Is progressive overload the key to improvement?

What is Progressive Overload?
To make the most of any gym program, it is essential that an effective plan follows the basic principles of periodisation. An important component in all gym programme is to implement the progressive overload principle. Following the use of the progressive overload principle, you can build up your strength and work capacity in a logical and systematic way. This method promotes a safe practice which maximises workout potential.
The principle of progressive overload is when you place a higher than normal demand on the exercising muscle, this will then create a training adaptation. Without an overload on the body, training adaptations will not take place which overall stops progression in the gym. During this principle, neuromuscular adaptations occur initially, increases in bone mass and muscle then follow (1). However, major performance gains take time and dedication, but are possible if you consistently progress your workouts.
Avoid a Plateau
Performing the same workout with no sign of a progressive overload involved can cause performance to plateau. Although a plateau can show you’ve found an initial improvement in your training, it also shows it’s time to adapt your workout.
The main benefit of progressive overload is that it will stop your body from plateauing. By altering or advancing your workouts, you will keep challenging your body and improve performance (2).
Key Tips
  • Must be done gradually, increasing too fast may cause injury.
  • Progressive Overload should be used only when you have mastered the exercise and can perform it with the correct form.
  • If you are lacking the skills and knowledge to pursue this training method, you can work with a certified personal trainer in a gym or online who can help create a personal plan to safely guide you through a progressive overload plan.
  • You are exerting a new stimulus on the body, ensure that you have sufficient rest and recovery between workouts.
Manipulating the “overload” can be done in a variety of ways, this includes:
  • Specificity
  • Frequency
  • Duration
  • Intensity
Increase Weight
  • Week 1: Perform barbell shoulder press with 8kg weight for 8 reps
  • Week 2: Perform barbell shoulder press with 10kg weight for 8 reps
  • Week 3: Perform barbell shoulder press with 12kg weight for 8 reps
Increase Volume
  • Week 1: Perform Chest Press with 60kg weight for 6 reps
  • Week 2: Perform Chest Press with 60kg weight for 8 reps
  • Week 3: Perform Chest Press with 60kg weight for 10 reps
Increase Intensity
  • Week 1: Run for 20 minutes at 8km/h
  • Week 2: Run for 20 minutes at 9km/h
  • Week 3: Run for 20 minutes at 10km/h
1. Kavanaugh, A. (2007). The Role of Progressive Overload in Sports Conditioning. Conditioning Foundamentals. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, 6(1).
2. Peterson, M. D., Pistilli, E., Haff, G. G., Hoffman, E. P., & Gordon, P. M. (2011). Progression of volume load and muscular adaptation during resistance exercise. European journal of applied physiology, 111(6), 1063-1071.