How To Apply Progressive Overload

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Progressive overload is one of the most important concepts when it comes to lifting weights. 

In my younger years, I never even thought of the concept, of progressive overload.

When I used to walk in the gym, I used to be that guy that would hoard all the dumbbells around my bench. 

Crushing, drop set after drop set.

Just going 110 percent on the heaviest weight possible, there was absolutely no mind-body connection. I was basically just a horny kid running through the hallway at the high school.

My mind was going a mile a minute without listing what my body wanted or needed for muscle growth.

Let me ask you this;

  • Do you find yourself socializing at the gym?
  • Do you have specific rest periods between sets?
  • Do you feel stuck with the same weights week after week?

If this sounds familiar to you, we have to make progressive overload a priority in your routine.

I like to refer to progressive overload as the ten percent rule that I implemented in our Rookie Camp!

Every time you come to bat at the gym, you must improve something by 10 percent! 

That could be as little as;

  • increasing load
  • increasing sets
  • increasing reps 
  • decreasing rest times

When applying progressive overload properly, combined with deload weeks, you will find plateaus will be a thing of the past!

Overload Principle 

Overload Principles related to weight training are when you push your muscles beyond their current limits.

Without overloading the body, you will not see continuous muscle growth. Therefore, you will find yourself plateauing.

As discussed earlier, in our Rookie Camp, we refer to progression overload as the 10 percent rule. 

I used to have the mentality that the only way to overload was by increasing my weight.

But the fact is, there are many different ways to improve muscle growth.

Just increasing one style of progressive overload every week will help towards muscle hypertrophy.

What is progressive overload? 

The main objective of progressive overload is to increase the stress on your muscles during your workouts over time.

Either by increasing your weights, sets, reps, changing tempo, or many other ways.

Say if you bench press 200 lbs for ten sets, and four weeks pass. And you are still benching that same amount of weight for the same volume.

There is a good chance your muscle had no progress, causing a plateau in your muscle growth. 

Beginners will find that their overload progress will be more rapid compared to someone more advanced. 

On the other hand, the average gym addict who has been lifting weights for many years will find it more difficult to see progress week to week! 

Just remember, improvement means a little at a time. Even adding 2.5 lbs every two weeks is still considered progress for the more advanced lifter.

Mind Muscle Connection

What is Mind Muscle Connection?

Mind Muscle Connection is commonly overlooked but also very critical when it comes to listing to your muscles. 

By not having a good Mind Muscle Connection, you could be working your secondary muscles more than required in a compound exercise rather than focusing on the primary muscles group. 

For example,

An improper bench press with too heavy of a weight. Could engage your triceps more than you want, rather than giving you a pump in the chest.

A good mind-muscle connection will help determine when and how to increase your overload to the target muscle group. To achieve optimal growth, by getting Bigger Stronger Leaner.

Common mistakes when building a good mind-muscle connection is training with a too heavy amount of weight. I am 100 percent guilty of this exact thing.

Looking back, I never spent the time focusing on using lighter weights and proper form. Because I was too worried about being judged as a pussy. When in fact, I was jeopardizing muscle growth.

If someone at the gym is watching you, that knows anything about anything. 

Believe me!

They will be more impressed with your tempo and how you build a program around what muscles you prioritize.

Forms Of Progression

Straight set 

When using a straight-set progression, first find out what your one-rep max is. You will want to begin with roughly 85 percent of your one rep max. 

It will take some trial and error when determine the proper amount of load. But remember, we are not lifting until failure. 

In the first week of a program try focusing on three sets of ten reps, while aiming for 3-5 Reps In Reserve. 

By the last couple of reps in your last set is when you will notice muscle fatigue. 

Starting with an RIR of four in the first couple of sets, there is a good chance this will lead to a one RIR when approaching your last set.

Once you have completed all three sets in week one or two and start finding that your Reps In Reserve are now 4 or 5 in your last set. You can use set progression for the next week by adding an extra set.

Set progression is a great way to increase overload without increasing your weight selection.


Just like anything when lifting weights, too much of one thing will lead to a plateau. 

Building a program around the science of Hypertrophy Training allows you to use all three rep ranges. All depending on your goals, each rep range will help you progress from;

  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscle Growth 
  • And Muscle Endurance 

Beginners to weight lifting should focus on improving muscle strength, tempo, and form before progressing to muscle growth.

As you progress through each phase of Hypertrophy Training, start with the lower rep range, working your way to the higher end of hypertrophy.

  • 5-10 reputations
  • 10-20 reputations
  • and 20-30 reputations

When jumping up a rep range is another great way to keep improving the growth of your muscles without increasing the weight amount.

The best part about increasing your reputation ranges will take the guesswork out of how much weight you need to be lifting. You will continue to use the same amount of weight from your first phase of hypertrophy right up until the third and final phase.


If feeling a little crazy, you can throw some serious curveballs at your body by spicing up your set styles.

There are a lot of different styles of sets to make sure you are working the target muscles effectively and completing your workouts in less time.


Supersets are when you are doing exercises back to back without rest.

Adding supersets to your routine will be time-saving in the gym while creating more stress than straight sets. 

However, unlike drop sets, supersets target two different muscle groups with zero rest time in between. 

Using compound exercises that combine both the primary and secondary muscles would work best for muscle hypertrophy and save you time in your workouts. 

For example, 

doing a set of chest presses, followed by an isolation exercise for the triceps. 

Down set 

Down sets, also known as drop sets, create stress on the muscle with back-to-back sets.

Start with lifting a heavier load for the first set. Roughly 85 percent of your one rep max for 5-10 reps.

Immediately after, lighten the load by 10-30 percent and push out another 5-10 reps.

While staying in the one max rep percent range for hypertrophy, reduce the load one last time for another 10-30 percent for the third and final set.

Try to properly portion each percent of volume to each rep range, which is discussed more in our Rookie Camp!

The benefits of drop sets will help create more stress on the target muscle groups.

Giant Set 

Giant Sets are for someone whose a little more advanced with a higher weekly set maintenance volume.

Giant sets are doing four or more exercises back to back with no break.

Two styles of Giant sets include,

  • Four sets causing stress to the same muscle group
  • or Four sets working multiple muscle groups

Doing so will increase the intensity and time efficiency of your training. 

Ultimately you will start to burn more calories during your workout by increasing your heart rate and fueling your metabolism so you can burn more calories at rest.

Giant Sets are a more advanced style of training that will cause muscle hypertrophy to help maximize muscle growth.

Weight load 

When ready to up the weight selection, I like to introduce the 10 percent rule, which is more discussed in our Rookie Camp!

The 10 percent rule means to try to increase your effort, by 10 percent from the previous week.

To improve muscle growth, you must increase the part of your workout every week.

Following the 10 percent rule will help your body slowly work in your muscles and joints to help with your ultimate goal while reducing your chance of any setbacks related to injuries or plateaus.

In phase one of our Rookie Camp we focus primarily on strength, lifting heavier while staying in the lower rep ranges for muscle hypertrophy. 

The best thing about building a foundation with strength, it will help create a better form when increasing reputations that support growing muscle.

Underapplication of overload

Reps In Reverse (RIR)

I find Reps In Reverse are the most overlooked concept when it comes to muscle growth.

I was just like the majority of the average weight lifters in the world. Grab the heaviest weight you can find and push it until failure.

Believe it or not, the best muscle growth is when you are leaving anywhere from 2-5 Reps In Reverse or RIR. 

Especially when only using 60 percent of your one rep max will make the earlier sets feel effortless, making you feel like the workout is not good enough.

How do you use Reps In Reverse for progressive overload?


At the beginning of a workout program, try to stay in the high range of RIR.

The highest number of your reps in reverse should be 5.

As your program gradually moves forward, slowly decrease your RIR down to 2.

When your reps in reverse begin to take you right to failure, take a step back and create a deload week! 

Short Rest Between Sets 

Rest times between sets can vary anywhere from 30 seconds to 90 seconds, depending on training goals. 

When strength training, rest time should be on the higher side of the scale. 

But when trying to enhance muscle growth with hypertrophy training, try to limit your rest time to around 30 to 60 seconds.

If you find yourself stuck following the same rest times guidelines, mix it up a bit. Changing rest time-frequency will cause more stress in the muscle helping progressive overload without increasing your weight load.

Frequency Progression

The training frequency refers to the number of workouts performed per week.

When determining your frequency, this brings us back to  Mind Muscle Connection.

When first starting a muscle hypertrophy program, lifting weight three days a week is ideal. 

Once you build stamina to increase your weekly workouts, you need to start paying close attention to your muscles. 

The day after your muscles have fully recovered from the previous session is the green light to hit that muscle group again.

Increasing the number of workouts you can do per week, eventually reaching up to working out each muscle group 3 times a week.

Working out each muscle group one, two, or even three times a week is perfect. But the number of days you work out is not as important as improving your weekly set Maximum Volume. Increasing weekly sets is more important than how many days a week you work out. Try spreading this number evenly throughout the week. 

Depending on your fitness level, your weekly MV could be anywhere from 10-30 sets. NEVER exceed 30 weekly sets for one muscle group per week. 


Every workout program should always start by listing to your muscles. 

Building a great mind muscle connection will help steer the ship in the right direction.

When your MMC is spot on, you will learn to fully understand when enough is enough and how hard you can push your body. 

Progressing too much too fast will result in injury and a faster plateau. Causing to take time off or an early deload week. 

Progressive overload is more than just lifting more weights. 

You could also,

  • Set Progression
  • Rep Progression 
  • Frequency Progression 
  • Decrease Rep In Reverse
  • and many other ways

As a beginner, start with a Maintenance Volume of 6 sets per muscle group and slowly increase this number every week.

If you are more advanced, NEVER exceed 30 sets for your maximum volume sets. Chances are when reaching weekly set max, will overwork your muscles, causing an early plateau and reducing your muscle growth potential.

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