Applying Progressive Overload Principles to Exercise


Hi, this is the voice version of the GUS article,
‘Principles are Not Tools,’ which is a continuation of the article ‘Progressive Overload and Its
Application to Strength Training.’ In that article, I stated that the term progressive
overload gets thrown around too much in fitness that it loses all meaning. I said that it’s too vague and misconstrued. And I complained that the goal of progressive
overload is often substituted for the actual performance goal as if these things are one
and the same. In many fitness domains, they may be, but
in strength training, they’re usually not. Progressive overload is a principle. While progressively overloading your body
is a training tool, principles themselves are not tools. This probably seems like a contradiction. Ah, first, what do I mean when I say that
a principle is not a tool? Well a principle that underlies the adaptation
to exercise such as progressive overload is not a tool in itself that tells you what to
do. It explains WHY what we DO works. Yes, most people explain it as a tool, and
most books will list some of the ways that the principle of progressive overload can
be applied, such as adding volume, adding weight,
decreasing time, or increasing frequency. But, let’s say that I tell you that spending
too much time in the sun will make your skin turn red and become inflamed. That’s what we call “sunburned.” So, later on, you come to me and say, man,
I got this cleaning fluid on my skin and my skin turned really red and got irritated! You didn’t tell me that would happen, you
said the sun would do that! Well that’s…you’re kind of sounding like
a dumbass right now but the point is that knowing that too much sun exposure would inflame
would not necessarily make you understand the other things that could inflame your skin
in similar ways. Suppose then that I had explained the underlying
physiology. I explain to you the principles behind these
reactions of the skin. So, now, are you armed with all the things
that may result in inflammatory skin reactions? You may have a better idea, right? You might know that some examples are noxious
chemicals, and you may…you may know in general to avoid harsh cleaning products on your skin,
right? But, you don’t know every single thing that
your skin might possibly react to. How could you know that? I mean, how COULD you know that? Some things you must learn through observation,
and experience, and even experimentation. You may, beforehand, through your knowledge,
have a pretty good idea that a certain thing will result in a bad reaction, but you don’t
KNOW. You don’t know until you have what? Until you have direct evidence. You still have to find out. And other things, they may still surprise
you. So, it’s the it’s the same for the principles
of training! If something WORKS, it is because it obeys
the principle. The fact that you failed to predict it would
work through your knowledge of the principle does not mean it doesn’t work, and that you
are crazy and…and unscientific. And just as with the skin analogy, just because
you don’t know that something will work until you perform that experiment doesn’t mean that
it won’t work. Some of these things, we could know and predict. Other things you do which constitute progressive
overload may not be as apparent. So thinking that progressive overload is a
static list of very strick rules rather than an underlying explanation can mean that you’re
leaving behind many opportunities in your strength training. And, not just strength training but I think
it’s really more apparent in bodybuilding. For example, back in the day, on one of the
bodybuilding forums I was a member of, someone came on and said that he wanted to build up
his arms. And he mean mostly biceps, of course. So, he listed his routine; what he had been
doing for his biceps. And he said also that on non-biceps training
days he liked to just throw in some extra sets of biceps here and there. And, he didn’t always do this but he would
sometimes do some sets to failure. So, the board gurus came on and flamed him
said, NO, you CANNOT do that! You have to stick to your schedule and if
you do biceps on the off-days you won’t be able to progress. And then they explained about progressive
overload. The geeks of the board, like me, came on and
said, how the hell can you know that the extra work he is doing is NOT progressive? Frequency and hypertrophy are good friends…after
all, right? So, you see the point here? The gurus were very myopic in their viewpoint. Progressive overload is THIS and entails THUS. As I’ve said in countless articles, principles
are not methods. Many methods or changes that you put into
your training may well constitute some sort of progressive overload even if you don’t
think of it in those terms and even if it doesn’t fit into the nice little tidy package
that you’re usually given that constitutes…that’s supposed to constitute progressive overload. So, the next time someone tells you that you
need to use progressive overload, tell them that if you get results then that is exactly
what you are doing!

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