The Key to Gains – Progressive Overload

Gains… The holy grail of the bodybuilding world. We’re all chasing them and it’s why we do what we do. But how do we get them? Well, it’s not because of that “anabolic window” (hopefully we left that in 2017). It’s not because of “fasted cardio”. It’s not because you consumed 3 protein shakes. The easiest way to gainsville is a simple concept called Progressive Overload. In the words of DJ Khaled… “MAJOR KEY!”

To put this term in simple terms, Progressive Overload is literally the process of progressively overloading your muscles. If you’re looking at your progress in terms of a graph then you want to continue to trend up & to the right (little corporate world reference). The human body will always find the easiest path and it will not change (aka progress) unless it is forced to. In order to get bigger and stronger and acquire more gains, you must continually make your muscles work harder than they’re used to.

How do I do that Dan?

Great question, thought you’d never ask. I’m sure many of you are simply thinking that you need to increase your resistance (aka more weight)…

bodybuilding humor

But Progressive Overload can be quantified in many more ways than just weight lifted. Lets dive into the different sections.

Increase the Resistance

Lol, I would start here huh? Lifting the same weight every single time you go is only going to take you to a certain level. In order to level up, your muscles are going to have to experience something heavier. It doesn’t have to be anything astronomical. Simply adding an extra 5lbs to a lift can be all it takes to challenge yourself in new way.

Increase the Reps

Squatting 135lbs for 12 reps > Squatting 135lbs for 10 reps. Simply put, you have lifted more total weight with 12 reps. So perhaps going up in weight is something your body is not ready for. And that’s ok. Focus on adding an extra rep here and there, even if those few extra reps are less smooth than normal.


Many of the workout programs out there are blanket workouts. Reps ranges are arbitrary. If you’re lifting a weight for a prescribed 10 reps but that is incredibly easy for you, then feel free to add more reps. When it comes to rep ranges, 8 – 12 is consistently back by science as ideal hypertrophy ranges (the muscle building sweet spot). Once you hit here, increasing weight might be the next step.

Increase the Volume

Every workout you do has a total volume. That is sets x rep x weight. So if your workout simply consisted of 10 sets of 10 reps with 10lbs that would give you a total volume of 1,000lbs. If you’re being diligent about tracking your workouts, your goal for the next one would be shoot for 1,100lbs lifting. That could be adding one more set or one more rep per set.

Increase the Frequency

If you’re only training a body part once a week, then you are severely limiting your potential. After about 48 hours, your muscle should be recovered and ready for optimal muscle building and protein synthesis.


If you feel like you have a lagging body part (for me it was those damn hamstrings), then adding an additional day a week to hit that body part will ramp up your Progressive Overload efforts. Frequency is a tool but as is the case with most tools, it can be detrimental. By that I mean – do not over do it. This will lead to overtraining, lack of recovery and diminished gains.

Decrease Rest Times

The only decrease on the list. As mentioned above in the opening paragraphs, the human body does not change unless we force it. It wants to take all the time in the world to recover in between sets. So if you’re serious about gains (and I know you are), you need to teach your body to be ok with 45 seconds in between sets instead of 1 minute.

Decreasing your rest times requires your body to become more metabolically efficient when it comes to resistance training.

Now!… I have given you 5 tools to add to your Batman utility belt and chase Progressive Overload. However, as we are all chasing that holy grail of gains, it is easy to go balls to the wall. Please don’t! Focus on one at a time and make adjustments as you go. Remember, I said up & to the right… Not just up!

So with a much better understanding of Progressive Overload, I hope it helps you in your efforts in the gym and you come out with some precious, shiny, new gains.

Happy Training!




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