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Progressive Overload! What is it?

Brandon Blinn, owner and personal trainer of Blinn Fitness in Woodinville, WA, discusses the concept of progressive overload, which is the process of gradually increasing the specific stress on the body over time in order to continue making progress in fitness and avoid plateaus. He explains that the body adapts to the stresses put on it, and if the same stress is applied repeatedly, the body will not continue to adapt and improve. Examples are listed of how to use progressive overload with intensity and volume, and also mentions that it can be used with circuit training. Brandon emphasizes the importance of using progressive overload and not staying the same with workouts week to week.

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction to S.A.I.D. and Progressive Overload

  2. Using Progressive Overload with Intensity

  3. Using Progressive Overload with Volume

  4. Using Progressive Overload with Circuit Training

  5. Long-Term Benefits of Progressive Overload


Often times many people go into the gym, they perform the same workouts day in and day out with the same sets and reps every single day. Why would this matter? I mean you're still working out right? You're still burning calories right? So you must be making progress! Wrong! There is a little thing called S.A.I.D. This stand for specific adaptions to imposed demands. In simple terms this just means your body adapts to the stresses you put on it. If you're constantly putting the same stress on your body over and over, how is it going to adapt to new stresses? It won't! You'll remain in the same plateau and you will get bored and stop trying. This is where the beautiful rule of progressive overload comes into play! Progressive overload is the process of increasing a specific stress on your body gradually over the course of time. This might be in the form of time, reps, weight, volume, tonnage, sets, intensity or frequency. There are many ways to go about progressive overload! Let me give you an example. Lets say you're running a 5x5 (5 sets of 5 reps) with your squat and you're going to perform progressive overload with the intensity. It would look something like this. The percentage = intensity.

Week 1: Squat 5x5 @ 65% (with the 65 being 65% of your 1, 3 or 5 rep max)

Week 2: Squat 5x5 @ 75% (with the 75 being 75% of your 1, 3 or 5 rep max)

Week 3 Squat 5x5 @ 80% (with the 80 being 80% of your 1, 3 or 5 rep max)

As you can see, over the course of 3 weeks you've gradually increased the intensity of the squat, Each week you've created a new stimulus each week as well, this in turn will tell your body to build itself back up bigger and stronger than if you were to just squat 65% for several weeks.

This is what it would would look like if you were to use progressive overload with volume. Volume = reps x sets. If you were to do 5 sets of 5, your volume would be 25 reps total for that exercise.

Week 1: Squats 4x5 (20 total reps)

Week 2: Squats 5x5 (25 total reps)

Week 3: Squats 5x6 (30 total reps)

Over the course of those 3 weeks, your body has had to adapt from doing 20 total reps to 30 total reps. Granted the weight would change as you do this, but this is an example of overloading volume.

This can be such a simple method for seeing tremendous progress! I incorporate this with all of my clients in one form or another. You can use progressive overload on your main lift variations of bench squat and deadlift. You can also use it for your smaller isolation exercises as well. If you're a fan of circuit training you can use progressive overload with that too! Just time how long it takes you to complete your circuit and try to gradually beat that over time while keeping the circuit consistent.

As time goes by you wont be able to make the jumps you first did when you started so don't become discouraged if you aren't making 5-10 lb. jumps each week on your lifts. At a certain point, you'll have to make 5-10 lb. jumps over a longer period of time. That is just the way life is and this will test you, if you're in this for the long haul or for short term success.

If there's one beneficial thing to take from this its remember to always use progressive overload! Don't stay the same with your workouts week to week! Find different variables to improve on whether that be weight, reps, sets, intensity, or volume. Whatever you do, just don't train the same weights over and over!

If you need help or have questions, you can reach out to me on IG @Blinn_Fitness or For strength training & personal training, stop by Blinn Fitness at our Woodinville, WA location today!



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