11 Ways to Use Progressive Overload for Muscle and Strength

(Last Updated On: October 25, 2017)

Dmitry Klokov

You want to build muscle and add strength, great. But doing the same thing every time you lift you will only get you so far. While it is a lot easier to add strength and build muscle when you are a newbie lifter those newbie increases don’t keep going up forever. Eventually, you will hit a plateau and need to change thing up to spark new gains. Progressive overload techniques can help you do this.

Let’s go over what progressive overload is and then we will cover 11 ways to go about it.

What is Progressive Overload?

The definition of progressive overload is rather simple. It is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.

While the definition is simple there is more to it than simply adding weight to the bar, any dolt can do that. If it were that easy we would all be jacked and deadlifting 600lbs.

There are at least 11 different ways to go about using progressive overload to work the muscle more or differently to spark new gains. Some of them may work better for you than others, we are all different and it is hard to know which will work best for you without a little trial and error. Give some of these a try and figure out what works for you and you will see results. Let’s get started.


1. Increase the Resistance

Increasing the resistance (adding more weight) is probably the most common way of going about using progressive overload and it is also effective.

An example of this would be bench pressing 225 lbs for 10 reps, you then increase the weight to 235 lbs and train until you can do 10 reps with that weight then you increase the weight to 245 lbs until you can to 10 reps and so on.

This can work well and is generally the first kind of progressive overload that most lifters use. It won’t work forever though, eventually, you will need to try a different method.


2. Increase the Number of Reps With the Same Load

ez bar curls

It can be pretty common for a lifter to reach a certain number of reps with a weight and then just continually do that same number of reps every time you lift. I think most guys have been guilty of this at one point including myself.

An example of this would be getting to the point where you can bench press 225 lbs for 10 reps and then just doing the 10 reps each time you workout instead of going for 11 or 12.

Doing the same number of reps  workout after workout

will help you maintain but it isn’t really going to help you increase strength.

An advanced way to do this is to do forced reps which is having a partner help you do extra reps after you have reached to point of failure.


3. Increase the Volume

This means simply doing more sets. It could be more sets of the same exercise like extra sets of bench press or you could add another chest exercise like incline bench press to increase the number of sets you are doing and therefore increasing the volume.


4. Increased the Range of Motion

We have all seen those people out there doing 3/4 reps or even half reps, and if we are honest with ourselves some of us may fall into this category on certain lifts. Going the full range of motion or taking the range of motion even further like with deficit deadlifts will work the muscle more thoroughly and lead to more gains.


5. Decrease the Time Between Sets

What do you do for cardio lift weights faster

You may have to check your ego a bit on this one because you won’t be able to lift as heavy as normal but lowering the rest time between sets is another effective way to use progressive overload. If you are used to taking three minutes between sets try lowing it down to two minutes or even one minute. This will work your muscle harder, help you get your workout done much faster and will also increase your cardiovascular output. It’s not easy, but it is effective.


6. Lift the Same Weight With More Speed – Faster Reps

Lift the weights faster. A lot of the time under tension freaks out there won’t like this one but it can be a nice change that leads to gains. As with all lifts, you should make sure you are using good form but you should be especially sure to use good form when doing this kind of progressive overload. Lifting the weights faster with bad form is a recipe for injury so keep that form tight.


7. Do More Weight and Volume With Better Form and Control

This one probably won’t make a huge difference but it is something you should be doing. If your form isn’t up to snuff then correcting it and lifting with better control (no momentum). In other words, not cheating on your lifts can actually help you get more gains.

Girl squatting

8. Do More Workouts Per Week

This is another area where people tend to get set in their routines and never change. If you hit chest twice a week that is how you always do it. If you are a twice a week guy try going for 3 times a week. If you are a once a week guy go for twice a week.  This can be a really good way to overload the muscle into building more strength and muscle. Don’t scale back on the sets or the reps you are doing either, keep it the same just add another workout or it won’t work as well.


9. Do the Same Work While Losing Body Mass

No big surprise here, if you weigh less and are lifting the same amount of weight and reps you will be doing more work than if you weighed more. This will make you stronger pound for pound. Plus who wouldn’t want to lose a few pounds and get shredded.

Ripped black guy

10. Lifting the Same Load and Volume Past Failure

Going past failure is another great way to overload the muscle and increase your gains. There are several different techniques you can use to do this are:

    • Forced reps – Having a partner help you do additional reps after you have reached failure.
    • Drop sets – Going to failure then dropping the weight and going to failure again, this is typically repeated 2-4 times.
    • Negatives – Doing a slow negative portion of the rep, requires a partner to help with the positive portion.
    • Rest/Pause – Going to failure then resting 10-15 seconds and performing more reps to work the muscle even more, then resting another 10-15 seconds and performing more reps again. This is done 2-3 times typically.
    • Partial reps – Going to failure then performing 3/4 reps or half reps to take yourself past failure and blast the muscle.


11. Doing More Sets in the Same Amount of Time

Instead of doing the usual 4 sets you are doing make it 5 sets but do it in the same amount of time as you did when it was 4 sets. This will increase your workout density and lead to more gains. You likely won’t be able to lift as much with this technique since you will get tired out faster but if your ego can take the hit it will be worth it.


Putting it All Together

These 11 ways to do progressive overload can help take your strength and physique to the next level. Some of these techniques may work better for you than others so you should play around with each and see how they work for you. Techniques that involve going lifting heavier weight will generally be better for bodybuilders and guys looking to build muscle while decreasing rest time and increasing reps will be better for athletes. Pick your poison or use a combination of these and reap the benefits.