The first thing you should know is that the human body doesn’t care that you want to build muscle, burn fat, or become stronger.
Your body only cares about one thing which is keeping you alive and functioning as resourcefully as possible. Needless to say the human body adapts to its environment quickly to ensure you stay alive.
So with that said, the only way your body will ever build muscle or improve the way you want it to is by creating an environment that convinces your body that these changes and improvements MUST be made to keep you alive.Your body will not change or improve unless you force it to.
No matter how perfect your workout is, you will not build muscle or strength unless you convince your body that these are things that must happen in order for you to survive.
And with that said this brings us to the progressive overload principle.
The Progressive Overload Principle
In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.
And what it means is, if you lift the same weights, for the same number of reps, the same way for the next 20 years… nothing will ever happen. Your body will never change or improve in any way. You will only maintain your current state.
However, if you increase the demands you are placing on your body by increasing the weight being lifted, lifting the same weight for more reps, or just doing something that increases the demands that your body needs to meet, then your body will have no other choice but to make the necessary changes and improvements that will allow it to adapt to this environment and remain capable of performing these tasks.
And these “changes” and “improvements” and “adaptations” come in the form of more muscle and strength, less fat, and the overall results you are shooting for.
Muscle growth is just our body’s adaptive response to the demands being placed on it through your exercise regime. You’re basically convincing your body that in order for it to survive, it’s going to need to make these changes and improvements.
An Example of Progressive Overload
Let’s say you can lift 225lbs on the bench press for 2 sets of 6 reps.
Now, if you continue to lift that same 225lbs for those same 2 sets of 6 reps for the next 20 years you will not build muscle or have any strength gains. This is because there was no progressive overload.
Your body has already adapted to this tension (225lbs for 2 sets of 6 reps) and has already built up the amount of muscle needed to perform this task on a regular basis.
Because you ARE NOT increasing the demands being placed on your body, you aren’t giving your body ANY reason to BUILD MUSCLE. If you fail to provide some form of progressive overload over time, your body will never see any reason build muscle.
However, if you were to lift 225lbs for 2 sets of 7 reps instead of 2 set of 6reps on that same exercise, then YOUR BODY WILL HAVE THAT REASON TO BUILD MUSCLE.
You increased the tension, the AND the work your body had to do. Instead of doing the same 2 sets of 6reps with 225lbs, you worked to do 1 additional rep on each set.
And, while it may only seem like a small improvement, it’s EXACTLY what you need to do in order to prove to your body that it needs to improve.
In the same way, if you were to now try to lift 230lbs for 2 sets of 6 reps an increase of 5lbs… the exact same type of reason would now exist for your body to now build muscle.
You’re basically telling your body: Hey, look the work you have to do has increased, so you better build some more muscle and add some more strength to survive.
This is progressive overload.
As long as that reason is there, muscle growth is guaranteed to follow.
Does That Mean I Need To Progress Every Single Workout?
No. This is next to impossible!!! If we all could, everyone would be lifting 315 lbs on the bench press for 50 reps…. so this is not realistic.
However, you should definitely have that mindset and strive to increase the demands being placed on your body as often as you possibly can but always be sure to keep safety and proper form in mind. Whether this happens every workout, or just once per month it is your job to make sure it happens.
As long as you’re forcing progressive overload to take place in some form over time, then your body will continue to build muscle and strength will increase.