The Importance of Progressive Overload

Black and white photo of a woman lifting a barbell from a squat position Featured image for Importance of Progressive Overload blog for Pivotal Motion Physiotherapy.

The Importance of Progressive Overload

How often do you hear something like this? It’s the new year, you’re motivated to achieve your goal of running your first half marathon in 3 months time. The first week of training goes well, you hit your targets and are happy with the way things are going. The following week you decide to train even harder and then pull up with sore knees or ankles a few days later. The large increase in training load is the biggest risk factor for injury. This is something that can and should be avoided through the use of progressive overload. Progressive overload allows the body to recover and adapt to training stimulus, while keeping the injury risk low. The importance of progressive overload is under-stressed in sport. Every athlete and coach should be implementing progressive overload in their training.

How to implement

When you start training for an event, regardless of the sport, you must monitor how much time you spend each week training or playing. The aim is to either keep your weekly time similar or a small portion either higher or lower. Many people take years off sport and then decide to pick up the shoes again and take up where they left off. Physiotherapists very often see patients from this scenario. The injuries they suffer can so easily be mitigated if they implemented progressive overload in their training.

If you’re someone who gets injured a lot because you try to do too much at once maybe you should try a change. Take one week to time how long you spend in your sport, this includes time in the gym, training, and games you play. Add up the total at the end of the week and that’s where you’ll start. You’ll then aim to only slightly change this loading time for the next few weeks. Don’t get sucked into a large increase in one week just because you feel good. Injuries take 2-3 weeks to come on after large increases in training load.

Now the total time is important for progressive overload, however, you also need to factor in intensity and total volume.

Intensity and volume

Adding in the total time can give you a basic indicator of your load for the week. To make your total load more accurate you need to add in the intensity of your training. Harder sessions will have more of an impact on your body and therefor they will increase the total load for the week. High intensity sessions need to be spread throughout your training. You should only start with 1-2 high intensity sessions a week. While we advocate for the importance of progressive overload, doing too many high intensity sessions in a short period of time will increase your injury risk.

Changing your load

When you are building up your load you need to be careful with how you adjust. You should only increase either intensity and volume one at a time. If you decide to increase your volume, then you should either decrease or maintain your intensity that week. Visa versa if you increase your intensity, decrease or maintain your volume. Over time your body becomes more tolerant to the load and you can afford to make changes more regularly.

If you have any loading injuries or want a progressive overload program get in in touch with our sports physio team today. For further questions and enquiries, reach out to one of our friendly phyio or exercise physiology experts by calling us on 07 3352 5116, emailing or by booking online.


Updated 18/11/2022

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