To increase lean muscle mass, progressive overload is essential – here’s how to build up your gains. Angelique Tagaroulias writes.
Progressive overload not only does it stimulate muscle hypertrophy by forcing the muscle to adapt to increased loads, it also aids in the development of stronger and denser bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage.
“Progression is forcing a muscle to adapt to a tension that is more than it has experienced before. When a muscle is stressed, there’s an increase in blood flow to the region being exercised, stimulating more responsive nerve connections between the brain and muscle,” says personal trainer and owner of Fully Loaded Fitness, Ethan Hyde.
“I’m a firm believer in keeping things interesting. Your body gets used to what you do, as does your mind. Changing things frequently allows your body to work harder and not get used to it, and also allows your mind to stay entertained and not get complacent.”
Hyde says adding lean muscle mass requires increasing volume, frequency and resistance, and decreasing rest periods:
» Volume: increase the number of sets/reps per workout or over the course of a week.
» Frequency: train a body part more often.
» Resistance: increase weight on a weekly basis or as often as you can while keeping good form.
» Rest periods: you might be resting for 60 seconds but if you drop that to 30 seconds, this requires your body to become more metabolically efficient with anaerobic exercise.
Note: if you’re starting out, try manipulating just one of the variables at a time; if you’re more advanced, you can try more than one.
“Save a couple for when adaptation occurs. You can then bring out shorter rest periods or increase the volume to get the body growing again,” explains Hyde.
Frequency and rest periods are good variables to start with. “By increasing frequency, you increase your total volume across the week. This will focus on the major (weekly) goal, while manipulating rest periods will focus on the minor (daily) goal. Keep rest periods on larger lifts the same but shorten rest periods on isolation work – large compound movements require more energy thus demand more rest.”
As a general rule, more reps equals less rest and less reps equals longer rest.
While some trainers advise to alter programming every four weeks to allow your body to adapt, others will recommend changing it every week – or at least aiming for a slight strength progression on a weekly basis. Hyde believes one to two weeks is best depending on the program: it keeps your muscles guessing and your mind stimulated, while still allowing time for muscles to adapt.
“Everyone should be using a periodised program that allows constant change. And following a prescribed program forces you to change when you’re meant to – not just when you’re bored or feel like it,” says Hyde.
“I like to change my program often to avoid plateauing. If you plateau for two weeks then change it for another month and plateau again, you end up spending a lot of time not growing muscle.”