What is progressive overload?
A main concept in strength training plans is the idea of progressive overload. Progressive overload allows us to get stronger over time. In simple terms, in order to force adaptation in the body, we have to find ways to make your training a bit harder week-over-week or training cycle-over-training cycle.
Overload can be implemented in a number of ways. The goal is to always increase the challenge presented to the athlete. Overload can be achieved with an increase in volume -- that can be more reps per set or an additional set with the same number of reps from the previous week. For example: *Let's assume this athlete trains squats 2x/week Week 1: Squat Volume = 50 reps (Day 1: 5x5, Day 2: 5x5)
Week 2: Squat Volume = 55 reps (Day 1: 6x5, Day 2: 5x5)
Week 3: Squat Volume = 60 reps (Day 1: 6x5, Day 2: 6x5) OR
Week 1: Squat Volume = 29 reps (Day 1: 4x5, Day 2: 3x3)
Week 2: Squat Volume = 43 reps (Day 1: 4x7, Day 2: 3x5)
Week 3: Squat Volume = 61 reps (Day 1: 4x10, Day 2: 3x7)
(Note that intensity would likely vary with this style of overloading, as well)
Overload can also be achieved by increasing load intensity. For example:
Week 1: Squat 4x8 @ 60%
Week 2: Squat 5x5 @ 70%
Week 3: Squat 4x3 @ 80%
Week 4: Squat 3x1 @ 90-100%
Overload can also be achieved by decreasing rest times between sets, increasing distance traveled (i.e. a sled push or weighted carry) or introducing exercises that require higher demand -- whether that demand is for more immediate force production (power training), time under tension (pauses and tempo variations), mobility requirements (i.e. front squat vs. back squat), or skill development (i.e. full snatch vs snatch from power). Remember that overloading is meant to be executed in a SLOW progression -- increase the challenge by about 10% at a time to minimize risk of injury while maximizing recovery for the purpose of adaptation.