency:

The suggested frequency for training per body part, according to Uitto’s article, was once of twice a week for beginners. Frequency was more increased for advanced lifters. Simply, hypertrophy was found to be optimized when fatigue was at it’s lowest and volume was managed. (Uitto , 2018) 

woman standing in front of exercise equipment

Some practical take-aways to help with your training: 

-Train each muscle group at least twice a week (Uitto , 2018).

-Adjust your training every 8-12 weeks by adding new exercises (Uitto , 2018).

I hope that you guys enjoyed this article on progressive overload, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below. 

References:

Contreras, B. (2019, January 08). The Ten Rules of Progressive Overload. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://bretcontreras.com/progressive-overload/

Uitto, R. (2018, November 26). Muscle hypertrophy – how to build muscle? Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.wodconnect.com/blog/posts/muscle-hypertrophy-how-to-build-muscle

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