Cambridge’s Leading personal trainers

Progressive Overload Explained

“That looks too easy, grab the next weight up”, your trainer shouts at you. 

Queue the eye-rolling and sighs. 

‘But this is feeling good. So why do I need to pick up the heavier weight?’

No matter your goal, the golden rule when trying to progress further along your journey to a healthier, stronger, and happier mind and body is progressive overload. 

Simply put, progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise to promote continued adaptations. 

This story of progressive overload and your trainer’s insatiable desire for more of it comes from the need for adaptation.

 Adaptation is a process of change where you become more adapted to the workload applied. 

The human body is an adaptive machine capable of altering its structure and function to perform a given task better in the future.

So really, for this idea of progression towards our goals, we need to constantly push ourselves to increase our performance to demand more adaptation. 

Without this adaptation, there is no way of improvement. 

We often hear of quotes like, “It’s only the last few reps that count.” 

And whilst this might be a little clique, if those last few reps are a couple more than you managed the last time, then it’s accurate from forcing your body to adapt and be better. 

This isn’t just about building bigger muscles. 

This progressive approach is designed to help you improve in strength, cardiovascular capacity, endurance and muscle mass.

This means you can apply this principle to both the Red and Blue Zones if you’re attending a session at The Barn Bootcamp. 

You are not seeing the results you want? 

There could be several reasons why you might not be getting the results you want. However, lack of progressive overload certainly could be one. 

A simple way to think about this in a resistance training sense is to increase your total ‘volume’. 


There can be many ways for you to begin increasing your training volume and creating more progressive overload. 

If you’re looking to change the way you look and feel, like most of the clients we have here at The Barn Bootcamp, we’ve found that these are the most effective ways of making improvements session by session:  

Ways to apply progressive overload: 

  1. Lifting the same load over a greater range of motion
  2. Lifting the same load for more reps or sets
  3. Lifting heavier loads (Intensity)
  4. Doing the same amount of work in less time (density).
  5. Doing more work in the same amount of time (density).
  6. Doing the same amount of work more often throughout the week (frequency).
  7. Doing the same amount of work while losing body mass (relative volume).

As you can see, progressive overload can be achieved in several different ways.

Your body won’t change unless it is forced to. So applying these methods won’t always be easy. 

However, it’s important to note that progressive overload isn’t ego lifting. 

You should always maintain the proper form and execution of your exercise.

Ego lifting is when you care more about the numbers you are lifting than how you are lifting, and this will have an adverse effect on your training as it is likely to lead to injury – both acute and chronic. 

A basic rule to guide you is when you’re hitting your rep range, and only the last couple reps feel challenging, you’re probably ready to progress. 

How Important is Recovery for Progress? 

For us to perform and progress at our maximum capabilities, taking care of our recovery is crucial. 

In this pursuit of progressive overload, we must understand that it isn’t possible to improve every session. 

However, the factor which will have the most significant impact on the rate of change we see in our progress is how well we can recover. 

If we are in a constant state of fatigue, there is no way of performing at our best. 

Fatigue is generated in proportion to the volume and intensity of the workload performed and fatigue resistance.

Here is a simple equation for you to think about; 


Ensuring that you prioritise factors such as sleep, nutrition, stress management and appropriate frequency and rest time between sessions will be vital for seeing the best results. 

Your progress most likely won’t be linear.

There will be plenty of highs and lows along the way. That’s what makes it a challenge… 

However, if you’re lifting the same weight, for the same number of reps, in the same way as you were six months ago, it shouldn’t be much of a shock when you realise you haven’t made much progress towards your goals. 

Use progressive overload to increase your training stimulus week to week to see better results. 

Need help making improvements with your training? 

Click the ‘Start Your Transformation’ button below to speak with a member of our team.

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