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progressive overload

How To Use Progressive Overload To Build Muscle

If you don’t already know, progressive overload is the single most important factor when it comes to building muscle. Let’s look at how we can use progressive overload to get the maximum gains possible.

Have you been going to the gym 5 or 6 times a week and lifting weights but still are unable to see good muscle gains?

Then you might be doing the same mistake that I was. And that mistake was trying to perform workouts at the gym without the goal of progressive overload.

This frustrated me for many months because I thought I was doing all that I could to build muscle but still wasn’t seeing good results.

And then I started doubting and questioning myself.

Did I have bad genetics? Did I not spend enough time at the gym? Was I not eating right?

But I knew that most people have average genetics. I did spend a good 5 days per week at the gym. And while my diet was not the best it was pretty decent.

And that is when I learned about something called as progressive overload and how it is the key to building muscle.

In this post, we will learn:

  • What is progressive overload?
  • What are some of the ways to achieve progressive overload?

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is a process of trying to put more stress on your muscles so that they need to adapt and grow bigger and stronger.

Without progressive overload, your muscles don’t have any reason to grow bigger.

For example, consider an exercise like the bench press. As a beginner, when you start using the bench press, maybe you may start with lifting 40kg for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Maybe, you may get close to failure on your last repetitions.

Now, after a few weeks of doing this, your chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles will have grown. So, when you bench press the same weight of 40kg for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, you might feel it is easy.

You might not even reach failure after all the 10 repetitions.

This shows that your body has adapted and your muscles have grown stronger. But it also means that you have plateaued and won’t be able to increase your chest muscle.

In order to do that, you will need to use progressive overload by changing some of the variables as we will see later.

You could increase the weight and do 3 sets of 10 repetitions with 45kgs. Or you could increase the repetitions and do 3 sets of 12 repetitions with 40kgs. Or you could add one more set and do 4 sets of 10 repetitions with 40kgs.

What are some of the ways to achieve progressive overload?

There are several ways to achieve progressive overload as we can see below.

Increase the weight that you lift

The simplest way that you can try to achieve progressive overload is to keep adding more weight to your lifts.

So, if you were doing the bench press with 40kg weight for 8 repetitions, then the next workout you can try to bench press with 45kg for the same repetitions.

Now, how much weight you can add and how quickly will depend on your lifting experience. Beginners can easily keep adding weight every week till their newbie gains.

Intermediate lifters can maybe add weight every month or couple of months. And it might be very hard for experienced lifters to add weight frequently. They may have to resort to other methods of achieving progressive overload.

Increase the repetitions for the exercise

Another way of achieving progressive overload is to increase the repetitions that you perform in each set.

So, if you were doing the bench press with 40kg weight for 8 repetitions, then the next workout you can try to bench press 40kg weight for 9 repetitions.

For maximum muscle growth, you can keep your repetitions between 6 to 12 so that you can get the maximum volume while lifting heavy weights.

Increase the sets for the exercise

An alternative way to achieve progressive overload is to increase the number of sets that you perform for an exercise.

So, if you perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions for squats then you can increase the workload to 4 sets of 8 repetitions.

This will increase the workload for your muscles and will put you on the path to getting maximum muscle gains.

Increase the frequency of your training

Another way to achieve progressive overload is to try and increase the frequency of training.

For example, if you are using a bro split and training each muscle group once per week then you can use a push, pull, legs split so that you can hit those muscle groups twice per week.

The more frequently you can hit your major muscles like chest, back, legs, etc, the better can you achieve progressive overload. Of course, as a natural lifter, you should allow sufficient rest of at least 48 hours before you hit the same major muscle groups.

For the smaller muscles such as biceps, abs, calves, etc, you can hit them even up to 4 times per week because they recover quickly.

Increase the intensity of your workout

A lot of people at the gym waste their time on phones, socializing, or just spending too much time between sets.

If you are one of them, then you can easily achieve progressive overload by just increasing the intensity of your workouts.

Now, you don’t need to go to failure on your sets and neither do you need to pass out during your workouts.

But you definitely need to focus on what you are doing during your workouts and maintain the intensity in your lifts by trying to push your body to its limits.

Once you start doing this, you will definitely start seeing some good muscle gains.


I hope this post has shown you what progressive overload is and how you can use it to gain the maximum muscle possible with optimal efforts.

If you have any questions about progressive overload or working out, please let us know in the comments below.

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