Strength Training Programs – How to Overload, In a Good Way
This is Part 4 of a 4-Part series detailing how to build a successful training program.
A successful resistance training program has specificity, variation, progression, and overloading built into it. Ignoring any of these principles will limit a training cycle’s ability to stimulate the desired outcome. It will also decrease likely adherence to the training cycles / programs and increase the probability of injury. Bottom line: if your training cycles don’t incorporate overloading, they will produce limited results – if any.
In Part 1 of this series, we talked about specificity (training to produce a targeted change or result). Part 2 discussed variation (manipulating different variables in your training cycle). In Part 3 of this 4-part series we addressed progression (advancing your training to match and continue challenging your progress).
The fourth, and final piece of the puzzle is the principle of overload. Overload refers to a training intensity that is more (or higher) than what you are typically used to. When we overload, the goal is to slowly increase the load you are training with to build both slow- and fast-twitch fibers while avoiding injuries and overtraining. The most common (and arguably the simplest) method to incorporate overload into your workout is to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting and the number of reps or sets of a given exercise, shortening the rest interval between those sets, and increasing the frequency of your workouts (e.g. the number of times you are lifting each week.)
The overload principle is essential and should be mixed in systematically, but it must be used in conjunction with the principles of progression and variation. You need to structure overload in a progressive fashion to allow your body to adapt to the new, higher levels of training intensity and heavier loads.
The overload principle should also be implemented into your training, gradually – over the course of an entire cycle or program. An increase of 2% to 5% (of the training load with most exercises) from week-to-week is a safe place to start depending on your training status and the rate your body is adapting to the increased training intensity. At some point your body will adapt to the resistance training. The result of those adaptations will be a plateau. When you plateau, the work will no longer be challenging. You’ll start breezing through your lifting as if it were your warm-ups. To avoid this, we increase the load you’re lifting to make sure we continue to force your muscles to adapt and grow. The goal is to continue to challenge your muscles to do more (e.g., heavier weight, more sets, more often, or with less rest). Overloading your muscles will force them to grow, and to get stronger.
Periodization training drives through the overload principle through each phase (another one of the factors that makes it so effective). Overload should be applied to your weekly training, over the course of your cycles and programs, and even within an individual workout – it always mixed in! Periodization forces the progressive overload by continuously pushing you through more challenging phases. A solid argument could be made for overload being the most important component of HYPERTROPHY training (HYPERTROPHY is one of the training phases of periodization). If your goal is to decrease body fat, increase body tone, improve your body composition, put on or maintain lean muscle mass, you should be training through a HYPERTROPHY phase 3-4 times a year.
All our training cycles have the overloading principle built into them, across a week of training, from week-to-week and from cycle to cycle. It’s something you never have to spend time trying to figure out. Visit https://specimentraining.com/training to check them out for yourself!Sign up for our In The Lab newsletter to get more training tips, program offers, and a wealth of information on how to “Go Beyond Your Limits”!