Progressive Overload – How to reach any goal

The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results. Yet this is what most people are doing in the gym every single week. Speak with any gym bro and he would be able to reel off his chest press routine to the T. The same gym routine, the same weight lifted but somehow expecting their bodies to make massive progress.

Our bodies like to remain the same and need a reason to change or adapt. By lifting weights, running or playing sports we are placing a stress or stimulus on the body that is requiring change. This effort is forcing our bodies to become faster, stronger and more skilful depending on the stresses we place upon it. If this effort doesn’t continue to increase then our bodies have no reason to continue adapting.

The principle of progressive overload can be applied to reach almost any goal and should form the foundation of all workout programs. If you aren’t getting bigger, stronger or fitter, then the chances are you are not getting closer to your goal.

Instead of just slapping more weight on the bar every week and hoping you will get stronger, there are a few other variables that can be adjusted over time.


The number of sets you complete on a daily/weekly basis can be adjusted. Instead of carrying out the standard 3 sets of 10, try adding a set per week for the next 4 weeks. Start back at 3 sets (hopefully stronger than before) and repeat the cycle.


Try adding additional repetitions onto a set to increase the intensity. Nothing magical happens at 10 reps. Try going to 15 with the same weight or maybe even 20! (I know, that sounds painful)


Adding weight to bar is still an option but should be looked at as the only measure of progressive overload. The ultimate aim should be to become stronger over the months and years of training, not just adding 5kg every week.


Volume is a combination of reps x sets x weight. By adjusting any of those variables, you will adjusting the volume. Always be aware how one variable is affecting the other. If you are adding more reps, but you are lifting less weight, you may be lifting less total volume.


This is how difficult an activity is. We can always make workouts harder by pushing closer to failure, running faster or having less recovery. Making workouts more difficult over time is going to add an additional stimulus to the body, making it adapt to become more efficient.

Time Under Tension

This is the amount of time your muscles are working for. If you are bouncing your bicep curls out, you may be putting your muscles under tension for a second or two. If you are carrying out each repetition with slow and controlled form, you may be putting your muscles under tension for 5 seconds. This is over double to time under tension and is adding the stress placed on the body.

Progressive overload is about becoming better, stronger, fitter and being able to do more over time. The next time you are looking at mixing up your workout program, think about these other variables and not just focus on lifting more weight.

I would like to add that just doing more and more work could lead to overtraining and injuries. If you just did more sets, reps and weight every single week you would end up being tired, not recovering and potentially injured. Carrying out a gym workout with 100 sets of bicep curls, could take some time. Take time to rest and recover and lower your workout volume, before attacking it again and increasing the intensity.

If you need help designing your training program or just need a general kick up the arse to do more, you need to get in touch. Drop me a message and let’s talk about 1 on 1 personal training or online coaching.