Let's face it, the experienced you become as a lifter the more difficult the task of increasing strength on a regular basis.

There are two key points to progressive overload that you must consider in order to keep making improvements in strength. The first aspect is to make small increments. The second point is that these increments must be made on a consistent basis throughout the lifting program – consistant gains.

As a coach or consultant to bodybuilders, athletes and others in the fitness industry for over 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of people lift weights. I believe that many rail-road themselves into strength (and physique) plateaus because they fail to implement these two essential components of progressive overload.

How do you keep getting stronger and stronger?

Many athletes don’t believe me when I tell them that they should expect to make quality gains in strength, year after year. Let’s employ the two aspects of the progressive overload principle in a real life training program and you’ll see how powerful these tools really are.

Let’s use the barbell squat as an example. Let’s say you've been stuck at squatting 315 pounds for 6 reps for longer than you'd care to admit. Now, the first step to bust through this plateau is to make a conscious decision to add weight to the bar every squat workout for the next 8 weeks. This is the start of your next Max-OT training cycle and you are going to add weight to the barbell, every week in this exercise. Sound impossible? It’s not. You just have to structure your approach.

The second step is that we have to design a way to achieve our goal of adding weight to the bar every week. The only way to realistically achieve this objective is to utilize the smallest increments possible. Most good gyms have little tiny one-pound (or even half-pound) discs scattered about the gym floor or hiding in the corner. Most bodybuilders ignore these little discs but they shouldn’t; for the true iron-warrior, those little discs are the essential tools for building a great physique. They are the tools of progressive overload and the true secret to massive strength.

See Also:
“Super-Slow” Weight Training Versus Conventional Weight Training and The Effects on Energy Expenditure

If adding a one-pound disc to each side of the bar each week does not seem impressive to you then consider the following information.

After your 8-week Max-OT training cycle you will have added 16 pounds to your best squat and smashed your plateau with ease. The reason is simple. Due to the gradual but persistent increase in overload that small increments allow, your body's physiology has time to adapt and respond. Simply by making that decision to add one little one-pound disc to each side of the bar every week, your 315 pound squat has now reached 331 pounds for 6 reps.

Now, let me paint a bigger picture. Allowing for a rest week after each training cycle, let's be conservative and say that you are able to perform four (8-week) Max-OT training cycles each year, (this still leaves 16 weeks in the year). In each training cycle you manage to add a one-pound disc to each end of the barbell, every week. After one year of training you will be squatting 379 pounds! That's an increase of 65 pounds! Remember, you were stuck on 315!

Think of the muscle mass that goes along with that sort of gain in strength. Are you drooling? You damn well should be.

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Making Big Gains in Small Increments . . .

by Paul Cribb Ph.D. CSCS. time to read: 3 min