Training should be so simple. Lift a weight, rest and refuel. Make progress. When it is boiled down, it really is that straightforward, however the sheer amount of conflicting information and writing that exists on the internet can make choosing our training path a minefield.
Who should you listen to? And why should you listen to them? Hopefully, you read Herculean Strength because you value our input and knowledge on all manner of fitness-related subjects. But what did people do before sites like this existed?
They did what worked. Often the advice would be given by old-timers in the gym, men that had been there and done it. They had seen what worked for them and passed this information on to others in their environment.
What Is Progressive Overload?
One tried and trusted idea is now known as ‘Progressive Overload’. All it really means is that gradually you increase the training stressors – whether weight, volume or frequency – over time. As any of these increases, you will get stronger because your body is forced to adapt to the stress placed upon it.
Progressive Overload can be used to for strength training and bodybuilding (hypertrophy) training too. The program outlined below will cover both. It is very basic so once you’re up and running feel free to adapt it to suit your needs, these are only the foundations.
Progressive Overload for Strength
To get better at an exercise, you will need to do that exercise. Clear and obvious, and yet so many get it so wrong. For this program you should work in the 2-5 rep range throughout your strength-focus. We will be focusing on deadlift using a hypothetical 200lbs as a 3RM, but you can really use this for any of the big 4 lifts:
Week 1: 200lbs 3 sets of 3 reps (written like so: 200x3x3)
Week 2: Take the same weight and hit 1 set of 4 for the first set, and 2 sets of 3 for next two sets (200x4x1, 200x3x2)
Week 3: 200x4x2, 200x3x1
Week 4: 200x4x3 – so at this point we are now hitting the same weight we started with but for one extra rep each set. We have become stronger
Week 5: Give yourself a rest – focus on a deadlift variation like RDL or do sets of 5 with 50% of the weight
Week 6: Test your 3RM. It should be higher. Let us say, for argument’s sake, you can now hit 220lbs for a very difficult 3 reps. You are stronger than you were six weeks ago. This is Progressive Overload.
To start your next cycle, I would not use your true 3RM (220lbs in this case) but you must use more than your original 3RM otherwise you will not be progressing.
Your next block of training may look something like this:
Week 1: 210x3x3
Week 2: 210x4x1, 210x3x2
Week 3: 210x4x2, 210x3x1
Week 4: 210x4x3
Week 5: back off – 3×[email protected]%
Week 6: Test 3RM – New 3RM is 230lbs
And so on!
This is not a quick program to follow but it works. Depending on how far you are along the journey you may make rapid strength gains, or it may come more slowly. If you’ve been lifting for a while you may find that at the end of the 6 weeks your 3RM hasn’t improved at all. That’s OK, just repeat the cycle. You may find that tinkering with your rest and recovery protocols such as diet, sleep and stretching may have a positive effect on your lifts.
Progressive Overload for Assistance and Hypertrophy
As mentioned earlier, it is not just strength training that Progressive Overload can help you with. Your accessory and bodybuilding lifts can also be modified by following the principles
Let’s say after our main sets described above that we now turn to our assistance and hypertrophy work. For simplicity we’ll pick Week 1 of a cycle.
Accessory work – Romanian Deadlifts 150lbs x 8 x 3
Hypertrophy – Hamstring Curls x 20 x 3
So we are performing 3 sets of 8 with the RDL, and 3 sets of 20 with the Hamstring Curls. The principles of Progressive Overload aren’t only about adding more reps, we can add more weight, more time under tension or reduce the rest periods too.
The 3 sets of 8 was pretty easy, so Week 2 on Deadlift day you decide to add 10lbs and the third set becomes a grind. This is good. The following week you stick with the same sets and weight and it’s still pretty hard. Week 4, you do your 3 sets of 8 and it’s got much easier, so we add another 10lbs. and again by the third set you are struggling. This is Progressive Overload in action. You have to keep moving forward in one way or another, or you don’t make any progress.
Five masculine strength milestones you should aim to conquer in 2022
For many men, including the readers (and writers!) of this site, the 90 minutes they spend in the gym is a chance to detach from the outside world, to re-stake their claim to their own lives and to tap into a primal and physical existence denied to them in the other 22 and a half hours of the day. In short, to be a man.
Strength has been associated with manhood and masculinity for as long as men have existed. From Biblical tales of the gigantic Goliath and the superhuman Sampson, to Viking Berserkers and Celtic manhood stones, almost all recorded cultures have valued strength as a positive masculine attribute.
And yet masculine strength is under attack like never before. The strong, silent type replaced by the weak, flabby one who confides to his therapist twice weekly and thinks lifting weights is toxic.
In this article, I will explain five tests of strength that every man should be aiming for. If you can perform all five within one training block then you are a giant amongst men. The rest of us mortals – and I include myself in this – should see this as a tick list, a series of challenge to be hunted down and executed with ruthless efficiency. But remember, the concept of periodization exists for a reason; normal people and the chemically unassisted often cannot wage war on five fronts.
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Now let’s take a different approach to our Hamstring Curls. Instead of adding weight or reps, we are going to add time. The 3 sets of 20 in the first week was too easy, so on Week 2 we are going to control each rep down for 3 seconds. Suddenly, 3 sets of 20 becomes impossible because the time under tension causes immense lactic acid build-up, so we drop down to 3 sets of 10 instead. As we adapt, we can add more time to our controlled descent, or more reps, or more weight.
You might have a 6 week training block where you focus on adding time to the reps, and then the next 6 week block switch to adding weight incrementally, and in the third 6 week block switch to adding reps. This is approach is known as periodization and deserves its own article, but it is a sensible approach to managing your hypertrophy work.
The program outlined above can be used by lifters at any level, with almost any lift. You will need to be smart about the choice of assistance work when tailoring it to your own needs.
A quick word on form. If you progress steadily then your body should adapt to the increased demands on it and your form shouldn’t suffer too much. However, if you go too quickly you may find yourself lifting more than your body can handle and your form will break down. In this instance, err on the side of conservative and keep it lighter as you work on your technique. If you get a bad injury it will slow you down much more in the long term!
What’s written here is nothing new or revolutionary. Much of it is common sense. By mastering the basics, we keep moving forward. We get stronger and more muscular. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
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