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Progressive Overload

What is Progressive Overload? Let Vision PT show you how you can progressively build your strength in a short period of time with Vision.
Weight Loss Articles
Weight Loss Articles

By Jackson Privett at North Sydney

Progressive Overload: Simple ways to keep improving your workouts

We all train with the intention that this workout will get us closer to our goal, whether that is to lose weight, gain weight, lose fat, gain muscle, improve fitness, improve health or improve on your ability to play a particular sport or complete a particular event.

As we aim to progress toward our goal, we also need to progress our training in order to avoid stagnation and maintain momentum to achieving our goal. Such progression simply means slight increases in intensity of a particular workout in order to stimulate responses from the body and adapt accordingly.

As we train, we place stress on the body that slightly hinders optimal performance. Such examples of stress on the body can include force on muscles during a weights session thus resulting in small microfiber tears within the muscle, build-up of lactic acid within a muscle during a cardio session, which creates an acidic environment in the muscle, denaturing enzyme activity and hampering normal function. In order to overcome this, the body needs to overcompensate its recovery and grow stronger past its previous baseline to resist the stress placed on the body from future workouts of the same intensity.

This example is the reason why progression and overload is key to improvements in performance or physique. The body is always searching for a state of 'equilibrium' meaning that everything must balance in the body in order for it to perform optimally. The body recognises stress as a negative influence on the body, therefore in order to maintain equilibrium, the body needs to promote a positive influence. This positive influence can translate to increase force production in muscles, improved blood flow around body or improved transportation and utilisation of nutrients/oxygen around the body.

In order to achieve this, we must augment each individual workout we do to make it slightly harder and more demanding than the last. Just minor increases will be enough to promote adaptation, so there is no need to vastly increase difficulty or intensity of an exercise as doing so will increase risk of fatigue or injury.

When planning your workout, you can monitor the intensity of your exercise through the use of 'units'. One 'unit' can be represented as any variable that might influence your workout; meaning one 'unit' could represent one minute, one repetition, one kilogram, one set or fatigue levels (on a scale of 1-10). For example, one set of Bench Press with 40kg for 10 repetitions would result in 400 units. Repeating this for 3 sets would result in an overall net worth of 1200 units. In order to achieve positive adaptations, your next workout needs to have an overall net worth higher than 1200 units. You can achieve this by altering one or multiple variables in your workout listed or any other variables you may be using.

Whilst there are many ways to increase intensity in a workout, we want to keep our methods of increased progression simple and precise so we can monitor progress and decrease risk of error within our programming. Following these two simple methods will help you achieve results in a steady linear fashion and has the greatest probability of achieving your goal.


  1. Single Progression

Single Progression is best used for those aiming to achieve Strength progression in particular lifts and achieving personal best 1RM (the most amount of weight lifted in one rep) results. Single Progression means increasing one variable between workouts, commonly Kilograms used in a single exercise in a weights session, or Minutes/Resistance Level on a single exercise in a cardio session.

Using our previous scenario, if we are performing 3 sets of 40kg Bench Press regularly for 10 repetitions each in our first workout:

3 x 40 x 10 = 1200 units

Then for our next workout we must increase the number of units present in the workout, so we will perform a 45kg Bench Press for 3 sets of 10 repetitions:

3 x 45 x 10 = 1350 units

By increasing the weight in the exercise, we have increased the amount of stress placed on the muscles to surpass what it is used to; therefore the body must adapt in order to reach a balance once more.

For compound (multiple muscle) movements, intensity can be increased to a greater effect due to the large amount of muscles used at one time. For isolation exercises, intensity levels may need to be progressed slowly to reduce fatigue levels and promote recovery and adaptation.

This method is best used for people new to weight training, as the muscle needs to be trained properly before it can handle greater workloads


  1. Double Progression

Double Progression is best used for those confident and experienced in training, as Double Progression if not done correctly can have a higher risk or promoting fatigue or injury due to a greater increase in stress placed on the body. This method involves promoting two separate variables in a single exercise between workouts.

For example, if we are performing a 50kg Squat for 3 sets of 10 repetitions in our first workout:

3 x 50 x 10 = 1500 units

For our next workout, we increase two variables, most commonly Kilograms used and Repetitions per set. Therefore, our next workout may consist of a 55kg Squat for 2 sets of 10 reps and 1 set of 11 reps, 1 set of 10 reps and 2 sets of 11 reps, or 3 sets of 11 reps (dependant on skill level of the trainer):

(2 x 55 x 10) + (1 x 55 x 11) = 1705 units

(1 x 55 x 10) + (2 x 55 x 11) = 1760 units

3 x 55 x 11 = 1815 units

As you can see, there are different ways to apply double progression. The two ways shown here can also be applied consecutively as each method produces a different level of stress and promotes a different level of adaptation to the body.

It is important when using each method to always have a person there to guide you or act as a spotter as any increase in intensity will result in increased fatigue to the muscle at the time of training.

Whilst this is certainly an advanced insight into the intricacies of resistance training and exercise physiology (and our great Trainers can take care of this side of things for you), education in these areas can be a great addition for those Vision Clients interested in understanding more about the methods behind the programs.


*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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