Do you remember when you first started training? Chances are if you put in a good effort in the gym and the kitchen you made substantial progress in a short period of time. Every time you’d go to the gym, you’d be eager to beat the lifts you made in your last training session, and most of the time you would. This steady progression in the poundages you were able to handle in the gym came hand in hand with new muscle growth, and all was good in the world. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, as all new gym-goers find out, this state of uninterrupted gains doesn’t last long. Most find themselves frustrated by a lack of progress (in comparison to when they first started), and begin to try different nutrition, training, and cardio programs. They lose sight of what caused the progress they enjoyed in the beginning: progressively increasing the load they subjected their muscles to, or progressive overload.
This is because after the initial period of what many like to call the “newbie gains”, it is HARD to continue to progressively overload your muscles. You aren’t looking to add 15lbs to your bench-press week in and week out as when you first started. Instead you’re looking for an extra rep with the same weight you’ve used in the previous three training sessions. The down and dirty, best way to describe progressive overload training is this: finding some way, no matter how small or trivial, to make this session harder on your muscles than the last so you can force a growth response.
Now that we’ve loosely defined what progressive overload is, let’s talk about HOW to make things harder on your muscles. The two most obvious and popular ways to do this is:
• by increasing the reps you’re doing on each set; or
• doing the same number of reps as your previous session, but with a heavier weight.
The obvious aside, let’s go over some other ways we can make our workouts more intense:
1. Decrease Rest Time: By decreasing rest time in between sets, you reduce your body’s ability to recover from the prior set. Aim to rest no longer than it takes to catch your breath, which is an indication that your body has canceled the oxygen deficit caused by the previous set.
2. Rep Tempo: There are 4 portions to a single repetition of an exercise: full contraction, full stretch, the eccentric (lengthening of the muscle), and the concentric. Increase the time spent in any portion of the rep, and the rep becomes harder. The positions that offer the most benefit when modified are the eccentric and the fully stretched portions of the rep.
3. Forced Reps: Much as the name suggests, forced reps are reps that you complete with the assistance of a spotter. By having a spotter assist you in completing a rep or two beyond what you are capable of by yourself, you are able to go past the point of failure. This is because while you weren’t capable of producing enough force to complete the rep, you were still able to produce a large amount of force on the reps you were assisted with.
4. Rest-pause: This technique is one where you perform a set to failure, rack the weight, take a small rest, and then lift the weight to failure again. This technique works best with a weight you can lift for 8-10 reps before reaching failure; resting approximately 15-20 seconds, and then going to failure again (aim to get AT LEAST 4 reps).
Now that you are aware of some more ways you can progressively overload your muscles, I want to challenge you to truly make every workout harder than the last.
Here’s a useful idea that will help accelerate your progress: Buy yourself a logbook, or use your smartphone, to keep detailed notes about the sets, reps, and weights you use in each workout. Keep in mind that every time you step into the gym you are competing against yourself and what you did last training session. This will give accurate goals to shoot for!
Try these time-proven progressive overload training techniques today, and watch your gains take off again!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.