CrossFit Athlete and NPGL Athlete Rasmus Andersen at CrossFit Invictus in San Diego

The Overload Principle
Written by Bryce Smith

The overload principle basically states that an exercise must become more challenging over the course of a training program in order to continue to produce results. In the context of strength training, this is done by adding weight to the bar. An example of a program that uses the overload principle would be one that prescribes squatting a prescribed weight for five sets for one week, moving to squatting a slightly heavier load for five sets the next week, and progressively increasing the loads each subsequent week. This is potentially effective programming but the same effect can also be accomplished by altering the volume accumulation instead of just the weight.

Volume accumulation can be defined as the number of sets plus the number of reps plus the amount of weight used. This is one of the major determining factors in hypertrophy (aka muscle growth). As long as the load (the amount of weight lifted) is above sixty-percent of your one-rep max, volume accumulation can be an effective way to get stronger.

In my opinion, the most efficient method for creating a stimulus both neurologically and neuromuscularly is through the use of increasing both volume (total reps) and intensity (load used). The cumulative total volume increases over time while simultaneously increasing the intensity or weight used. In my experience, this strategy makes full use of the overload principle and provides a maximal stimulus for strength gains and muscle growth.

The overload principle is not only used in strength training but can also be used in any type of physical activity, flexibility, mobility, and even in life. The overload principle progressively increases the stimulus placed on the body to ensure that progress does not stall. With the stimulus continually becoming more challenging, athletes are forced to work harder as their bodies adapt to existing workouts.

Don’t fall into the trap of becoming comfortable or abiding by a routine and allowing your strength and conditioning progress to be halted. If you are doing the same program with the same level of intensity and the same load week in and week out, the body is no longer being challenged. Once the body adapts to the activities being performed, it hangs out in “Comfort Zone City”. This is the land of no results and stagnation. In order to continually stay out of Comfort Zone City, we must continually change our training program to both challenge and stimulate our bodies. Creating a new stimulus for you body to adapt to will put you on the road to “GAINZville”; the land of massive strength gains and continual progress.

Remember – routine is the enemy.

Here are my tips to safely apply the overload principle to your training:

1. Test your maxes.

2. Increase loads gradually and progressively (getting strong takes time).

3. Allow ample recovery time. A field of rest brings a bountiful crop.

4. Plan and monitor training loads.

5. Alternate activities so you aren’t training the same musculature every day.

6. Plan ahead for that little thing called life. Make sure you coordinate your training so you can perform your best and not put yourself at risk for injury.

7. Practice trial and error. You may want to begin at around 60% of your 1RM, but that number is subject to change depending on the athlete. Ask a coach!

8. Track your progress. Don’t just think it, ink it!

9. Train with like minded individuals that will help motivate you to be successful and accountable.

10. Don’t forget to have fun! The overload principle is meant for self improvement and in this case strength gains. Enjoy the process!

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