The Secret to Gains

Progressive Overload

Marc Dalke

11/11/20223 min read

The most celebrated wrestler in the ancient world was a man named Milo, born in Croton, a city famous for producing excellent wrestlers. He won 6 Olympic titles and dominated the sport for 24 years. His feats of strength are legend and include the wrestler being able to hold a pomegranate without damaging it while challengers tried to pry his fingers from it. Another report says he could burst a band fastened around his brow by inhaling air and causing the temple veins to swell. Legends say he once carried a four-year-old bull (today’s weight estimate for a 4-year bull is 2,200 lbs) on his shoulders before slaughtering, roasting, and devouring it in one day. He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting the bull by starting in childhood, lifting and carrying a newborn calf and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity. This is the essence of progressive overload. While many of his feats may be exaggerated (or completely fabricated) the principle of progressive overload is very real.

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is when you gradually increase the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine. This challenges your body and allows your musculoskeletal system to adapt and get stronger. This coincides with the law of adaptation discussed in a previous post. Progressive overload is mainly used for strength (weightlifting), but can also be used for endurance (running). You can achieve progressive overload in four different ways: increasing resistance, reps, tempo, and time.

Increasing Resistance

Adding additional stress to your muscles allows them to break down, rebuild, and get stronger. One way to do this is to lift heavier, which means increasing the weight you’re lifting.You should be comfortable lifting a weight for 10–12 repetitions before you move on to a heavier weight. You should also master the exercise and make sure you have good form before you move up in weight. When you’re ready to lift heavier, look for a weight that you can lift for about 10 repetitions — but the last 2 or 3 reps should be a challenge. If you’re doing multiple sets, give yourself plenty of time to rest in between. You should also take 1 or 2 days off in between lifting to give your body time to recover.

Increasing Reps

Increasing the number of repetitions puts more demand on your muscles. This can make them stronger over time. For each exercise, try increasing from 2 sets of 10 reps one month to 2 sets of 12 reps the next month. You can also switch to 3 sets instead of performing only 2 sets.

Increasing Tempo

Increasing the tempo of your workouts can help you get stronger and fitter. You can do this by working out at a quicker pace or with less rest time in between sets. Try increasing the tempo by decreasing the amount of rest in between sets.

Increasing Time

In order to increase endurance, you need to increase the length of your workouts. While strength training, for example, you can do a higher number of reps with a lower weight. Increase the number of repetitions only after you’ve spent a few weeks mastering an exercise. A certified personal trainer can also create a plan to help you with endurance. For cardiovascular endurance, you can increase the length of your cardio exercise sessions. Do this gradually. For example, run or cycle an additional 20 minutes every few weeks. Allow your body plenty of recovery time after putting additional strain on it. Rest for 2 or 3 days before your next cardio workout.

This article is titled The Secret to Gains. As such, I feel like i need to be abundantly clear. The secret is: progressive overload, consistency, effort, and loving what you do. 80% of your success in the gym (or on the track) is going to come from those four things. Consistency trumps motivation. Unlike a slot machine, what you get out of the gym is what you put into your workouts. Hit them hard and heavy and embrace "the suck". Half-ass effort will produce half-ass results. The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.

(n.d.). Milo of Croton.,of%20Milo's%20death%20is%20unknown.
Pressfield, S. (2002). The War of Art. Rugged Land.
(n.d.). What is Progressive Overload Training>.