The Progressive Overload Training Principle (POTP) is something that a lot of people like to talk about and people claim to know all about it; but how much do they really know? If the guy that is in the gym maxing out in every lift, claims to know about this principle, they probably don’t. If somebody comes up to you and tells you about Overload and they constantly complain about not recovering well from workouts or frequently gets injured, then they don’t know about it. Or they know and choose to ignore it.
The POTP is actually pretty simple and is exactly what you think it is. You are progressively overloading in your training. This can be done by manipulating intensity, frequency, volume, or duration in your training. The key is to do a little more over a longer period of time, rather than drastically increasing intensity or volume in a short period of time. This is something that I have to keep in mind when training my runners. Many have never run long distance before, so I can not start them off right away with running 40+ miles a week. They first might start off with maybe 10-15 miles and then depending on how they perform and how their body adjusts to this new stimulus, I may after a few weeks, bump the mileage up to 20-25 miles per week.
This is just one of the many ways to use progressive overload. This could also be used for Powerlifters. Take somebody who can regularly bench 225 for 5 sets of 5 reps. Maybe this is an easy weight for them and they have goals of getting stronger. They might want to try doing 230 or 235 for the five sets of five. With this slight increase in weight, the athlete is now able to get a little more stimulus while benching which can help lead to long term gains in strength. With it being a smaller jump in weight, they are also able to perform the sets and reps with quality form and speed compared to somebody that might try jumping up to 255 instead. This also can help to reduce risk of injury.
Progressive Overload is used in many different ways rather than just training for competitions. This is the driving force behind injury rehabilitation. Imagine an elderly women gets a total knee replacement, you’re not going to want her walking on it the very next day. You start slow with simple movements and over the next few months, you slowly do a little more, whether it’s increasing the range of motion, putting a little more weight on it, etc. One day she may even want to start a workout regimen that way she can stay healthy and prevent any further knee problems. So rather than starting with full squats, you might have her start squatting to a high box, then progressively get a little lower and lower over the coming weeks/months, depending on how she is feeling and performing.
When you are progressively overloading, you are adding a stimulus to the body that will force it to adapt and grow. This is why strength training is so important. It forces the muscles, bones, and nervous system to adapt so that they can perform and a higher level than they could before. The most important thing to keep in mind however is to take your time. You don’t want to rush and increase the weights too much or jump into a training volume that is too high. That is how injuries can occur. So take your time and listen to your body and you will see the results you want. It’s all about building and striving for constant progression. Rome wasn’t built in a day.