Progressive Overload

In the big wide world of exercise science there’s a training principle called Progressive Overload (PO). PO is pretty much the cornerstone of any training program designed to produce performance improvements for the individual who is following the program. In layman’s terms, PO simply means consistently graduating the intensity of the workout by manipulating the training variables – sets, reps, weight, recovery time, range of movement, speed, time under load, distance travelled, gradient, revs… and so on.

In terms of producing results, the sad reality is that…

1. The majority of current gym members don’t train at all (upwards of seventy percent) and once the initial emotion and motivation subsides, so too does the commitment, the sweat and the results (for many people).

2. The majority of people who do work out – and not just in gyms – are essentially “going through the motions”. That is, maintaining (at best) but not seeing significant improvement, adaptation or change.

Change… almost.

Naturally, most people who exercise are looking to create some kind of physical improvement via their training program; leaner, lighter, more strength, flexibility, speed, power, aerobic endurance, muscular endurance and of course, change in appearance. It’s also true that most people won’t achieve and maintain their exercise goals – and not because they don’t have the potential to achieve great results – but because they won’t get uncomfortable enough, often enough and keep doing it. And doing it.

Great at starting, crap at maintaining.

Working Against Resistance

If we want to see significant positive physical change with our exercise program then we need to be prepared to work against resistance consistently – because that’s where the improvement lives. No graduated resistance, equals no improvement. Maintenance perhaps, but no significant physical change. This resistance might come in the form of a heaver weight, an extra rep or five, a steeper gradient on the treadmill, a faster speed on the bike, a different activity, less recovery time between sets, a higher target heart rate… and so on. Our body won’t adapt / change unless we give it a reason to – and most people don’t.

PO in our Head

This concept of Progressive Overload, adaptation and improvement is also true for life beyond the gym, beyond the running track and beyond the physical realm. Just like we subject our biceps, abs, thighs, heart and lungs to a certain level of stress in order to create particular desirable physical outcomes, so too do we need to subject our psychological and emotional muscles to a type of PO in order to become stronger and more effective at dealing with the realities, challenges and speed humps (all forms of resistance) that life presents us. Here are some of the muscles that can only be strengthened and developed by injecting some sensible and strategic PO into our world:

1. Decision making muscles
2. Dealing with feedback muscles
3. Standing up for yourself muscles
4. Self control muscles
5. Doing what scares the crap out of you muscles (too technical?)
6. Perseverance muscles
7. Attitude muscles
8. Problem solving muscles

How do we begin to address our fears? We do what scares us – that is, we work against emotional and psychological resistance; we lift that mental dumbbell. And then we lift a heavier one. Once we face our fears, we become stronger, we develop new skills, our mindset shifts, the “weight” seems lighter and we move to the next (heavier) dumbbell on the rack. This is PO of the psychological variety. And it works. Very effectively. How do we build our attitude muscles? We consciously and consistently choose to find the good, to ask better questions and to deal with “challenges” in a positive and pro-active manner. We choose to work against the resistance that people, circumstances and situations might provide and to do what most people won’t. Lift the heavier dumbbell.

Decision Time

There comes a time when we all walk to the dumbbell rack (either literally or metaphorically) and we ask ourselves a question; do I keep lifting the same (comfortable) weight, repeating the same behaviours and producing the same less-than-desirable results in my world, or do I give my body / mind / potential the workout it actually needs?

Ciao x

Author's Bio: 

Craig Harper (B.Ex.Sci.) is the #1 ranked Motivational Speaker (according to Google). He is a qualified exercise scientist, author, life coach, columnist, radio presenter, television host and owner of one of the largest personal training centres in the world.

Motivational Speaker - Craig Harper