Home Fitness & Health How to Build Muscle: Part I – Progessive Overload

How to Build Muscle: Part I – Progessive Overload

by nick

This will be the only series of posts that you’ll ever need to read about building muscle. It’ll provide you with a collection of every single thing you will ever need to know. Every single tip and fact that’s required to build the body that you’ve always wanted.

There will be six articles in this series:

How to Build Muscle: Part I – Progressive Overload

How to Build Muscle: Part II – Caloric Surplus

How to Build Muscle: Part III – Weight Training Program

How to Build Muscle: Part IV – Overall Diet Plan

How to Build Muscle: Part V  – Rest and Recovery

How to Build Muscle: Part VI – Consistency, Time and Tracking Progress

While the six parts to this series are all required, progressive overload is the most important. It’s easy to understand why progressive overload is the most important aspect of building muscle once you understand the principle behind it. So here it is…

The Progressive Overload Principle

The first thing you should know is that the human body cares about one thing, and one thing only – survival.  Your body doesn’t care that you want to build muscle, lose body fat and get stronger. Your goal means nothing to your body – it’s only real goal is keeping you alive and functioning as efficiently as possible. However, it is in fact this goal what allows us to reach our goal of building muscle.

With that in mind, the only way your body will ever build muscle and get stronger the way you want it to is by creating an environment that convinces your body that you’ll not survive without more muscle. Basically you have to prove to your body that it has to build muscle. It won’t unless it has a reason to. If this reason never exists or just stops, your body will accept it and respond by doing nothing.

We give our body the reason to build muscle with something called progressive overload. Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. Basically, the body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced and capable of doing. We provide this stress and tension in the form of weight training.

If you lift the same weights, for the same number of reps, the same way for the next year –  nothing will ever happen. Your body will never change or build muscle. It’ll only maintain its current state.

However, if you push yourself and increase the demand that you’re placing on your body by increasing the weight being lifted or  lifting the same weight for more reps, your body will have no choice but to adapt to its environment by making the necessary changes. In this case, the changes are in the form of building more muscle and strength.

Let’s now discuss how the progressive overload principle applies to weight training.

Let’s say you can lift 150lbs on the bench press for 3 sets of 8 reps, the body will build enough muscle to make sure it can perform this task.

If you continue to lift that same 150lbs for those same 3 sets of 8 reps for the next year, you’ll not build any more muscle because there was no progressive overload. Because you’re not increasing the demands being placed on your body, you’re not giving your body any reason to build more muscle.

However, if you were to lift 155lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps instead of 150lbs on that same exercise, then your body will have a reason to build more muscle.

You’ve increased the weight, and the work that your body has to do. And although 5lbs may seem like a small increase, it’s exactly what you need to do to build muscle. If you continue to gradually push your body to perform more work than it was previously capable of doing, over time your body will continue to build more and more muscle. If you don’t do this, then your body simply won’t have any reason to.

Your aim is to beat what you did in your previous workout. If you were now to try lifting 160lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps – a further increase of 5lbs, the exact same reason will exist for your body to build more muscle. You would then need to continue gradually increasing like this as often as possible over and over again.

The problem is, it’s almost impossible to progress like this in every single workout. In fact most people would have actually ended up doing their bench press something like this when increasing the weight to 155lbs:

Set #1: 155lbs – 8 reps

Set #2: 155lbs – 7 reps

Set #3: 155lbs – 6 reps

This is normal and should still be considered a successful workout as it’s still progressive overload – you’re gradually increasing the demands being placed on your body. Now, to continue with your progression, your goal the next time you preform the bench press will be something like this:

Set #1: 155lbs – 8 reps

Set #2: 155lbs – 8 reps

Set #3: 155lbs – 7 reps

And the next workout after that…

Set #1: 155lbs – 8 reps

Set #2: 155lbs – 8 reps

Set #3: 155lbs – 8 reps

And the next workout after that…

Set #1: 160lbs – 8 reps

Set #2: 160lbs – 7 reps

Set #3: 160lbs – 6 reps

The goal is to repeat this pattern of increasing reps and weight every time you workout. Of course, there will be times when you end up repeating the same number of sets, reps and weight that you did the previous workout. There will also be times, in the above example for instance, when you only get reps of 6, 6, 6, or 6, 6, 5, or 7, 6, 5 in the three sets after increasing the weight. This is completely normal.

Just work hard to progress and increase the demands being placed on your body as often as you possibly can to gradually reach your set and rep goal. And then, once you reach it, increase the weight you’re lifting for that exercise by the smallest addition and do this all over again. As long as you continue to force progressive overload to take place, then over time your body will continue to build muscle.

What to Look Forward to in Part II

Next we’ll cover why a caloric surplus is essential to building muscle and how to incorporate this into your muscle building program.

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