If you’re on the hunt for a way to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your workouts, all experts agree: Progressive overload is it. Progressive overloading involves intentionally planning your workouts so that every single session maximizes its strength-building potential. Typically, that means manipulating the weight, rep scheme, tempo or intensity of a movement.
Could you, in theory, manipulate these factors at random in order to make your workout harder and get stronger? Sure. In fact, chances are, if you’re a regular in the weight room but not following a specific training plan, this is what you’re already doing. And likely, if you’re still pretty new to the gym, you’ll have decent success doing so. But that’s not the most efficient, or smartest way to get to work toward your fitness goals.
“Progressive overload allows you to continually make gains by continually making your muscles work harder than they’re used to. Your body is constantly forced to adapt to new challenges, which mitigates the risk of plateau in the way less intentional programming does not.”
Beyond maximizing efficiency, there’s another pretty convincing reasons to train with progressive overload in mind: it gets you stronger without overtraining your muscles, which White says is a common fault of folks who hit the weight room without a plan.
As obvious as it might sound: If you’re getting stronger at a faster rate, you’re also reaping the perks of being stronger, faster. These include: stronger muscles and bones, a faster metabolism, boosted calorie burn, improved mobility and reduced injury risk, to name a few.
There’s also the mental benefits that accompany a progressive overload program. For starters, you’re not doing the same workout every single day, which keeps the routine from becoming a snooze fest. Second, because training programs written with progressive overload in mind are planned weeks (and sometimes even months) in advance, you’ll walk into the gym knowing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
And of course, there’s the euphoria of feeling/knowing/seeing yourself get stronger — a happy side effect that’ll have carry-over into all parts of your life.
But be warned: These benefits disappear the second you prioritize lifting heavier over lifting with good form. Proper progression means proper form. “You need to challenge your muscles in order for them to grow, but that does not mean challenging them by lifting incorrectly.” Lifting with improper form can exacerbate muscle imbalances, lead to overuse injuries and ultimately interferes with your bottom-line: getting stronger.
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