Tracking progressive overload can turn into a complex and laborious task. In this article, we will go through a simple process for tracking progressive overload that will allow you to find long term success in any training endeavour.
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Before we can understand what progressive overload is and ways we can track it, it’s important to remind ourselves what the overload principle is. The overload principle is, when we impose a stress to the body so that it creates a physiological adaptation. This is important to understand as it is the root for understanding how to track progressive overload, tracking progressive overload is simply just tracking the amount of overload or stress / “work” you are applying to the body.
Progressive overload can come in many different forms, but it can be described as slowly augmenting the stress placed upon the body to move it towards specific adaptation. This progressive nature can allow us to organise our training in a way to see optimal results.
Progressive overload works by taking the overload and making it more more stressful on the body, therefore increase the adaptation. This can be done through, adding weights on the barbell, adding reps on sets with dumbbells, adding distance to the amount ran or rowed. All are examples of how progressive overload works to increase the amount of stress on the body to create adaptations for a specific physiological characteristic.
Tracking progressive overload is very important for people who want to have effective sporting and exercise routines. People who don’t track progressive overload will find it very difficult to apply the principle successfully over time, as they are unaware of their metrics. If you don’t know what the load was that was applied on the body, how can you make informed decisions about how much load should be placed upon the body in future training sessions and cycles.
One problem with offering advice on tracking progressive overload is that different sports and activities require such different metrics that it’s hard to provide blanket solutions to tracking the overload applied on the body. For example in running, tracking the amount of kilometres ran will be important to see if your applying progressive overload. Whereas in hypertrophy training the key metric will be the amount of working sets performed, which will differ from the metrics of strength training, which could be the amount of sets performed above 80% of your 1RM.
So how does someone track progressive overload successfully, what principle could we use to blanket the logistics of tracking the overload placed upon the body.
This process can work for any training goal. Let’s do two examples of running and hypertrophy. Let’s say a runner’s goal is to improve their endurance qualities to build towards a marathon.
The tool you use to track or log this information really isn’t very important, it could be excel, a training application, notion etc. either way the important part is that you track it and track it consistently.
Tracking every aspect of training can turn exercise into a math equation when it really doesn’t need to be too complex. Pick one or two key metrics to track and track them consistently and you’ll be able to see excellent progress. There is elegance in a simple training plan that is adhered to rather than a complex training plan that doesn’t get followed.
Some forms of progressive overload can be harder to track than others, take exercise selection for example. If you progress from a counter balance squat to a goblet squat, moving from an easy squatting exercise to a more challenging one, then how do we track this. Technically we could give each exercise a difficulty rating and create an algorithm to produce some form of exercise selection progression metrics, but that will likely be a waste of time. Accepting there are somethings which are best not to track or necessary to track can massively simplify the training process. As long as a few key metrics are being tracked, the most important being training consistency, which without, the principle of progressive overload will be impossible to apply, making consistency the key metric for success over time.
Yes. Progressive overload will help you build muscle faster. Progressive overload training allows us to organise training in such a way that we can build progressive overload over time and increase the amount of volume done on each muscle group, allowing us to increase muscle mass.
If we apply progressive overload we can increase the amount of weight we can lift for our 1RM’s. So not only can we grow more muscle but we can become stronger, through increasing the weights on the bar over time. It’s important to understand the principle, training progressive overload will allow us to increase any physiological characteristic where there is a behaviour that can cause adaptation whether its to build muscle strength or fitness the progressive overload variable should be used.
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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.