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Progressive Overload

“I’ve been enjoying your advice about training with minimal equipment but I don’t have enough weights to overload effectively. What do you suggest?”

Without providing the muscles with progressive overload, continual adaptations in muscle strength and size would stop, so it is a valid concern. The thing is there are many ways in which you can overload a muscle instead of just increasing weight.

Ways to overload a muscle or lift:

  • Add more weight (most common but not relative to your question)

  • Perform more reps

  • Perform more sets

  • Decrease the rest period

  • Improve technique

  • Increase speed of the lift, plyo’s, use some Olympic lifting variations

  • Use a slower eccentric tempo

  • Use methods / techniques such as paused reps, 1 ¼ reps, drop sets, rest pause methods, functional isometrics, pre-fatigue or post fatigue, mechanical drop sets

As you can see you have many options as to how you can continually challenge yourself to make progress without adding more weight to the bar.

For example, if you only have 100kg of weight, and you can bench that for a comfortable 5 reps for 3 sets and you have been resting 2 minutes between sets, you could simply do 5 sets of 5 reps with that same weight to provide an overload.

Once this becomes easy you could drop your rest period by 15 seconds each workout. So instead of resting 2 mins you would rest 1:45, if you could bench 5 x 5 at 100kg with that rest then you have progressed, the next workout you would only rest 1:30 and then repeat the process.

At some point, fatigue will kick in and it will be very hard to continue to get the 5 x 5 for a while. If you had been grinding out your last 1 or 2 reps each set, you could leave all variables the same and just focus on keeping your technique really clean and working on being able to get the 5 x 5 without grinding out any reps, before you move on once again.

After following a process like this, you could then start over but this time using paused reps as an example. You lower the weight for 3 seconds, pause on the chest for 2 seconds, and then explode it up before beginning the next rep. Then you can follow the same pattern above about increasing sets, decreasing the rest period, etc.

This is far from extensive but I hope it gives you some ideas on how you can improve your training.

For most people, I think this is why they stagnate so much in the gym. I see them do the exact same workout day in day out, month after month, year after year. No wonder they struggle to get motivated. I would be as bored as hell. They have plateaued and are barely seeing results for their efforts. A change is probably all they need.

Our clients are with us for years and I doubt any of them have done the exact same workout. For me, the fun part is making small changes and experimenting a bit, I am excited with each new change.

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