Progressive Overload Training: The Best Technique To Gain Lean Muscle

You have probably wondered how celebrities, models and the pros do it to get lean and muscular, sometimes in what may seem to be a relatively short period of time.  Believe it or not there are strategies, and some may call them muscle gaining secrets to getting in great shape.  By simply following the principles of progressive overload training outlined here you can achieve some of the best results you have ever seen from your workouts.

Survival of the Fittest- Teaching Your Body How To Adapt And Grow

In order to make consistent progress in the gym you can’t do workouts the same way over and over again.  Getting the best physique possible requires you to help your body adapt and, if necessary, push it to grow muscle in ways you probably have not tried before.

It is important to note that in order to make muscle gains you can’t do the typical “cookie cutter” type workouts.  Maybe you have been doing the typical 4 sets of 10 repetitions every workout because that’s what a magazine or trainer told you was right.  After months or even years you find yourself doing the same type of workout and your body does not grow.  If you want to make progress you need to change your approach by putting your muscles under stress it usually is not used to feeling.

What Is Progressive Overload Training?

Progressive overload simply requires putting stress gradually on a muscle while you exercise.  This approach was first used in rehabilitating injured soldiers but was then applied to various types of strength training, such as weight training and even bodyweight workouts.

When you break it down muscle growth is caused simply when the muscle begins to adapt to the rigors or lifting weights.  As the muscle lifts heavier weights or works out more intensely it has to grow in order to lift the new weight.  The muscle tear down (micro tears) with each workout and it heals, recovers and grows.

How To Apply Progressive Overload In Your Training Program

  • Increase The Amount Of Weight You Are Lifting:  This may seem to be the most obvious but surprisingly it is not practiced by many people who train.  The easiest way you can see muscle growth and bulk up fast is by adding more weight to what you are already lifting.  You don’t have to double your lifts but simply doing a bit more that you have currently doing will help you.  Adding just 5 pound to a bench press for example, is enough to cause an immediate shock to your muscles.
  • Increase Your Workout Intensity: Simply lifting more weight is not enough to work out at a higher intensity.  Increasing the intensity can be done by taking the body beyond its limit.  One way of doing this is by taking your sets and reps to failure or close to failure by using forced reps.  When you workout alone chances are you don’t train to failure because the risk of injury that is involved.  However, by having a training partner who works as your spotter he or she can help you do one or two more repetitions than what your body is used to experiencing.
  • Properly Use Training Frequency:  This is one that most people get wrong.  There is a misconception that when we talk about frequency this means training more often.  This is far from being true.  In fact, you need to allow the proper rest time between workouts.  Working on the same muscle group too soon will set you back and keep your muscles from growing.

Use These Techniques TheWrong Way And You Are Bound To Fail

If you were to apply any of the above methods in your workouts you will make gains faster, however this can only go for so long.  You can not for example, train to failure every workout and expect to maintain the level of intensity.  Also, you can not train at a high level of intensity all the time and expect to be able to train to failure or train as frequent or often as you would like.  Using these techniques incorrectly will lead to overtraining and even a plateau effect.

So it’s funny, although you may be looking to use these techniques to overcome a plateau you may end up in the position of hitting a new plateau down the road and seeing muscle decreasing.

How To Use Overload Training Properly

The approach I recommend is that requires cycling and scheduling your program in a way that will keep you from hitting a plateau and one that avoids overtraining.

Get away from doing high repetition workouts all the time:  Although it is tempting to train in a range of 10 to 12 reps you really should not train this way all the time.  Your body needs to be stimulated in different ways by changing the rep sequence.  Stick with this range for anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks and then move to lower reps.

  • Properly Increase The Weight But Don’t Always Go To Failure:  In order to make gains you will want to increase the weight you lift. However, if you choose to go real heavy on your lifts you shouldn’t train to failure all the time, doing so will lead to overtraining. I recommend going to failure sporadically, maybe once a month or every other week, especially when training with higher reps.  When moving to lower reps/ heavier weight don’t go to failure when you lift.  Your goal should be to lift heavy with proper form so as to avoid injury.
  • Train With Lower Reps:  This goes along with lifting heavier weight.  If you increase the weight load you will find it harder to lift more repetitions.  Use this technique for 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Don’t Train The Same Muscle Group Too Often:  I have heard so many times that you should work on the same muscle group up to three times a week.  I actually recommend training the same muscle group once or twice a week at the most.  Training more often can work for a beginner but can also lead to overtraining without the proper guidance.
  • Limit the Number of Exercises You Do:  Although some programs talk about increasing the number of exercises that you are doing currently I personally do not agree with this approach.  Doing more than is necessary is sure way to burn out.  If you simply work with 3 to 4 exercises per muscle group and vary the intensity this will be enough to get muscles fast.
  • Do Not Do Too Many Sets:  This is another strategy that gets used in overload principles but one I find unnecessary.  Again, if you stick to a number of sets between 3 and 4 with sufficient intensity you will see results.

Using progressive overload training is an approach that works well when trying to gain muscle and in overcoming and avoiding plateaus if done correctly.  The important thing to remember is that your workouts should be cycled in periods of higher rep training (6-12 reps) for up to 2 months and lower reps for a couple of months.  By shifting your rep scheme and shocking your body with forced reps once in a while, allowing sufficient rest, and properly using intensity you will see the gains you have been looking for.

Comments

  1. Excellent number of points you raise. I believe if anyone follows what you have laid out the results will come.
    I have used MGS and it was one of the best programs I have come across, it goes against normal convention. Low Volume, Low number of reps, progress in each workout and use the big lifts with heavy weights.
    It doesn’t make you bulky ( eating does that) but makes you look hard and defined.
    raymond

    • Hi Raymond,
      Low volume and low reps do pay off and definitely makes you look hard and defined. It is always important to follow a structured program in order to get results. I’m glad you mentioned “Muscle Gaining Secrets,” as it really goes against the norm but the methods used are definitely effective.

      -Sam

  2. Excellent piece, helping to make what often seems a complicated and confusing process seem simple.

    Personally I will definitely be applying the point you make on varying the rep ranges more often, as well as experimenting with the volume

    Cheers

    Michael

    • Hi Michael,
      I really believe that varying the number of reps and the volume is important in order for the body to experience gains and see progress overrall. After years of doing strength training I have noticed that keeping the same reps and volume only leads to plateaus and the same body for way too long. The best thing to do is to have a program structured so you are focusing on a certain number of reps/ volume for a determined period of time and making changes periodically.

      -Sam