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Progressive Overload

Milton Holdiem
Milton Holdiem
2 min read

📈 When starting the fitness journey, you'll experience the most growth because everything is brand new.

All the new movements and weights are putting your body through all sorts of stimuli. The body is like, “What is going on here!?”

While everything works in the beginning, nothing will work forever. Eventually, doing the same workout over and over won’t create change. You’ll still probably get a sweat, but you’ll stay in the same spot, wasting time and energy.

Instead, you need to overload the system to create progression.
This is what we call “Progressive Overload!”

To break it down:

“Progressive” is about improvement over time.

“Overload” means pushing to force an adaptation.

Adding weight to an exercise each week is a common example. By adding weight, we demand just a little more from the body each week, creating growth.

There are other ways to progress, like increasing reps, decreasing rest, and even increasing the duration of the exercise.

Ways to progressively overload:

  • Adding weight
  • Adding reps
  • Adding tempo
  • Reducing rest

Let’s dive a little deeper into each one.

Ways to Overload

Adding Weight

This is the most common example. Add weight to an exercise each week.

Let’s say we’re doing Goblet Squats. Week 1 starts at 5 reps at 30lbs. Then each week we’re adding 5lbs, progressing to 45lbs by week 4.

Week 1: 8 Reps @30lbs
Week 2: 8 Reps @35lbs
Week 3: 8 Reps @40lbs
Week 4: 8 Reps @45lbs

Adding Reps

Week 1: 4x6 @95lbs (2280 total lbs lifted)
Week 2: 4x9 @95lbs (3420 total lbs lifted)
Week 3: 4x12 @95lbs (4560 total lbs lifted)
Week 4: 4x15 @95lbs (5700 total lbs lifted)

Here, weight stays the same, reps increase, therefore, the total work increases each week. This increases the total weight lifted.

Adding Tempo

We learned that tempo is how fast or slow perform an exercise.
The slower we perform an exercise, the more time we’re in the movement.

We call this “time under tension.”

Week 1: 5 Squats @2010 Tempo
Week 2: 5 Squats @3010 Tempo
Week 3: 5 Squats @4010 Tempo
Week 4: 5 Squats @5010 Tempo

Here we’re increasing the “down” portion of our squat by 1 sec each week.

2 Secs down
0 Secs pause at the bottom
1 Sec up
0 Secs pause at the top

Reducing Rest

Progressing with rest means reducing the total rest time. By reducing rest, we’re adding in more total work in the same amount of time.

(Fitness nerd talk: we call this density)

Week 1: 5x5 @135lbs; Rest 2 Min
Week 2: 5x5 @135lbs; Rest 90 Secs
Week 3: 5x5 @135lbs; Rest 60 Secs
Week 4: 5x5 @135lbs; Rest 30 Secs

Here you’re decreasing your rest between sets each week. By the end of the 4 weeks, you have 1/4 of the rest time as week 1.


In short, progressive overload is the concept of improving little by little over time.

We can progress by:

  • Adding weight
  • Adding reps
  • Adding tempo
  • Reducing rest
Getting Started

Milton Holdiem Twitter

Focused on coaching busy professionals. Cold brew drinker.


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