Have you ever seen guys that have been going to the gym for years but look pretty much the same despite their efforts? I know I have. I see them all the time. In fact, you may even be one of them yourself. These are the guys that come into the gym to do the same old tired routine while spending too much time talking to their buddies and staring at all of the spandex clad women. Unsurprisingly, these are the very same guys that complain to me saying that “Weightlifting doesn’t work”, or “You need to take steroids in order to gain any appreciable amount of muscle mass.”
The problem with these guys is that they do not understand the most basic principle of resistance exercise. In fact, it is the one principle (if adhered to religiously) that will GUARANTEE results.
What is this principle you ask?
It is the principle of Progressive Overload.
This principle is so absurdly straightforward that I’m surprised that I’m even writing an article about it. But for those of you who are unaware (and judging by the average gym goer there are LEGIONS of you out there), the principle of Progressive Overload stipulates the following: In order to increase one’s muscle mass (or strength, endurance, flexibility etc.) one must progressively increase the amount resistance (i.e. stress) placed upon the muscles themselves over time. For those of you who are still confused, in plain English that means in order for you to get bigger and stronger, you need to be lifting heavier weights over time.
Sounds pretty simple right?
It is! Which is why it’s maddening that so many people don’t get it. They go to the gym and do the same damn routine with the same amount of weight day in and day out. You will not improve one iota by taking this approach. Actually, I take that back. You will improve but only up to a certain point. The problem is that human body is highly adaptable. It quickly grows accustom to any imposed demand that you place on it. For example, each time you lift a heavy load the muscles undergo trauma at the cellular level. The body senses this damage and quickly repairs it. However, it doesn’t just repair the muscle tissue to the same state it was before the damage, it supercompensates.
Yes. In other words, not only does the body repair the damage that was done, but it also builds the muscle so the next time you lift that same heavy load it doesn’t cause the same amount (if any) damage at all. This is the body’s adaptive process in action and is a rough explanation of how your body grows new muscle tissue. I hope it is clear now why you need to continue to lift heavier and heavier loads over time. Put simply, the greater physiological demand you put on your body the more it will adapt and grow!
This same principle works if your goals are improving your endurance. In this case you will either need to run longer distances (perform more work) or run short distances faster (same work in less time). The idea is the same: you need to progressively overload the body in order to tap in to its adaptive process.
This is why I always encourage guys to keep a journal or a log. That way you can track your progress over time and see if you are truly getting bigger, stronger, and faster. However, one thing that you should keep in mind when doing this is that progress is hardly ever linear. You will not be throwing weight onto the bar every week indefinitely. Eventually that kind of progress will slow down and plateaus will become more common. Progress will then come in fits and starts, but that’s no matter. The fact remains the same: you need to continue to push your body in order to reap the benefits of the adaptive process, otherwise you run the risk of spinning your wheels like the vast majority of men in commercial gyms around the world.
So do you truly want to transform your body? Do you want to be strong, lean and muscular? Do you want to get the most out of the time you spend in the gym? If the answer is yes to these questions then pay heed to the principle of Progressive Overload, the most important principle of them all!