Progressive Overload- The Best Bodybuilding Technique?

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Progressive overload as a concept is the cornerstone of bodybuilding. Without it you can literally make no gains. Read on to know more!

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is a term given to a concept which allows you to push your body to achieve greater limits, thus increasing the stress on your body. Resistance training by it’s fundamental nature is such that the higher the stress that is applied, the higher the response rate from your body which furthermore means the higher the muscle gains.

How many times have you seen a person come in the gym and then do one of two things. Either  they will exercise for 15-20 minutes and socialize for an hour or they will come in for the same time, do the same exercises, with the same weights for the same reps. Undoubtedly then these individuals will sadly stay the same i.e. have the same physique throughout the year. 

However there is a third kind of person. Who are there to maintain the physique that they have developed, while peeling off little bits of body fat but it doesn’t take 3-4 hours in the gym to achieve this. These are the people who work hard with the right mindset for a gym goer but do not have sound nutrition and are majorly lacking in their diet.

So what is progressive overload? It’s simply increasing the amount of resistance on your body forcing it go grow and the best thing is that it doesn’t just apply to training. It’s the same for cardio exercises and even nutrition.

Progressive overload

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How do you employ progressive overload?

Progressive Overload can be achieved in multiple ways. Before we give you multiple examples of how this can be achieved, let’s understand some basic concepts. A 1RM or a 1 rep-max is quite literally, a particular weight that you can lift for 1 rep. Now let’s imagine you are doing a particular exercise, namely everyones favorite exercises for biceps, the standing curl. If you are performing this exercise with 10kg for 1 rep, then your 1RM for biceps is 10kg.

Knowing this, lets just say you are doing the same exercise with 5kg for 10 reps and 3 sets. Your biceps will develop but eventually after a while, they will hit a plateau. What this means is that your biceps will now not develop anymore if you continue with 5kg for 10 reps and 3 sets. What you need to do is to shock the bicep by putting a even bigger stimulus on it!

Here are just some of the ways you can achieve progressive overload training:

  • Increase the weights- The simplest out of the lot. The moment you increase the weights, your muscles are forced to adapt to the harsher resistance. Taking the same example, if you started doing bicep curls with 8kg, then your biceps would be forced to adapt to harsher conditions. Increase your weights based on your workout 1RM’s and don’t unnecessarily opt for the heaviest weights without learning proper form otherwise you are susceptible to common workout injuries.

  • Increase the repetitions- The flip side of the coin. If you are doing curls with 5kg for 10 reps and start doing 15 reps then your body automatically has to cope up with more. The thing to note is that don’t be fixated by a magical number. There’s no magical rep scheme and you need to try and experiment with what works for you. Another disclaimer being one should not go for really high reps like 20reps and above regularly, if your goal is muscle building, because that will lead to muscular endurance.

  • Increase the sets- The sets is the total volume of work that is done in the gym. Lets look at some numbers. If you are doing 10 reps for 3 sets then you’re doing 30 reps in total. Now you bump it to 5 sets and you’ve got 50 reps in total! Thats almost a 66% increase in working capacity. By now you’ve understood how valuable this will be in a progressive overload program. Increase the sets fellas!

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  •  Increase the exercises- This is a brilliant move for sculpting out the weak areas and is a technique that advanced bodybuilders know. If you’ve been training for a while, you’d know what body parts are lacking in your physique and what stand out. So if you shoulders are lagging then doing multiple exercises for shoulders like the Overhead Press, Lateral Raises and Rear Deltoid Fly’s will help sculpt out that body part in a better way.

  • Increase frequency- The frequency means the number of days that you hit a particular muscle group. Naturally if you hit a muscle group more than once, you are putting more stress on it, thus shocking the muscle. This also is a good technique to develop your weak areas, once you have sufficiently trained consistently for some time.

  • Decrease Rest- Strictly speaking this isn’t a progressive overload technique but allows you to more work in a less amount of time. The ideal training mindset of an athlete or even a casual gym goer should be to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. Supersets, Trisets and other advanced bodybuilding techniques come supremely useful here. 

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  • Increase Intensity- Last but definitely not the least and the most powerful option in your arsenal, is that you can always ramp up the intensity of your working set. Don’t believe it? Well the famous multiple-time Olympia Winner and one of the best olympia physiques, Dorian Yates just did 1 working set but the intensity was such that he could not lift another rep after he was done. Increasing the intensity works because if you are just lifting the weight and yawning as opposed to grunting and sweating and barely able to lift the weight. Got the difference? You decide now.

Thus the principle of progressive overload is not broscience. It’s a concept that’s stood the test of time in all eras of bodybuilding. Be it Arnold or Dorian Yates, everyone is a fan.

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