What is progressive overload? I’m going to use this article to set out the principle of progressive overload

The principle of progressive overload refers to the systematic modification of a training program over time. It is typically thought that overload just means increasing the resistance (i.e load) utilized in a certain exercise over time. 

In addition to exercise intensity, progressive overload also refers to frequency and increasing the difficulty of exercise selection (e.g., advancement from low-skill to high-skill exercises). An example of this is going from a regular squat to a one-legged squat.

In applying the principle of progressive overload to using specific exercises, the strength and conditioning professional should look for improvements in volume, intensity, movement quality and efficiency, endurance, and recovery.

The principle of specificity dictates that the overload method(s) chosen should be specific to the desired adaptation. For example, if a client or athlete is training to improve strength, they could gradually add heavier loads or perform more repetitions with the same load.


Manage progression correctly

It is important to note that exercises should be progressed on an individual basis rather than a pre-determined schedule. Progressive overload should be based on a client’s or athlete’s ability level and speed of adaptation. This highlights why the principle of progressive overload is best applied in the programming process after applying the principles of individuality and specificity.

principle of progressive overload _1

strength and muscle tone, please see portfolio for more in this series.

Individuality and specificity means that a program is designed with exercises that will help the client/athlete improve their performance.

A Needs Analysis has been done on the client/athlete which tells the exact biomechanical motions that the individual makes to perform their respective sport or task.  In addition, the energy systems needed to perform the task are taken into account and will be targeted in the program designed for that individual.

Why is progressive overload important?

Progressive overload is important because it ensures the body doesn’t get accustomed to exercise and stagnate and settle into plateau status.  The human body adapts easily to a stress and therefore, it is crucial to always place additional stress on our body so it adapts and continues to make improvements.

Stagnation in our training leads to a lack of improvements which leads to a lack of motivation and interest in training. All of which adds up to a negative downward cycle.

Many people give up because they don’t think that they have the body or genetics to improve their physique, but really they don’t understand how to utilize this fundamental principle of progressive overload. If they did then the results and motivation would follow.


The principle of progressive overload is crucial and is a foundation in the programs I design for my clients.  This ensures they continually challenge themselves, which makes their physique continue to adapt to the stress and improve. 

Progressive overload is fundamental in the Focused-Intense Resistance Exercise (FIRE) programs I design for my clients.  FIRE programs are the cornerstone of a complete body transformation program.  This is all part of my online course in Metabolic Precision.

Connect here with WatchFit Expert Dr Paul Henning

WatchFit Experts change lives!

And they can do the same for you.


Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans