Why Is Progressive Overload Important

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.

Why Is Progressive Overload Important

What is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is a strength-training principle but can be applied to any form of training. It requires gradually increasing one part of an exercise program to induce greater stress on your musculoskeletal and nervous system. This drives adaptations such as strength, muscle growth (hypertrophy) and muscular endurance. Increasing the number of sets, repetitions, weight, volume or by decreasing rest time drives these adaptations. It is recommended to only change one of these variables at a time. Changing too much at once may not have the desired effect or result in injury.

Without progressively overloading our systems, we cannot grow. Performing the same exercise with the same weight for the same sets and reps results in a training plateau. This is why overloading our muscles is so important and is the driving force behind muscle protein synthesis.

How does it work?

When you perform strength training, any stress you put on your muscles will cause your muscle fibres to break down. When you rest, it allows the muscles to repair themselves. Muscles will become stronger in an attempt to be able to cope with the demand placed on it during training. This process of tearing down and repairing is essential to building muscle.

Progressive overload should be done gradually. The training stimulus should only increase without exceeding the persons ability to adequately recover. Injuries can occur from pushing yourself too hard or too fast or not allowing enough recovery time. Everyone is different but increasing a variable to overload the body should occur every few weeks.


Diet, sleep, stress and monitoring fatigue all play a part in achieving the best results from training. Those with a long term plan will have a periodised program that break the weeks, months or years down to smaller timeframes. This helps stay on track and manage the workload appropriately. These periods will include de-load weeks which allow the body to recover. The body can’t cope with constantly overloading every few weeks.

Properly Manage Your Strength Training With Pivotal Motion

If you have any questions about progressive overload or you feel that you’re not quite getting the best out of your program, our physiotherapist team can help! Book an appointment online or call us on 07 3352 5116 to see our Exercise Physiologist today!

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