What Is Progressive Overload?
You are probably already familiar with the concept of the term without even knowing it. What is progressive overload? Simply put, the gradual increase of weight you lift, or “stress” you put on your body.
If you start out lifting say, 5KG and over time you increase that to 10, 12, 15, even 20KG, then you have gone through the process of progress overload. Most of us have done it at some time or other. It’s not actually exclusive to weight lifting, as any form of fitness training (running, swimming etc all involve increasing stress), but it is still a vital part of weight training.
If you are not gradually increasing the weight you lift, then you are not making progress.
Why Is It Important?
Whether you are doing strength training, fitness training, or even physical therapy, in order to increase your performance, you’ll need to increase the demands you put on your body.
While “maintenance” doesn’t necessarily need you to put increased stress on your muscles, any form of progress does. This is because “overloading” your muscles will cause them to adapt, grow stronger, and learn to cope with the increase load.
Working out for example, causes micro tears in your muscle tissue, and when they repair, the muscles repair a little bit stronger each time. Putting an increasing amount of pressure on will speed this up vastly.
This is especially important in physical therapy. If a muscle has been unused for a long time it will have grown weak (under use results in the muscles adapting as well, unfortunately) and will need to be gradually grown strong again.
Obviously, for safety reasons this needs to be “progressive” rather than “instant” overload. You have to get the balance right, or you could cause some serious damage to your muscles.
Is It Just For Muscles?
Actually no. It can contribute to stronger bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. That’s an all-round winner when it comes to strength and fitness training.
So when you are in any form of “training” regime, it’s important to make sure you can make consistent progress, regardless of whether you want to improve your muscle mass. It’s good for your entire body.
How Often Should You Increase The Weight?
This is where balance is needed. Increasing too slowly can be counter-productive and overcautious. You don’t want to “waste” a workout session by not having it contribute towards progress. Again, you also don’t want to injure yourself.
As a general rule, you should look to increase the weight or strain you put your body under as often as possible.
When you can easily do more than your recommended amount of exercises, move on.
An example of this with Kettlebells would be being able to perform 20 reps of an exercise when only 10-15 are called for.
If you find that moving up a weight stops from you completing the required reps (let’s say you are only managing 7), then you should go back to your previous weight, or find one in between, because you are still not ready.
Can All Parts Of The Body Progress As One?
Unfortunately not! With kettlebells, you’ll find that swings and squats are the easiest to progress with. You might think “Great! I’m ready to move up a weight” only to discover but some exercises are punishing you too hard.
This means it’s often necessary to have an overlap. Use two different weights until all parts of your body are ready to move on. You’ll have to be careful during this stage, and maybe even make one or two workout days’ have a reduced load (as long as you are using the increased weight) until everything is caught up.
One thing many people find useful, is following a prescribed routine or DVD series which incorporates the weight increases for you.
Kettlebell kickboxing is great for this, because it comes with a number of different difficulty settings, letting you increase your workout overtime, without having to go in search of assistance doing so.
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