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What is Progressive Overload?

The Key to Anti-Plateauing

Date December 23, 2020
Author Patrick Wong

Before we get to what exactly Progressive Overload is, let’s talk about you—more specifically that body of yours.

Your body is all about efficiency. It will expend as little energy as possible to keep you alive. Your body is also resilient. It will adapt to the physical demands you place on it and that’s it. If you don’t make any changes, you won’t see any changes.

You’ve probably already witnessed how this happens. You start a new training program, you quickly start seeing results, and just as quickly as you saw them, they stop showing up.

You’ve hit the dreaded plateau.

Your body is doing what it does best. It’s learned how to adapt to the stress of your (not-so) new training program. So if you want to see more changes in your body, you’ll need to add more changes to how you train.

And that, everyone, is where Progressive Overload comes in.

If you don't make any changes, you won't see any changes.

Progressive Overload 101

Progressive Overload is a combination of two important training principles, and it’s right in the name:


Progression is a gradual and systematic process in training stress to maintain overload that facilitates continuing physical adaptation.


Overloading is to strategically apply an increased load or stress on a tissue or system—in this case, we’re talking about your muscles—that’s above your normal load.

Put those two things together, and you’ve got Progressive Overload! It’s the golden rule to strength training. Gradually increase the load placed on a given muscle over time and you’ll trigger the desired adaptations in the form of getting stronger and building muscle mass.

Our Coach Bryan puts it simply, and says it’s all about “pushing muscles past their point of comfortability to bring about a desired physiological change over the duration of a fitness program.” Sounds about right!

The Nitty Gritty

There’s a pretty simple starter kit for incorporating Progressive Overload into your training regimen:

Put all of these together, and you’ll steadily grow your training volume (otherwise known as your number of reps multiplied by the load/weight).

Now that we’ve got the basics of Progressive Overload out of the way, there are some other less obvious variables to consider when trying to increase stress on the body:

There are definitely more to explore, but let’s not get too carried away—this is just an introduction after all!

While Progressive Overload can be hard work, Tempo, a total gym experience, can at least take some of the load off.

Tempo will not only gradually increase your weight over time, based on your performance (that’s right, no math or guesswork for you!), it will also track your total volume week-over-week to ensure that you’re making progress.

That means you’ll easily see target ranges for your pace, range of motion, and rep schemes. In addition, you’ll have the chance to join in on progressive programs that are built around these variables that our expert coaches develop and will guide you through from day 1.

What's the Right Load for Me

Pace/tempo, range of motion, and reps are generally easy to prescribe, but knowing how much weight to use is not as straightforward.

Your weight/load will be highly individualized based on your fitness goals and your fitness level or experience. However, you can safely start experimenting with manipulation of just one variable at a time to see what best suits you.

For example, once you feel comfortable with a specific movement and can consistently and safely execute the full range of motion (which Tempo and our coaches can help you with) at a specific weight, try adding a little more weight and slightly scaling back your rep count.

Keep in mind that certain muscle groups can bear more weight added than others—you’ll likely be able to add more weight to your squat than you would your bicep curl for instance. And remember, you don’t need to add a ton of weight to your movements for it to be beneficial. Incremental overload, or small amounts of volume increase overtime, will add up!

Your weight/load will be highly individualized based on your fitness goals and your fitness level or experience.

How to Implement Safely?

Getting started with Progressive Overload isn’t tough, but there are some things to consider so that you can incorporate it safely and successfully into your routine:

In fact, taking it slow is our Coach Natalia’s biggest tip for Progressive Overload.

“Do it very incrementally so that the body does not get overworked and injured. Change one thing, then stay with that one change for enough time as it takes for your body to get used to it before progressing,” she says.

Staying on Tempo

You’ll never reach the end of your fitness journey, and some days you’re going to feel discouraged, burnt out, or just over it. It’s only TEMPOrary (again, pun intended).

Remember to surround yourself with people who are going to support you. We here at Tempo can be part of that support system. Reach out to us, and if you’re already a Tempo member, don’t forget there are a ton of people who are going to cheer you on at our Official Tempo Facebook Group!

Author Patrick Wong

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