To gain muscle mass and strength, you need your training performance to improve.

This simple concept is one that is overlooked by far too many people.

Everyone loves to be in the gym for hours upon hours, pushing themselves as far as possible, but it’s rare for someone to take a step back and evaluate if what they are actually doing is making them progress. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Avoid this. Put simply, if you are using the same weights in 2 years time as you were initially, you probably haven’t built much muscle on your body, no matter how much effort you put in. Skeletal muscle grows bigger and stronger in response to a continually greater training stimulus, forcing adaptation.

Progressive Overload

It is vital for every lifter to understand the principle of progressive overload. This will make or break you when it comes to lifting, and is the foundation of a successful journey. The principle states “in order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced”. Based on this, the primary goal of every lifter should be gradual progression in the musculoskeletal demand induced by weight training. Tension is dictated primarily by training volume, which consists of repetitions and sets completed, as well as the weight used. Any of these factors can be improved upon in order for tension to be increased.

progressive tension for weight progression

A point worth mentioning is that progression is gradual. You do not need to see training improvements every time you step into the gym for progressive overload to occur, although for a beginner this is likely anyway. Track your gym performance and judge your progress on a monthly basis. Whenever you feel like you are stronger, add a repetition or an additional set. Alternatively, as the amount of sets or repetitions can become too high to be effective (as discussed in the “training volume” and “training intensity” sections), increase the weight used for the exercise.
Some typical weight training progression protocols are seen below –

Example 1

  • 2 sets of 8 reps
  • 3 sets of 8 reps
  • 4 sets of 8 reps
  • 5 reps of 8 reps
  • Increase Weight
  • Repeat

Example 2

  • 4 sets of 5 reps
  • 4 sets of 6 reps
  • 4 sets of 7 reps
  • 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Increase Weight
  • Repeat

Summary – Focus on progressive tension overload.


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