Progressive Overload: 5 ways to get stronger without adding weight.


Progressive Overload: 5 ways to get stronger without adding weight.

Progressive Overload is a training principle that uses increasing demands on the body to ensure continued growth and progress. This is essential for long term progress and can be achieved in many ways.


Here are 5 ways to apply progressive overload in a training program before adding extra weight.


Improvement of QUALITY

Sometimes you don’t want to measure progress as lifting heavier or doing more volume of work. Instead, you can measure if the movement quality has improved.

Does it feel easier?  Are you able to maintain your form or feel muscles you hadn't felt before?

Your goal before trying to lift heavier should be to have control in the full range of motion of any movement.



The speed you perform the movement – it’s more ‘fun’ when it’s slow.

By slowing down or adding pauses when performing a movement, you are increasing the time the muscle is under tension. Sometimes you may not be capable of lifting a heavier weight, but by increasing the time under tension you are increasing the demands on the muscle and therefore getting stronger.  

In a program this might look like this:

Tempo (3,2,1,0)

When written like this the first number always refers to the lowering phase of the movement, this example is a 3-count lowering. The second number is the time in the bottom, here it is a 2-count pause. The third number is the time to return to the beginning, here is a single count. The final number is the amount of time before starting the next rep, here I would be no pause and starting the next rep directly.



Increasing how far you move in any given movement.

This is especially useful when trying to improve mobility, consider a normal lunge is limited by the knee reaching the floor. To increase the range of motion (ROM) you could stand on a step, then lunge backward reaching the knee to the floor. This will increase the ROM in the hip and knee flexion, therefore increasing the demands on the muscles in a lengthened position.  



Adding partial reps to each performed repetition adds to the total volume of work in the working set.

For example, a 1+1/2 Squat would be performed by squatting down to the lowest point, rising back up half way before lowering back to the bottom then returning to standing. This strategy is another way on increasing time the muscles are under tension with each rep.



Repetitions can be an added by single rep or added sets.

How much you add would be determined by how you are recovering, how close you are to failure, or where you are in a training cycle.


Increased LOAD

Increasing the load you are lifting is the last way you would progress.

When you have control of a full range of motion, ability to maintain tension throughout a whole set of repetitions without losing form, then you add weight. For example, last week you did 12 reps with 12kgs with good form, this week you could do 8-10 reps with 14kgs aiming to maintain the same quality of your movement.


In my experience coaching thousands of people, many women struggle with adding weight as they are afraid of lifting heavier, even when they are strong enough to lift more. This is where having a good coach is important to support you past your fears and limiting beliefs.


Whereas many men lift heavier than they should be before obtaining the prerequisite form and stability. In this case the coach’s role is to reign in the ego and ensure enough challenge is achieved while maintaining requisite form first.


Remember the goal of progressive overload is to continually make progress from training session to training session. If you are doing too many reps or sets at the beginning of a training cycle you will not be capable of increasing week to week.


Whichever approach you choose the aim is to continue using that approach for at least 4-6 weeks while progressing week to week. If you change your approach and movements continuously you cannot measure progress and will be limiting your ability to make gains.


At The Shero Life all our in-person and online training options utilise the progressive overload principle to ensure our clients making the greatest progress possible.

For more info on our training programs, visit our training page.