By Tim Paynter, @paynterperiodization
The three most common methods used to accomplish progressive overload are: Increasing resistance, increasing training volume, or increasing both resistance and training volume. In powerlifting, we typically increase resistance by adding more weight to the bar but we can also add some sort of additional resistance in the form of band tension, increasing time under tension with tempo/pause reps, or increasing the range of motion through variations in bars, and other movement parameters. Training volume is increased by adding in additional sets or reps. This could mean doing 6 sets of 5 reps, or 5 sets of 6 reps, with a weight we previously did for 5 sets of 5 reps. It could also involve increasing training frequency by performing two squat works per week instead of one, etc. To increase both resistance and volume we would want to both increase the load on the bar and increase sets, reps, or training frequency. This type of progressive overload is often reserved for short periods of time as it can become very taxing on an athletes’ recovery to do both at the same time. This is typically an advanced strategy for a specific purpose, such as when preparing for a meet or attempting to bring up a single lift that is lagging far beyond the others.
When choosing how to progressively overload, it is important to consider the lifters training experiences and ability levels. Typically, the most effectively way for beginner lifters to accomplish progressive overload is by simply adding a few lb/kg to the bar each session while completing the same number of sets/reps as you did in the previous session. This will work for a while but not forever. As eventually, the lifter will stall out and need a new training stimulus in order to progress.
When you are no longer able to simply increase resistance session to session, the lifter is considered by most to no longer be in the beginner stages of training and instead be considered an intermediate. In this stage we often start by reducing the load and attempting to add an additional set or additional reps to what you the lifter was previously able to do with the same weight. In this stage, we may also consider increasing training frequency as it is likely the lifter has built up efficient movement patterns (proper form) which may allow them to train each lift more often with less stress on their joints and nervous system. When lifters are no longer able to or are struggling greatly to progress from one training block to another despite following a well-developed program, sleeping sufficiently, and eating well: We start to consider these lifters advanced.
For advanced lifters, progressive overload gets tricky, here is where the long game begins. Advanced lifters will likely not be able to simply add sets, reps, or load from session to session or even week to week. Here they must begin to look at increasing the average resistance per set and/or average weekly or per session volume from training block to training block. This may mean adding as little as few additional sets per block, one heavier set per block, etc. This sort of progressive overload requires a great deal of planning for even smaller improvements.
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter progressive overload needs to be implemented in your training plan to progress. Often, lifters utilize this without realizing by simply trying to do more work than they did before in attempt to improve their numbers. If you want to speed up your progress, look at your program and see if there is a better way to implement progressive overload.
Presented to you by the USPC & WPUSA:
The United States Powerlifting Coalition was created to provide powerlifters an atmosphere where they can be comfortable in a safe, lifting environment. We utilize a monolift on the platform in order to provide the best experience for both lifters and spotters and to promote safety and confidence when squatting; a fat pad bench with face savers and Texas squat, power and deadlift bars on the platform.