Posted on Friday, 4 May 2018


One of my biggest irritations is the gym member who comes in several times a week for more than an hour at a time, does the same exact workout with the same exact weight, sets, repetitions and lacklustre effort. And of course their body never changes in appearance nor composition. They don’t see results and hence, become disheartened and inevitably give up. Granted there are also those that workout merely to maintain their current physical condition by maintaining what lean muscle tissue they have and by keeping the body fat off, but it definitely shouldn’t take 5-7 hours a week to achieve this goal unless anything that remotely resembles a nutrition plan is non-existent.

For those individuals whose aim is to change the appearance of their bodies, the main reason for failure is EFFORT, or lack thereof. Instead of creating progressive overload or forcing the body to do more than it’s accustomed to, they simply go through the motions and maintain what they have. The human body will not change unless you force it to. As with all things in life, you get back what you put in and if you’re not putting in the effort to your training that is needed then you don’t stand a chance at reaping the body changing rewards of resistance training.


This principal refers to continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system in order to continually make progress in muscle size, strength and endurance. In simplest terms – In order to get bigger and stronger you must continually lift more and more and make your muscles work harder than they are used to. If you don’t, your muscles will not become any stronger or bigger than they currently are.

Conversely, if the demands on your muscles are not at least maintained and are actually decreased, your muscles will become smaller and weaker. Progressive overload is a very simple concept but it is crucial – it lays the foundation upon which resistance training is built. The progressive overload principal doesn’t just apply to resistance training and increasing muscle growth and strength, it can also be applied to cardiovascular fitness and the associated physiological changes that take place through a progressive cardiovascular exercise program.


#1-6 are ways to increase training “volume” or make the muscle(s) do more total work.

#7 is a way to make your muscle(s) do more work in less time.

1 – Increase Resistance

Progressively increase the weight you lift as you become stronger and the weight becomes easier. A good indicator of when to increase the resistance is when you are able to perform more than your target repetitions (e.g. your lifting program calls for sets of 10 repetitions but you are able to get 11). This requires you to keep your sets and reps exactly the same and adjust via the weight on the bar or the machine.

4 sets of 10 reps at 100kg = 4000kg volume

4 sets of 10 reps at 102.5kg = 4100kg volume = doing more work!

2 – Increase Sets

Increase the number of sets you perform for a given exercise. Instead of 2 or 3 sets maybe you’ll want to increase to 3 or 4 in order to really fatigue the muscle(s).

4 sets of 10 reps at 100kg = 4000kg volume

5 sets of 10 reps at 100kg = 5000kg volume = doing more work!

3 – Increase Repetitions

Increase the number of repetitions you perform for a given exercise. Don’t stop yourself at some magical number – Push yourself to do 1 or 2 more reps with the aid of a spotter if necessary. If you are able to get those extra reps completely by yourself and it is higher than your target rep-range then you know it’s time to increase the resistance.

4 sets of 10 reps at 100kg = 4000kg volume

4 sets of 11 reps at 100kg = 4400kg volume = doing more work!

Advanced Techniques

4 – Increase Frequency

Increase how often you train a certain muscle or muscle group. This technique is most useful for improving lagging or weak muscles/muscle groups. The traditional approach to training a muscle or muscle group only once a week may not be sufficient enough for every individual to make continual progress.

Learn to listen to your body and make sure that muscles have had enough time to recuperate between training sessions before increasing frequency. Every once in a while though it could be useful to train muscles even if they haven’t fully recovered in order to force them into more development. Weekends are highly useful for this technique to add in more work. Say you train legs once a week, try twice a week. Even if it isn’t a full workout, doing half of a workout or just the main component of the lift (for instance, squats), is a useful technique to achieve more overall volume over the course of the week.

5 – Increase Exercises

Increase the number of exercises you perform for a certain muscle or muscle group with the addition of a new one to your current program.

This technique works well if you are trying to add symmetry to a muscle group by increasing the size of individual muscles or parts of muscles within a muscle group. For instance, rather than squats, leg press and leg extensions for your leg workout, look to give more attention to some isolated hamstring curls or calve raises, on top of your pre-existing workout.

6 – Increase Intensity

Increase your perceived exertion or how much effort you put into every set. This is the most important factor for creating progressive overload.

Increased effort and intensity for every single set translates into more weight lifted and/or more repetitions performed and thus a more productive workout because your muscles have been pushed beyond what they are used to. This does not refer to the tempo of the lift or the pace, it refers to how much weight you are lifting relative to your 1 repetition max. Doing squats for 4 sets of 10 on 60kg is totally different to completing 4 sets of 10 on 70kg successfully, the intensity is higher and requires more effort and exertion.

Crunching the numbers:

4 x 10 x 60kg = 2400kg

4 x 10 x 70kg = 2800kg

However, the above concept could also be applied to the amount of repetitions and sets performed. Consider this method a one size fits all approach.

Note that the amount of time in the gym is the same. Hence, you are being efficient by doing more work in the same period of time.


7 – Decrease Rest Time

Decreasing the rest time between consecutive sets will force your body to adapt metabolically by removing toxins and other bi-products of anaerobic exercise (weight lifting) faster and more efficiently over time. Eventually you will be able to lift more in less time. This should be used sparingly as it can reach a point of being detrimental. Sufficient rest between sets is still required to perform at a high standard. The last thing you want to do is overuse this tool and end up with less volume and less strength because you are too tired to perform at your usual high standard.


While factors such as increasing total volume will be important to a bodybuilder, decreasing the rest time between sets coupled with higher repetitions may be more beneficial for endurance athletes or individuals concerned with muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness rather than gains in strength and power. The technique(s) you use should fit in line with your fitness goals. Let’s make a point of factoring in at least one of these methods into your training over the coming week!