When it comes to building strength and mass, one of the most important factors is the “progressive overload.”
Progressive overload essentially boils down to a very simple definition: each time you train, you work harder.?Actually creating a progressive overload that you can track, however, can be a bit challenging if you’re not entirely sure where to begin.
I’ve taken three of the most common methods of progressive overload and detailed them below. Once you get the concept of how overload works, you can move on to more and more advanced systems of strength training. But start with this; even if you’re just looking to bust a plateau; and you’ll have a great system in place for always progressing in your workouts.
1. Longer Sets
Building a longer set over time (going from 8 to 12 reps) is a good way to build muscle endurance and train for overall strength. You won’t see advantages in size, but the functional strength of the muscles will definitely increase over time, making this a good place for new exercisers to start.
Acquiring a longer set takes time, but is definitely worth the effort. All that’s really required here is that you add more reps to your sets while keeping the actual weight the same.
For example, you might be doing a chest routine with 25 lb. dumbbells. Rather than increase the weight from week to week (as in the next example), you might take four weeks at this weight level, but increase your reps in each set gradually from 8 reps to 12. Once you reach 12 reps, you’ll be strong enough to increase your weight comfortably to the next level, starting over again at 8 reps.
A good pattern for a four-week routine is to go 8 reps in week 1, 10 in week 2, 11 in week 3, and 12 in week 4. After that, increase the weight by a standard increment (2.5 or 5 lbs for smaller muscle groups, and up to 20 lbs for larger muscle groups (be smart about this). If you find you can do 8 reps at a certain level, but at the end of four weeks you’re still struggling with 10, you may want to back off by a half increment just until you’re able to ramp back up to 12.
2. More Weight
This is the bodybuilder’s go-to method, and one that generally builds the biggest muscles over time. If you work to the increase the number of reps per set, as above, for four weeks, consider following it with four weeks of this method of overload.
The process is fairly simple: each week, increase the amount of weight you lift for each exercise without increasing the number of reps. If you find the last of eight reps is a struggle this week (which it should be), increase the weight slightly next week. You should find that it’s the same amount of difficulty, as your muscles adapt to the previous week’s load.
You will reach a point where adding more weight just isn’t possible. That’s the point you’re looking for (it’s your max weight at that particular rep level). Good. Now take that weight, and spend the next four weeks increasing your reps (as in method 1., above). If you’re eating properly, resting between workouts, and keeping your form correct, you should be able to move forward to the next increment after a period of working with what was once your heaviest manageable weight. Obviously there are limits…you’re not likely to do dumbbell curls of 200 lbs, after all. But you can still create increases that are challenging enough to cause your muscles to grow. When that happens, you’ll be in the zone for the third form of overload.
3. Higher Density
Increasing training density is a more advanced strategy for overload, and is sort of a hybrid method. It’s best purpose is actually to increase fat burning through the production of lactic acid and the resultant release of Growth hormone.
Density training consists of setting a time limit for a set, and trying to increase the number of reps within that time limit.
Let’s say you’re able to comfortably do 8 reps in about 30 seconds with a reasonable amount of effort. Your next workout, your goal should be to accomplish 10 reps of the same movement in the same amount of time.
For those interested in building bigger muscles, ?max out at 15 reps during the assigned time. After that, you’ll need to increase the weight so you’re back to a slower pace. Over 15 reps will start to level off your growth response and slow down metabolic work as the GH levels don’t spike as high.