How To Progressive Overload Full Body Workout Training

Progressive overload is a principle that can be used to transform your physical training from something that is stagnant to something that develops progressively overtime, making it a crucial principle to both understand and implement.

8 min read
Sean Klein
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Sean Klein
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In This Resource
  • What Is Progressive Overload?
  • What Is A Full Body Workout?
  • How Can We Progressive Overload a Full Body Workout?
  • Manipulating Training Variables
  • Defining Key Terms
  • Volume (frequency + sets + reps)
  • Intensity
  • Training Different Physical Properties
  • Example of Using Progressive Overload for Full Body Workouts
  • Progressive Overload Within a Training Cycle
  • Week 1
  • Week 2
  • Week 3
  • Guidelines for Progressive Overload Workout Plan
  • Progressive Overload Schedule
  • Common Questions
  • Which Exercises Should I Use In A Progressive Overload Workout Plan?
  • Will A Full body Workout Improve My Fitness?
  • Will Full Body Training Progress My Upper Body?
  • How Can I Implement Progressive Overload With Full Body Workouts

What Is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is the principle of training that consists of augmenting the physiological stress placed on the body over time to create an adaptation. This principle is used in all facets of physiological training to create effective adaptation overtime, you should be using it in your training to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time.

What Is A Full Body Workout?

A full body workout is relatively simple to understand. It is when you move your body through a variety of different movement patterns, both in the upper and lower body. A full body work out does not mean that you need to touch upon every part of the body or every movement pattern, it simply means you need to touch on a variety of movement patterns within the strength and conditioning tool book. It is very different from a traditional bodybuilding split when the body is split into muscle groups and trained on different days.

Here is a sample full body workout:

A) Back Squat

B1) 1-Arm DB Low Row

B2) Press Up

C1) Turkish Get Up

C2) Front Rack Carry

Here you can see we touch upon multiple movement patterns including the squat, horizontal pull, horizontal pull, core, and carry. This allows us to be time effective with our physical training.

How Can We Progressive Overload a Full Body Workout?

Progressive overload can easily be applied to full body workouts, and when it is done properly over a long period of time you can have enormous effects on someones physical wellbeing. Progressively overloading a full body workout or full body workouts can be done in two ways, within a training cycle / block or from block to block. If you would like more information about training cycles or blocks, read this in depth article. Usually within a well designed programme, both forms of progressive overload will be used. Before understanding how these two forms of progressions can be done it’s important to define some key terms.

Manipulating Training Variables

Progressive overload is simply the manipulation of training variables to increase the amount of stress placed upon the body. To understand which training variable we can manipulate, let’s first review these training variables and then look in more detail about how we can manipulate them.

Defining Key Terms

Volume (frequency + sets + reps)

Volume is the amount of working sets completed, this can be framed as in a workout, in a week or in a training cycle. A simple way to think about it is the amount of work done in a movement pattern within a time frame. As most studies indicate the most important volume landmark is the total amount of sets done in a week.


The intensity which the work is done is very important. Intensity is the difficulty of a set or repetition. It’s the difference between a warm up set and a working set and it can be manipulated in many ways. This could be manipulating the RIR or RPE. It could also involve adding weight to the exercise or increasing exercise difficulty.

These are important terms to understand because they are the toggles in which we can turn to use progressive overload for all movements including full body workouts.

Training Different Physical Properties

It’s important to understand that within full body workouts we can train different physiological characteristics, we can try and improve out strength (maximal force production), hypertrophy (muscle gain) or muscular endurance. These can all be worked on within a block of training but having one over arching goal of a cycle is usually beneficial. In our example, we are going to be looking at someone who is an advanced individual who trains 3-4 times a week using full body resistance training. Their primary goal is to increase strength and maintain muscle mass. They have no desire to compete in powerlifting competitions, enjoy other sports and activities. This is important to discuss, as powerlifting training will differ greatly from strength training for health and wellness.

Example of Using Progressive Overload for Full Body Workouts

Progressive Overload Within a Training Cycle

In order to not be too laborious, we are just going to look at how one session might progress throughout a training cycle rather than looking at an entire cycle or full training routine.

Here is a sample full body workout:

Week 1

A) Back Squat

3 x 5 @RPE 7.5

B1) 1-Arm DB Low Row

3 x 8 @24kg

B2) Press Up

3 x RIR 2

C1) Turkish Get Up

3 x 3 @14kg

C2) Front Rack Carry

3 x 10m @24kg

Week 2

A) Back Squat

4 x 5 @RPE 8

B1) 1-Arm DB Low Row

4 x 10 @28kg

B2) Press Up

4 x RIR 1

C1) Turkish Get Up

3 x 3 @16kg

C2) Front Rack Carry

4 x 15m @24kg

Week 3

A) Back Squat

5 x 5 @RPE 9

B1) 1-Arm DB Low Row

5 x 12 @28kg

B2) Press Up


C1) Turkish Get Up

3 x 3 @20kg

C2) Front Rack Carry

4 x 20m @24kg

In the simplest sense we are manipulating the volume intensity to be slightly higher each week and are therefore progressively overloading the full body workout. It’s important to understand how long adaptation takes in an advanced individual, we are progressing the training not because we have created adaptation, only very beginners will adapt this fast to resistance training. We are progressing the load and moving the individual closer to their maximal recoverable volume (how much volume or stress they can tolerate without risking injury or over training). Then periodically pulling back from this amount of stress by starting another cycle. Organising training in such a way for a long time will help create very effective progress.

Guidelines for Progressive Overload Workout Plan

There are no strict rules on how progressive overload should be used, just guidelines on how to progress different movements based on an individuals ability. Its hard to create a progressive overload training template as there are so many variables and individual factors to take into consideration. Take for example this individual, I wrote the core work as if they were doing skill acquisition on the Turkish get up, as an athletic individual they would pick up this quickly and already have the prerequisite strength to move quickly to a heavier weight. These are very nuanced pieces of exercise selection and progressive overload that coaches need to be aware of. Another individual might be very actualised with this movement and stay at the same weight throughout the entire cycle, this would make perfect sense in a different context with a different individual. Not taking huge jumps in training is important, people usually want to move a lot faster than their body will allow. Taking a slow and steady approach from the beginning will be beneficial.

Progressive Overload Schedule

Creating your own progressive overload schedule will be an excellent way for you to implement the systems of progressive overload.

Common Questions

Which Exercises Should I Use In A Progressive Overload Workout Plan?

The exercises used in a training programme really depend on the person, their goals, how much time they have in their day etc. Everyone is different and needs a different training programme based on where they are, making giving blanket statements on which exercises should be used very difficult. One key principle is the movement categories used, these should be the squat, horizontal pull, horizontal press, vertical pull, vertical press, hinge carries and core. With these key movement patterns put in a overload workout plan, performed regularly, you will be able to be very healthy.

Will A Full body Workout Improve My Fitness?

Defining fitness can be difficult, but if we give it a broad definition of someones physical capacity across broad domains, then yes, Im sure that full-body workouts in a well structured workout routine will improve fitness levels. Using progressive overload workout principles will ensure your fitness is moving in the right direction.

Will Full Body Training Progress My Upper Body?

If you complete full-body workouts correctly then you will see progress in your upper body movement patterns. The danger with full body resistance training is not doing enough volume in key movement patterns and therefore seeing little progress. As long as you ensure you are completing enough work in the upper-body movement patterns you will be able to progress using full body training rather than training splits.

How Can I Implement Progressive Overload With Full Body Workouts

To implement progressive overload for full-body workout just requires the use of progressive overload principles. There is no strict progressive overload schedule that needs to be followed. To make progress overload possible, you need to understand the principle and come up with your style of implementation.

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.

This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

Sean Klein


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