What is Progressive Overload?

Many fitness enthusiasts are fairly committed to the gym and working out, but often perform the same routines with the same weights over and over again. They don’t see any changes in their bodies or increases in strength, and often excuse their lack of results with the mistaken belief that it takes many years to see any real changes.

As it turns out, the human body doesn’t change unless it is forced to do so. If your body doesn’t need to adapt by getting bigger or stronger, then it won’t.

Enter a concept known as progressive overload. Developed by Thomas Delorme, M.D. to help rehabilitating World War II soldiers, progressive overload is the the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise training.

The concept is beautifully simply and scientifically proven: In order for a muscle to grow, it must be overloaded. Doing so activates the natural adaptive processes of the human body, which develops to cope with the new demands placed on it. In addition to stronger and larger muscles, stronger and denser bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage are all resulted through progressive overloads.

There are 7 techniques to incorporate progressive overloads into your workout:

  1. Increase resistance. This means lifting more weight. If you normally do 8 repetitions, but are now able to do 9, it may be time to increase the weight. If you are new to working out, you may be able to increase weight by 5% - 10%. If you are more advanced, 2% - 5% may be more appropriate.
  2. Increase repetitions. If you normally do 6 repetitions of an exercise, try for the 7th rep. Once you can do the 7th rep, try for the 8th.
  3. Increase the sets. If you normally do 2 sets, try for a 3rd set. While the first set will get you a majority of the results and benefits, there are some additional benefits that can be yielded from additional sets. I generally don’t do more than 4 sets.
  4. Increase frequency. If you train your legs every 10 days, perhaps you can train them more often. It’s generally unwise to train a muscle that is still sore from a previous workout, but there may be an opportunity to hit certain muscle groups - especially those that are lagging - more frequently.
  5. Increase intensity and effort. Instead of going through your workout like a zombie, really crank up the effort. Sometimes working with a good partner or trainer can be a big help. Push yourself - or find someone that can do the pushing for you!
  6. Increase exercises. Maybe you do 3 different exercises for your biceps, or any other muscle group. Try introducing a 4th or 5th exercise to yield increased results.
  7. Decrease rest time. By doing more exercises in the same amount of time, your body will have to work harder and more efficiently.

You’ll need to map these 7 techniques to your exercise goals. For example, increasing the resistance is great for people that want larger muscles. Increasing the repetitions or decreasing rest time may be better suited for people that want increased definition or endurance training.

Whatever your goals, make this powerful time-tested technique work for you.

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. Great article Davey. I could maybe even add another increase, maybe lumped under increased intensity. But increasing concentration helps a lot too. Really FOCUS on contracting the muscle that you are working, and squeeze it like you are flexing to show it off.


  3. I am always thinking about these sort of things when working out, the other day i had less rest time and to be honest i feel so tired after that my legs are sore and wow just overload lol i just feel like sleeping. I saw the results of less rest time when working out, sweat was just coming out in big puddles all out on my arms when i was on the bike and all down my face i was amazed at how much more i was sweating just from decreasing my rest time, i got off the treadmill and used that time walking over to the bike to get my breath back and only stood there for about a minuite breathing in deeply (breathing is important and helps breath recovery a lot quicker) then got onto the bike, your right about having someone to push you though, i need someone there to help me, i think i might take up the offer of jogging with my uncle andrew, my stamina isn’t that good and i want to increase that. Also when you start toning arms the trainers give you 1kg weights to use but those are far too easy for anyone, take it upon yourself to use the 2kg weight, if that’s still easy use the 3kg but id use the 2kg to start with.

  4. syabonga mdladla says:

    It really working for me thank I now can see the different


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