Understanding Progressive Overload


Have you been working hard on improving your strength and endurance, but find yourself feeling a bit "stuck" in the growth department? When progress starts to steady out, it might be because your exercise routine has become easier to do. The body stops trying to adapt when we stop trying to push our limits. Today we are going to dive into a term that has been sliding into my DM's for quite some time: Progressive Overload.


If you've taken class with me before - you know I love variety. Doing the same thing over and over again just isn't my style! The same thing applies to your routine: when you’re working out, if you want your strength and fitness to improve you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Pushing yourself past perceived limits is paramount for your growth.

It’s so important to challenge yourself and continually build on the success of your previous KE Squad session. Your body adapts each time you exercise and if you don’t make your workout a little bit harder over time, you’ll limit your ability to grow. Notice how I said "over time"- progress is a process! But, how do you do this? Meet the progressive overload principle.

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is gradually increasing the stress you put on your body while exercising over time, or “overloading” it in an effort to grow your muscles and become stronger. The progressive overload principle is made up of four different things: volume, intensity, density and frequency. By introducing progressive overload into your exercise routine, you’ll maximize performance and achieve muscle growth. Remember: progressive overload is not a light switch. This is something we revisit from time to time on our fitness journey to say "OK, that felt good. Next time what can I do to make it a little bit spicier?"

Putting in that SQUAD Progress...

The progressive overload principle has been around for a very long time. Progressive overload plays a super important role in our workouts together. On our monthly/weekly calendars, you know that each week the workouts change and vary in intensity. This increased pressure on your body to adapt to different styles is key to crushing goals and seeing positive changes in your performance. Every month is strategically planned and curated for you to feel your best and show up to the mat each week feeling better and better. For example: in September we have a 4-class series called "Build and Burn". The circuits will always be a similar format, but the finishers will vary over the 4-weeks. This is we can trick our body into adapting and progressing throughout the month. Also, if you're comfortable with the circuit format, you can easily increase in weights, reps, or both throughout the month. Again, nothing is "instant" — progressive overload takes hard work, practice and time.

How does it work?

You can use progressive overload to build endurance, strength and power! Gradually increasing stress on your body triggers its natural, adaptive responses. These responses only kick in when the body is placed under a certain level of pressure. As the pressure increases so does your body’s strength.

I usually get the follow up question "that's it??". It might sound simple and a bit obvious: push harder can increase performance. But progressive overload takes planning and strategy. If you’re not following a calendar and using the "workout notes" in your KE App journal - you won’t know how to progress, right? As the saying goes: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten!

So... what can you do?

I can't say it enough: you don’t have to up the ante on EVERY workout. While you should push to increase the demand on your body, there is such a thing as pushing yourself too hard. There is also no set rule for increasing demand on your body. Everyone is different, and I am here to help everyone achieve their goals on their own time.

  • Dumbbell Graduation Day: My favorite!! Increasing the weight or resistance for strength training, or stretching the distance you are running for our cardio Saturdays.

  • Add Volume: If you're taking class with me - increase the number of reps you are doing within the given time frame. If you're completing a circuit on your own - increase the amount of sets (ex: a 6x4 instead of a 6x3).

  • Less Rest: Decrease the amount of rest time between each rep, it forces your body to work at a higher intensity. If I give 20 seconds to demonstrate the movement and you're ready after 15 seconds - get started, baby! That's a progression!

  • Meet Me On The Mat MORE: I always, always recommend taking one rest day. However, if you're taking multiple rest days and you're beginning to plateau, increase the number of training sessions you are doing each week.

  • Challenge Yourself: If you're taking class and there is a progression for a certain movement - try it. If it looks scary at first, complete the movement's progression for half of the timed interval, and gradually grow with it over time.

  • Increase the effort: Push yourself to work faster, without losing form (particularly during strength or HIIT training). For cardio sessions, bump up your speed! I coach to RPE (rate of perceived exertion), it's up to you to decide how much effort you want to exert each time.

With Challenge Comes Change

Progressive overload sounds a whole lot more complicated than it really is. What it comes down to is continually challenging yourself over time to perform, grow and feel your absolute best. It’s important to remember that while progressive overload mainly combines four elements — volume, intensity, density and frequency — please do not try to increase all of these at once. Work hard in the moment, the long term benefits are on the other side!

I hope this helps you realize that you can absolutely use progressive overload in all of our sessions together! Make sure to log your progress in the KE app, keep track of how you’re doing and make gradual improvements. How will you put the "progress" in progressive overload?


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

My name is Kristina. I’m a wife, a mother, a certified trainer, group fitness instructor, and lover of all things sweat. Follow along as I share my home life, fitness tips, and my personal journey. 

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