Weights

Bodybuilding: How to do progressive overload?

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload simply refers to a gradual increase in weights. For example, one day you’ll lift 10kg on a shoulder press and once your body has adapted, the 10kg will no longer be heavy enough. Therefore, you should increase your weights to progress further. Consequently, forcing our bodies to grow and adapt.

How to do progressive overload?

Whether you are just starting out or you have been training for a while, the same principle applies for progressive overload.

If your goal is hypertrophy (muscle building), progressive overload is certainly the way to go.

Progressive overload: Where to start?

Firstly, before you start progressively overload, you should measure your strength and power. Muscular strength refers to the maximum amount of force that a muscle can generate. Whereas, power refers to the degree of ‘explosiveness’ with which force can be applied. Strength and speed are two components of power.

Strength x speed = Power

How to measure muscular strength?

One of the best methods to measure muscular strength is using the method called 1-REP MAX. 1-REP MAX determines the maximum load a person can lift for one complete repetition. This means that we will assess the heaviest weight you can lift for 1 rep.

For example, let’s say we are measuring your upper body strength with bench press. We will choose a weight that is suspected to be 70-80% of the maximum weight you can lift. If you manage to lift it for one rep, we will then add more weights. For every rep that you are able to lift, we will add weights until you can no longer lift. When we reach to the weight that you can no longer lift, we would have exceeded your 1 REP MAX. Therefore, the weight before that would be your 1 REP MAX.

Exercises that measure your upper body strength

  • Bench Press
  • Shoulder Press
  • Back lateral pull
  • Bicep curls

Exercises that measure your lower body strength

  • Squats
  • Leg Press

How to measure power?

As we have previously mentioned, power is the ‘explosiveness’  with which force can be applied with. Therefore, there are different ways of measuring your power.

One of the methods to measure your power includes Vertical jump test. The vertical jump test aims to measure leg and general anaerobic power. The procedure is to dip your fingers into chalk and stand aside a wall. Make a mark on the wall by raising your arm as high as possible without lifting your heels off the ground. This is how you measure the height of your standing reach. You can then bend your knees, and jumping as high as possible without taking a step whilst marking the wall again. Measure the distance between the two marks and repeat test 2 times. Take the best of 3 times.

If you don’t have a chalk or don’t plan to buy one, there is another test you can use. This test is called the standing long jump test. Stand at a mark with feet slightly apart, swing the arms and bend the knees to jump forward as far as possible. Take off and land with both feet. Make a mark behind your heels upon landing. Measure the distance between two marks but re-do the test 2 more times. Then, take the best of 3.

Choosing your weights

Once you have figured out your power and strength, choose a weight with which you’d like to start progressing with. For hypertrophy, we would suggest using 70-80% of your 1REP MAX.

You’d like to ensure that you can really feel the weights. If the above recommendation is not heavy enough, increase the weights but if you feel that it is too heavy, simply reduce it. The basic rule of thumb is to be able to lift 8 reps with a degree of difficulty. Don’t be nice on yourself. Turn on that beast mode!

Begin progressive overload.

Firstly, using the weights you have chosen to start with, your sets and reps should begin at 3 x 8 (3 sets x 8 reps).  A rep is the number of times you perform a specific exercise, and a set is the number of cycles of reps that you complete.

The next step

The next progressive overload is to increase reps. For example, using the same weights, keep sets to 3 x 10 reps. This should happen on your second gym session where you exercise the same muscle groups.

The final step

Your last progressive overload is to simply increase reps again. This means, do 3 sets of 12 reps. This should occur on your third training session of the same muscle group.

Once you have completed this cycle, you are ready to increase your weights. We recommend increasing weights by approximately 1.5-2.5kg. Do the same  for every muscle group to avoid muscle imbalance. You don’t want a muscly chest with chicken legs do you?!

The visual guide

Conclusion

Progressive overload is the gradual increase in weights. Before increasing weights, it is important to increase volume to strengthen the muscles to prepare them for the increase in weights. Then, you simply re-do the cycle.

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