Home Resistance Training - How to Get in Shape Faster Progressive Overload – How to Use Training Principles to Build Muscle

Progressive Overload – How to Use Training Principles to Build Muscle

Progressive Overload Training

How do you use the progressive overload training principle to build muscle in the gym? When it comes to building muscle in the gym, volume is king. But at some point, your body adapts to the volume and no longer responds to it. By continuing to do the same workout over and over again, eventually, you will reach a plateau. There is only one way to avoid a plateau. Regardless of how you see it, the progressive overload training principle guarantees optimal muscle hypertrophy.

But how do we use the progressive overload training principle to get the results we are looking for in the gym. There is a process and limit to muscle hypertrophy, and it will not be rushed or ignored. It is important to know what you are doing in the gym, not waste time and energy. The progressive overload training principle helps you maximize your gym efforts without wasting energy or time. Also, it helps you to get amazing results and pack on the muscle.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the progressive overload training principle.

The goal here is to give you the information you need to get results and back it up with scientific data. Muscle hypertrophy as a concept has been well researched, and there are no surprises when it comes to scientifically building muscle in the gym. In fact, there are specific numbers that correlate with your biology and workout to dictate muscle hypertrophy. Even though everyone’s results and biology are different, the math is not.  Let’s get you those results!

What is the progressive overload training principle?

It is one of the seven granddaddy principles that has been around since the dawn of bodybuilding. You cannot build muscle without progressive overload. There is a correlation between the volume of weight you lift and your muscle size. The relationship is a direct relationship. Large muscles lift large volumes of weight. The principle states, as the volume of weight increases, so do the muscles that lift it. The volume of weight can be found by multiplying the weight, repetition, and sets together. The volume of weight is a composite index. It is one number that represents many factors that cause muscle hypertrophy.

A scientific research study on the frequency: the overlooked resistance training variable for inducing muscle hypertrophy, was conducted in 2016.

The study found that the principle of progressive overload training must be followed for individuals to increase muscle size with weightlifting continually. Most bodybuilders follow this principle by increasing the number of sets performed per exercise session. The study concluded that increasing the sets performed was not an effective method for muscle hypertrophy once the person reached a certain threshold. Subsequently, the study asserted that the training frequency could increase the attenuated muscle protein synthetic response to resistance training in trained individuals. This would allow for more frequent elevations in muscle protein synthesis and more time spent in a positive net protein balance. Finally, the study found that increasing the training frequency, as opposed to the training load or set performed, could be a more appropriate strategy for trained individuals to increase muscle size.

How to use the progressive overload principle to build muscle?

Table 1

Progressive overload training principle


The key to using the progressive overload training principle is to focus on change. In the beginning, almost any type of change works. But at some point, you reach a genetic ceiling, a plateau. The two types of plateaus are the amount of muscle you can build in a short amount of time and the amount of muscle you can build over your life. The amount of muscle you can build in a short amount of time is the most frequent plateau most bodybuilders reach first. Three important factors that prevent plateaus are:

  1. weight x repetitions x sets = Volume
  2. volume x workout days = Volume Frequency
  3. volume ÷ total time (seconds) = Volume Rate

In Table 1, notice how change begins right away with the novice trainee. That is because the trainee went from doing nothing to a workout. A change in volume causes a change in muscles. By combining volume with time in days or seconds, you create power. Power is defined by volume moved over time. The faster you can move a heavier weight, the more power you use. It is the power that determines the size of the muscles.

Simply put, bigger muscles are more powerful than smaller muscles.

For example, your legs are bigger than your arms, so you can squat more than you can curl. Volume is a composite index and is the simplest unit of progressive overload. Subsequently, once you start to reach your genetic ceiling, volume no longer provides the same stimulus. Experienced trainees rely on volume frequency and volume rates to cause change at the next level. Considering the time in days and seconds, you add a fourth dimension to the progressive overload training principle.

Table 2

Progressive Overload Training Principle

Experienced trainees must be more deliberate and focused on creating muscle hypertrophy. Typically gym rats must use a combination of overload techniques to get results. In Table 2, notice how the experienced trainee used a combination of progressive overload techniques, as highlighted in yellow. For the exception of weeks zero and one, a progressive overload occurred every week.  By combining multiple overload techniques, you prevent muscle and neurological adaptation. Muscle adaptation happens when muscles master a workout without incorporating new or more muscle fiber; once muscles adapt to a workout, the workout no longer causes trauma or hypertrophy.

What kind of results can you expect from using a progressive overload to build muscle in the gym?

Traditionally a trainee can expect to gain 1 to 2 pounds of muscle each month and 40 to 50 pounds of muscle in a lifetime. These expectations create logistical limits that cause plateaus in resistance training. Of course, these are averages and will vary depending on genetics, diet, age, behaviors, and environment. Other factors, such as supplements and steroids, can cause far more significant muscle hypertrophy. The right workout and diet can save time and place you on the fast track to muscle hypertrophy. Investing in a customized workout program and diet from a certified fitness trainer or nutritionist can save you time and provide you with significant gains. Many experts train and create free customized workout programs and diets for you to use.

Chest- Post Exhaustion Workout


In Summary

If you are starting, keep it simple because almost everything works at the beginning. Going from no workout to a workout is a significant progressive overload. A volume of zero pounds to a volume of thousands is a massive change, but it will not take long for the body to adapt, catch up to the workout program,  and plateau. This guarantees that beginners will get fast positive results and plateau even faster if they do not routinely change their workout program. Progressive overload training principle equals muscle hypertrophy. The greater the progressive overload, the greater the hypertrophy. The smaller the progressive overload, the smaller the muscle hypertrophy.


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