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Progressive Overload

A primary focus of any strength training program is getting stronger and one of the main ways we do that is with progressive overload. It is a common term thrown around the gym, but what is it? The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) defines it as “progressively placing greater than normal demands on the exercising musculature” (Haff & Triplett, 2016, p 99). There are many ways we can place greater than normal demands on muscles to get stronger. But here, we intend to look at the main way.

A Starting Point

A lot of folks enter into the gym and start off with the usual 3 sets of 10 reps. While this moves us in the right direction, if we can complete 10 reps, we are only approaching 75-80% of our 1 Rep Max. This leaves a lot of strength gains on the table. We can increase the weight we use, which will drop the repetitions we can do. We want to able to complete 4-6 repetitions for 3-5 sets. In between each, we will rest for 2-3 minutes. This will put us in 85-90% of 1 Rep Max Range.

Getting Stronger

If we take the bench press at 95 pounds. We can do that for 3 sets of 4-6 reps and the last couple reps, should be a struggle. If we do this twice a week, we can then engage our secret weapon…Adding more weight! The next week, we can add a 2.5# plate to each side and do the same thing. Maybe we only get 4 reps on the last set, but that is progress, some might even say, progressively overloading!


This is a starting point on our path to getting stronger. The gains don’t last forever, and different strategies come into play later. It also helps to write down our workouts so we can chart our progress and know what we lifted last time.



Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed.). Human Kinetics

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