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     Fitness Tips For 5/6/2009

Progressive Overload Training
by Donnie Whetstone of 3PD Fitness Inc.

When we think of the various training principles out there, most 
of us tend to feel these principles are reserved for the elite. 
That may be true in a few cases, but most training principles can 
be scaled down to accommodate the novice who knows little or 
nothing about training. Progressive Overload is one of these 
principles. Progressive Overload is one of the most basic and 
versatile training principles around. I've used it at one point in 
every stage of my twenty plus years of training. As a personal 
trainer, It's the first principle my clients encounter.

To understand how it works first we must know the effects of loads
on our muscles. Take the biceps for example. Lets say we will do 
a volume of three sets of ten reps with a barbell curl. The load 
we will use will be challenging but manageable. For the average 
person this is moderate poundage. After a few sessions we notice 
the same volume and load has lost it's challenge. Why? Because 
our biceps has adapted to our initial volume and load. In other 
words, we've progressed.

At this point we've come to a fork in the road. Our choice is 
simple, progressive training or maintenance training. There is no 
right or wrong because we knowingly make our choice. If we want to 
continue to progress we simply increase our load, or make again 
moderate what has now become light. If we want to maintain, we 
simply stay with our initial load. Either one is fine. This 
scenario applies to the other muscle groups as well.

There are people I encounter in gyms that are clearly in maintenance 
that acknowledge this is what they've chosen......beautiful! There 
are also people I encounter in the same situation that complain how 
their gains have become stagnant when just a simple increase in their
loads will solve their problem.

The catch to overloading is knowing when to overload and by how much. 
Especially since it's based more on perception than an actual time 
table and that all muscles don't progress uniformly. The easiest way 
I found is using a set point system. For the average person that set
point is most often moderate poundage. Let's say we're going to find
the moderate set point for the barbell curl at three sets of ten reps.
We'll start by doing a set of ten reps with a load that we're sure we 
can handle and at the end of the set ask ourselves this question. 
"Is it light , moderate, or heavy?" Of course we don't want 
light poundage because light poundages usually doesn't trigger an 
adaptive response from our muscles. We don't want heavy poundage 
primarily because of the injury risk, especially if were just starting 
out. Moderate poundage offers an adaptive response without the risk of 
injury. At this point we will make our necessary adjustments by either
adding, reducing or maintaining poundage.

As we continue with the remaining two sets, the load will become more 
challenging, with the third set being quite a challenge. We've now 
reached our moderate set point with this exercise. This is not a 
complicated process but it can be rather tedious. In the long run, 
this process can pay big dividends in gains.

Adaptive responses vary from person to person and muscle group to 
muscle group. One person may start increasing loads, or jumping as I 
call it, almost immediately where as another person may take much 
longer. Jumps in the chest and back may come much quicker than in the
deltoids and biceps. The important thing is that the loads remain 
challenging but manageable regardless of the jump interval. If our 
initial target loads or moderate set point are where they're suppose 
to be then our jumps will be in small increments, usually between five
and ten pounds depending on the muscle group. If a load of forty 
pounds for three sets of ten has lost it's challenge on the barbell 
curl, then jump to forty five pounds. A load for the leg press, since 
were dealing with stronger muscles, may require a ten pound increase. 
Overloading isn't reserved just for loads. A muscle can be overloaded 
with volume as well. Take that forty pound barbell curl we were talking
about and instead of ten reps per set increase it to twelve reps per
set and the challenge returns. The same applies for additional sets. I 
find these two approaches rather effective after a few increases in our 
initial loads. This simple yet versatile training principle has made a 
difference in the training progress of myself and many a client. It 
has proven and will continue to be, in my eyes, one of best 
training principles around. 

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