How to Progressively Overload – A crash course on the Basics!


We have spoken a lot over our blogs about progressive overload and you might have heard the phrase used across social media, but what exactly does it mean? How to progressive overload? Well, in this article we are going to go over the basic’s and give you a little crash course on how to start progressively overloading and making solid, consistent progress in the gym. This will only be the basic’s but we will do a follow-up post with more in-depth and how to take it even further. However, let us help you get started with the basic’s


Progressive overload is the phrase given to slowly increasing a variable in the gym so that you are progressing and forcing your muscle to grow. Most people will naturally progress in the gym, When a weight feels too light they will go up to the next weight, however, instead of doing it when you feel the weight is too light, you can force the reps out, go until failure or close to and progress even further and sometimes faster.

So why should you do progressive overload? Well, to say it simply, it is easier to track your progress, get stronger and providing your nutrition is good, build muscle! The way you build muscle is to overload the muscle and force it to get bigger and stronger. So tracking your weights and forcing the overload you can build muscle more “easily”. So let’s get into How to progressively overload, the steps you need to take and how you can get the best performance.


So what are the first steps of how to progressively overload? While you want to choose a routine/program that you can follow and maintain for a long time (Some variation will happen and we will get into that shortly). After you have a program you are happy with, you will want to go to the gym and perform that routine. Lifting as heavy as you can with the best form you can. Once you perform a set, you want to write down a few things. 


You want to write down the amount of weight you are performing, So you might be doing a set on barbell squats at 60kg, So you would write 60kg. You want to do this for every set.


The next one is Reps, How many reps do you perform that weight for, for that set. So you are doing your barbell squat, at 60kg, and you performed 10 reps. You would write this down in your logbook or app. 


The next one you want to write about is how many sets you have performed. Not just “3 sets” but you want to write down all the information above for every set you perform. So if you perform 3 sets of barbell squats, you should have three entries in your logbook. However, if you have performed the same weight and reps then you can put in one entry. 

Writing down each set allows you to write in different weights and reps. So you might have done three sets of barbell squats but they might have gone like this. Set 1 might of been 60kg, 10 Reps, Set 2 might be 60kg for 8 and set 3 might be 55kg for 8. This will be three sets but different weights and reps.


If you want to go the extra mile, then you can write down your rest times so that you can make sure every set get the same rest time allowing it to be as consistent as possible. A lot of the reasons people vary in their performance at the gym is because their rest periods are all over the place.

Write down these variables in a format that you can understand. Do this for the first “round” or “week” of your training! This will give you a baseline and somewhere to work from. So what is next in our journey of how to progressively overload?


After you have a full week in your diary, you are ready for the next step. Next time you do a workout, you can visit the entry for the last time. Then what you want to try to do is increase one for the variables. Most people will increase reps first then after they hit the top end of their rep range they will then up the weight. Not many people (including me) will add another set, just because the quality of that set won’t be high. 

So if we take the example we were on about earlier if the following week you go to do barbell squats, you wrote down that Set 1 was 60kg, 10 Reps, Set 2 was 60kg for 8 and set 3 was 55kg for 8. You would then try to increase something on each set. So Set 1 you might increase to either 65kg or you might go for 12 reps. Same with the other sets. 

One thing to remember is you want to treat every set as its own, you want to compare set 1 of week 2 to set 1 of week 1 and the same with the others, don’t cross-compare sets. This is the case for a backoff set, so if you drop the weight on the third set the following week you will want to drop the weight but also try to increase that dropped weight (or increase the reps).


Remember, don’t ‘force’ progression, meaning don’t think you will increase the weight every session! It is fine to stay on a certain weight for a while. The way I tend to try to progress is in this order. The form then the Reps then the weight. I don’t add any more sets. This means that I focus more on form, perfect the form first, once the form is perfected focus on upping the reps to hit the top end of your rep range, once you have done those two you can up the weight and start again.


That is our little tutorial on how to progressively overload in the gym. If you want to make serious progress and get strong and build muscle we highly recommend using this technique! You will see progress almost immediately, and it will also teach you how to put max effort and train close to failure. Your workouts will become more intense and also more enjoyable.

If you are after a way to track your lifts then you can use the built-in Exercise tracker in our application, it is part of the Members Area. You can download the application here for free to get started!

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Written by Kieran Blacker

Kieran is the CEO and Founder of Sets & Reps. He decided to make an application that helped people get a gym workout when not at the gym. He designed, Coded and built the application himself.