Fri. Dec 9th, 2022

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

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, which will not be rushed or ignored. Knowing what you are doing in the gym is essential, not wasting time and energy. The progressive overload training principle helps you maximize your gym efforts without wasting energy or time. Also, it allows you to get excellent results and pack on the muscle.

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

The goal here is to give you the information to get results and back it up with scientific data. Muscle hypertrophy as a concept has been well researched, and there are no surprises for scientifically building muscle in the gym. Specific numbers correlate with your biology and workout to dictate muscle hypertrophy. Even though everyone’s results and biology are different, math is not. So 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, that as the volume of weight increases, so do the muscles that lift it. You can find the volume of weight 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 you must follow the principle of progressive overload training for individuals to increase muscle size with weightlifting continually. Most bodybuilders follow this principle by increasing the number of sets performed per exercise session. However, the study concluded that increasing the sets performed was inadequate 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, instead of 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

Focusing on change is key to using the progressive overload training principle. 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 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 critical 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 immediately 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 the volume moved. The faster you 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 curl. Volume is a composite index and the most straightforward progressive overload unit. Subsequently, once you 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 days and seconds, you add a fourth dimension to the progressive overload training principle.

Table 2

Experienced trainees must be more deliberate and focused on creating muscle hypertrophy. Gym rats must use a combination of overload techniques to get results. For example, in Table 2, the experienced trainee used various progressive overload techniques, as highlighted in yellow. Except for 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 more muscle fiber; once muscles adapt to training, the training no longer causes trauma or hypertrophy.

What 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 averages will vary depending on genetics, diet, age, behaviors, and environment. Other factors, such as supplements and steroids, can cause far more significant muscle hypertrophy. However, the proper 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 make you significant gains. Many experts train and create free customized workout programs and diets for you.

The last word on how to use progressive overload to build muscle

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 positive results and plateau even faster if they do not routinely change their workout program. The progressive overload training principle equals muscle hypertrophy. The greater the progressive overload you use, the greater the hypertrophy you cause. Conversely, the smaller the progressive overload, the smaller the muscle hypertrophy you cause.

By Terry Clark

Terry Clark is a math professor, certified fitness trainer, bodybuilding coach, nutrition specialist, writer, and fitness enthusiast. Terry loves working out, playing with numbers, solving problems, writing, and teaching.

One thought on “Progressive Overload – How to Best Build Muscle”
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