Progressive overload: the best way to build skeletal muscle naturally

If you have been following my blog over the past few months, you know a little about my background. I have trained so many different ways over the past 7 years. My goal has always been to build muscle. Yes, I of course wanted to lose some baby weight too, but the ultimate goal was always (and still is) to gain strength and muscle mass. What I have come to realize in the past year is that I wish I would have trained the way I do now to start with 7 years ago.

To some degree I have trained in the past using the progressive overload method. But in the past year I have really focused on it after hiring a competition prep coach. I have noticed such incredible gains in both strength and aesthetics over the past year that honestly I can hardly believe it myself.  I have been asked if I’m still natural because fellow gym members don’t believe the change actually came from working hard at training and following a clean and healthy nutritional plan. So what is the big secret? I’m not going to get into the science behind it because I know generally people don’t care, so I will tell you the simple truth to what I changed in the past year.

Generally most people (and this includes me in the past) want to change their workouts every week and do new fun things to keep the workouts fresh and exciting. I get it, I think that’s great too. However, in progressive overload, the idea is to keep your workout exercise selection simple, effective, and consistent for an extended amount of time. Each week you should be trying to beat your prior week, whether it is in weight lifted or rep range with the same weight. For example, if you benched 225 for 8 last week and your rep range is 8-12, maybe try to get 10-12 this week. When you hit 12, increase your weight until you can at least get 8 and work through the process again. Each week you should see yourself progressing. As your muscles adapt to the weight, you want to keep challenging them so they continue adapting to heavier weight and growing. With myself, I usually find that around 8-10 weeks of the same exercise selection I start seeing some plateauing, more soreness, and not much growth. This is a good time to start a deload program for a week and then start a new exercise protocol for the next 8-12 weeks.

The trick with this method is, you really need to track your weekly progress. Write down (or use an app or spreadsheet on your phone) the exercise, the reps and weight lifted for each set. This way you know exactly where you left off on the previous week and where to start this week. Obviously you should always do some warm up sets before starting off on anything heavy, but you at least will know on your working sets where you should be starting. It is really difficult to remember off the top of your head (this is what I used to do) and that will cause a lot of repeated weight lifted and wasted sets.

The other great part about this method is that it challenges you to beat your previous lift. It makes it a fun little challenge in my opinion. Plus, when you are noticing that you aren’t seeing growth anymore or maybe you are getting sore and it is affecting your lifts, it lets you know immediately that you need to take action to correct this. Whether it is a deload week, a massage, chiro visit, whatever may be the problem, it awakens you to notice it and deal with it.

Honestly, it may seem like extra work having to record your workouts, and boring because you don’t get to “switch it up” often, but it really has been extremely effective for me personally. I’m sure it has also been effective for many others too, but I will only vouch for myself 🙂


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