Are your workouts actually making you bigger and stronger? Why do some people gain muscle and strength so much faster than others?
Today, we’re diving into the concept of progressive overload—what it is, why it’s important, and how to implement it in your training program.
I’ll explain the science behind how it drives muscle growth and strength gains and then provide specific methods for progressively overloading your workouts by increasing weight, reps, sets, intensity levels, and other creative approaches. These strategies apply to all training levels, from beginner to advanced. Finally, I’ll go over how you can use this principle even during a fat loss phase.
If you want my free detailed guide on progressive overload that you can download and reference whenever you want, just use the link in my show notes under Episode Resources or go to witsandweights.com/free.
Click here to apply for coaching!
Today you’ll learn all about:
[2:20] What is progressive overload?
[4:01] Stress recovery adaptation
[10:06] The four things that occur during adaptation
[14:23] The relationship between strength and hypertrophy
[18:14] Progressive overload for beginners
[23:30] Programming for progressive overload
[29:00] Progressing by weight
[30:42] Progressing by reps
[35:16] Progressing by sets
[38:48] Progressing by intensity
[46:16] Mind-muscle connection
[48:43] Post-activation potentiation
[49:30] Accommodating resistance
[51:31] Combining the progression variables
[53:29] Training during a fat loss phase
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Are your workouts actually making you bigger and stronger? Or are you just going through the motions and spinning your wheels? Why do some people gain muscle and strength so much faster than others? If you want to learn how to use the highly misunderstood and misapplied principle of progressive overload to actually build strength and muscle, even in a fat loss phase, you'll love today's episode. Welcome to the Wits & Weights podcast. I'm your host Philip pape, and this twice a week podcast is dedicated to helping you achieve physical self mastery by getting stronger, optimizing your nutrition and upgrading your body composition. We'll uncover science backed strategies for movement, metabolism, muscle and mindset with a skeptical eye on the fitness industry so you can look and feel your absolute best. Let's dive right in Wits & Weights community Welcome to another solo episode of the Wits& Weights podcast in our last episode 123 Why you're not achieving your fitness goals with Mike Milner, we unpack the DNA of success. To understand why so many of us failed hitting our health and fitness goals getting deep into the mental game. Today for episode 124. How to use progressive overload the right way to build strength and muscle even in fat loss. We're diving into the concept of progressive overload what it is, why it's important and how to implement it in your training program. I'll explain the science behind how it drives muscle growth and strength gains, which is one of the most misunderstood pieces here. And then provide specific methods for progressively overloading your workouts by increasing weight rep sets intensity and other creative approaches. These strategies apply to all training levels, from beginner to advanced. And then finally, I'll go over how you can apply this principle even during a fat loss phase buckle in because this is going to be an epic, all encompassing episode on this topic. And if you want my free detailed guide on progressive overload, that you can download and reference whenever you want. Just use the link in my show notes under episode resources, or go to wits & weights.com/free. Alright, let's get into today's topic, how to use progressive overload the right way to build strength and muscle even in fat loss. Oh, I took a lot of time to research this topic because it is so important. It's probably progressive overload is probably the most important principle for building strength and muscle, and also one of the most misunderstood. Progressive overload refers to the gradual increase in stress placed upon the body during exercise over time, this stress can come in the form of increased weight sets, reps intensity, the key is that the body is continually challenged beyond what it is already adapted to. Now our muscles have a remarkable ability to adapt to whatever demands we place on them. I mean, it's a beautiful thing. I talk about muscle first health and a muscle centric approach. Muscle is an organ, and it is the organ that we have the most control over we can change we can add to it skeletal muscle is just a beautiful thing. And it elevates everything in our health and fitness. But in order to become bigger and stronger, we have to force further adaptation by providing a new overload stimulus. Now real quick, the term overload, I think is a misnomer. Because you are not actually going past the point of your your ability, you are pushing the very limit of your ability, thus causing the adaptation. So just want to get that out of the way, in case the term is misused. Now, if you don't have progressive overload in your training, your results are going to quickly plateau. And so if you've been in the gym for years, hitting the same weight, not making progress not getting stronger, not building muscle, maybe not using fat either. This is likely very much the reason why. Now I've heard progressive overload explained in many different ways. And I'm going to share the one that I find the most helpful today. And that is through the stress recovery adaptation model Sra. Now you might see it referred to as the stimulus recovery adaptation model as well, same thing, we're going to use the word stress, it gets the job done. So progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise over time. And this stress pushes the body out of homeostasis. And this force is a physiological adaptation during the recovery in order to return to homeostasis. So that's 30,000 foot view. Now let's get down to the 10,000 foot view here. Let's start with stress. The stress in this case refers to the challenging of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems through exercise induced fatigue. Now as to the mechanisms of how this occurs in the body, I want to clarify something here. Because the old theory was the muscle tear and repair model, also known as the muscle damage hypothesis, and this has been challenged in recent years. This is the idea that, you know, muscle hypertrophy occurs because your, your muscles get torn up and damaged, and then they have to repair themselves. And while it is clear that hypertrophy can occur can occur with some of that muscle damage existing, it's not necessary for growth, that's a key distinction. And so you might see them happening at the same time. But it doesn't mean that it's the cause of it. In fact, too much muscle damage can be detrimental, right, because they can impair your recovery and impair your performance. And this is why one of the things I say is don't chase soreness, soreness is an indication of tearing, but it has nothing to do with hypertrophy, it may be an indication that you're doing something new for the first time, it may be indication you've torn muscle fibers. But those are independent of the stress that we need for progressive overload. So key point there. What the evidence does suggest is that two things mechanical tension, and metabolic stress, okay, mechanical tension and metabolic stress are the critical drivers of muscle growth. Mechanical tension is simply the force that you put on your muscles during lifting, especially when they are stretched under load. Right, so you think of going into a full range of motion, the full contraction and he centric loading of a muscle that involves mechanical tension. Now, metabolic stress results from the accumulation of byproducts of anaerobic metabolism, things like lactate, when you're doing more high intensity or high volume exercise. So this would be more higher higher rep type movements or pushing to failure or fatigue or whatever. But it still occurs when you are undergoing a high level of mechanical tension. So these mechanisms, what they do is they induce muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy, the growing of muscle size, without necessarily causing muscle damage. So that's the distinction. So again, while muscle damage may contribute, or may be associated with hypertrophy, it's not the sole or even primary driver, and it's not required for muscles to grow. So regardless of all that, because I am getting somewhat into the science here, by progressively increasing the demands we place on our body, again, whether through increased weight sets, reps intensity, we cause this greater disruption to homeostasis from that stress. So that's stress, then we have recovery, talk about the recovery aspect of the SRA model, the body has to work harder during recovery. Okay, that's the time between your workout sessions where you eat sleep rest, it has to work hard to return to that baseline, get homeostasis, so that it can supersede the previous level of fitness. So your level of fitness will remain static unless you've got the stress. And then during recovery, your body works to get beyond that previous level so that it can handle the stress that's similar to what you just placed on it. So after a workout, the body does four things. All right. The first is muscle protein synthesis. probably heard this before MPs. This is where the body repairs, debt, repairs damaged proteins, and it builds new muscle tissue. And this is the process behind muscle growth. And this is why we need our protein and our energy overall calories. The second thing after workout is it replaces your glycogen stores your energy, which gets depleted during exercise. The third thing your body does, it removes metabolic byproducts, substances like lactate that accumulate during exercise, these are cleared out. And then fourth, it restores hormonal balance. So catabolic hormones like cortisol, the stress hormone, and anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone are restored. So like IGF one right, these get restored these are all important things that your body are doing during the recovery phase. And you need sufficient recovery to then enable the final part of this model of this process adaptation. So again, stress recovery adaptation, adaptation refers to the body's process of becoming stronger and more efficient. Following recovery, TIG those are important points stronger and more efficient. Now, you may also have muscle mass that goes along with that to to enable those increases in strength and efficiency, but that is more of a byproduct. Okay. Remember, the body tries to maintain a stable internal environment what we call homeostasis. When stressed, it not only returns to baseline, but then adapts to better handle future stress. Right higher level of fitness, also known as Super compensate Asians. This adaptation phase is where the gains in strength and size occur. And so I want to mention four things that occurred during the adaptation phase. The first is neural muscular adaptation. This is a very important concept. So listen up, this is where you have improved efficiency in your nerve signals that cause muscle contractions. Right? This leads to an increase in strength early on, especially when you're beginner or when you're doing a new movement, even if you don't have noticeable muscle growth. So this is a this is a leading mechanism that's very important neuromuscular adaptation. The second thing that occurs during adaptation is hypertrophy. So this is simply your muscle fibers growing in size. The third is the strengthening of connective tissue. All right, for the older folks out there, if you're in your 40s, you're in your 50s, this is really important too. Because this, these, these things start to get a little bit worn down with age, let's say, your tendons and ligaments will become stronger in response to the loads placed upon them. This is also why we don't want to overdo it, especially as we age, right, we don't have the right amount of volume, right amount of stress and progress over time and not overdo it. And the fourth thing during adaptation is an increase in bone density, bones become denser and stronger in response to the stress of resistant strain. So we, we can see here already that this process is creating a lot of changes in our body that are super beneficial for our health, for our strength for function, for longevity, for for everything you can imagine, it's all all good. It's all benefits. And so for these adaptations to occur, what I'll call optimally, the body needs, what adequate nutrition, okay, so it's not just about the lifting, we need enough protein, we need enough calories for the muscle protein synthesis for replenishing your glycogen stores. And we need the rest and sleep that goes along with it. To facilitate the maximum recovery. Now I'm going to talk toward the end of the show about how you can still train with the principle of progressive overload during fat loss when you don't have enough energy coming in. I'll talk about that. But to maximize it, you need to be in a maintenance or in a surplus. So the most critical piece of all of this is that this adaptation allows us to subsequently handle greater workloads and demands. But then you need an even greater stimulus the next time and a greater one after that, right. You can't just keep building without the added stimulus. Because you need to keep driving these new adaptation upward to support continued gains in size, strength and power. So this is why beginners can squat three times a week, and can make very rapid progress. Because the the stress just isn't that high in absolute terms, but it's high enough in relative terms to cause the adaptation and cause a very quickly. So you can recover in two days, you can repeat the same movement at a higher level of fitness you were two days ago. And you could repeat this for several months before the stress starts to become too great to be able to apply that frequently. Right. And so beginners can really take advantage of this early on. Take advantage, the neuromuscular adaptation and the frequency of these movements. Once you get to intermediate and advanced stages, you're going to have way more stress on the body because you're simply at much higher loads. So even though you've adapted to it, they still place a great stress on your body and it takes longer to recover and to adapt. But if you wait too long, like if you wait three or four weeks, let's say between movements, the adaptation adaptation will regress back to the previous level. And so you can either have find the sweet spot in frequency, or use techniques to maintain strength between the higher stress, bouts, you know, between your heavy lifting sessions. So that's where programming gets a little more complicated. The key takeaway to all of this remains that progressive overload through managing training, stress and recovery, right sleep, rest. Food is the driving principle behind improved performance over time, you need enough stress in your workouts to cause the adaptation, you need enough recovery but not too much. And then rinse and repeat this for massive increases in strength and muscle early on. And smaller but ongoing relative muscle and strength increases as you get more advanced. Okay, so that's the principle of progressive overload probably could have been its own episode. But the next topic we need to understand is the relationship between strength and hypertrophy, especially when discussing training outcomes. So we're gonna start with strength. Strength is largely a product of neurological adaptations. That's one muscle cross sectional area. That's too and the specific skill of the movements being for for performance, also called specificity. That's three. Alright, so neurological muscle size, specificity, When someone starts training effectively for the first time, rapid strength gains occur without substantial increases in muscle size yet, but they'll happen, they'll happen pretty quickly afterwards, you know, within weeks, they'll start to occur. And this is due to improvements in the efficiency of the nervous system, right? Think of it as as your brain, your mind, your mind body connection. finally waking up and realizing that you want to put this demand on it for this movement pattern, and you need to become more efficient at it. And your your latent or inherent capability is there, you have the muscle for it, you just have never recruited it before. So now your brain starts to better recruit your motor units, it increases the firing rate of those movements, it improves the coordination of your muscle groups like the whole system just starts to come together in this beautiful ballet of movement that makes you an efficient machine for that training for that pattern before you actually need to build more muscle tissue. So that strength hypertrophy, on the other hand refers to the increase in muscle size. So while larger muscles have a greater potential for strength, muscle size alone does not directly translate to maximal force production. I've mentioned it before hypertrophy is driven more by metabolic stress, it's the mechanical tension and then a little bit of the muscle damage. But I always like to say that strength leads muscle, focus on the strength, build the patterns, and then you'll start to build the muscle. And then that increase in size and the ability to move more weight will allow the hypertrophy piece to become much, much more efficient and effective down the road. So for beginners, the initial phase of strength training is dominated by neurological adaptation. And that's why you can get significantly stronger, right, you can double or triple your squat, your deadlift, your pressing your bench within months, without necessarily seeing a huge change in muscle size at first, and then over time as your body becomes more efficient. And then you lift the heavier weights, you've caught up to your latent ability. And now the stimulus for muscle growth becomes more pronounced. And then hypertrophy starts to contribute even more to strength gains, and they're kind of working together at that point. So the relationship between strength and hypertrophy gets more complex as you advance in training age. And then things like genetics, your training style, your specific programming, how consistent you are, have a much greater influence on whether you gain more strength or size. So again, beginners, if you're listening, or if you've not ever done this effectively, before you're a beginner, you can focus on a general strength training program. And I highly recommend one that uses barbells, with the big compound lifts in the four to six rep range, very simple, very effective, very time efficient, this will lead to low strength gains, and then over time I purchase a fee. And then as you advance, you may need more specialized programs to target either of these depending on your goals, right, you might be doing some power building or upper lower splits, or, you know, conjugate type program, you might do bodybuilding program, the sky's the limit in the future, but start with general strength. Either way you go like whatever your programming looks like the volume and the nutrition have to be sufficient for you to keep growing. Now, I want to give you the big picture of how do we implement this. And then I'm gonna dive into specifics on different methods. Like I said, this is going to be, this is an epic episode, you're gonna have everything in here. So let's start let's talk beginners first, okay, for beginners who are new to strength training, and that includes all of you listening, who the light bulb has gone on. And you realize you have not been trained the right way all these years. And that's a lot of people, I'm sure listening to this podcast, that was me about four years ago, when the light bulb went off. If you were in that category, progressive overload follows a linear, straightforward progression, we actually call it a novice linear progression for that reason. And the most basic approach is simply add weight to the bar, or dumbbells or whatever you're using, add weight each session, same number of sets, same number of reps, just add weight. That's all you need to do as a beginner. So if you, if you squat at 95 pounds on Monday, you'll squat 100 pounds on Wednesday, then you'll squat 105 pounds on Friday, right? Or maybe you'll go up by 10 pounds initially, and then it'll lessen to five pound jumps, and then maybe you'll do two and a half pound jumps. The point is to go up in weight, right, and I know I get that that's not exactly linear, but linear, meaning all you're doing is changing one training variable. Now there are some other movements for beginners that you might incorporate, like chin ups, right after a few weeks or so you might incorporate chin ups where the overload, you can't just add weight to chin ups, right. You're either going to gain weight in your body and that's going to make the chin ups harder. But you should still be able to get the same number of reps as you increase in weight. Thus, you are progressively overloading or you can add more reps like you're getting stronger so you're able Get more reps. Or you can even add weight using something like a dip belt. So I'm going off on a little tangent, but beginners often ask this because early on, you might end up doing something like chin ups. And it's kind of an oddball movement compared to the other loaded movements. As a beginner, you're gonna prioritize form and technique above all else. But don't let it be an excuse, not to progress. Get it Get this all the time, hey, I haven't been progressing in three months, why not? Well, I've been focusing on my form, you don't need three months to focus on your form, you just need a few sessions, get some feedback early and often use form videos, get a coach posted in the Wits, & Weights Facebook group, you know, reach out to me, don't use that as an excuse, even though it is important. So it's a fine balance. Another thing for beginners that's really important, I think, is to train through the full range of motion. This is not the time to be doing partials or, you know, you know, rack poles instead of deadlifts or spot presses instead of full bench presses. This is the general strength adaptation phase, you want to be doing full range of motion, that means below parallel on the squat, that means the full shrug at the top on your overhead press. That means touching your chest on the bench and then blocking it out at the top. Right. And you know, if you're not doing these things, right, you know who you are, it means you're not training training through the full range of motion, right? Partial range of motion, yeah, you can lift more weights, but you're not overloading the full, you're not loading the full movement. And when we talk strain, and we talk specificity of movement patterns, neuromuscular adaptation, you have to train through the full length of the muscle to get the benefit. So just FYI, on that. Last thing for beginners, I want you to log everything, like log them in a notebook, or an app doesn't, it doesn't matter, well, whatever works for you, whatever works for you. loads, log, your exercises, your movements, your loads, you set your reps, add any notes about how it felt, right? Just see, or what are you going to do next time? What did you learn about it anything special about the conditions of your training, start logging everything, get into a habit of doing that? So that's it for beginners, right? And again, we're gonna get into specifics, much more specifics on various methods in the next section, but hold on for that. I want to mention intermediate trainees for a brief while here, because a lot of beginners wonder, what do I do after I've run out for like, 346 months, I've started to plateau on my big lifts. I'm increasing the weight every session, but I'm starting to plateau. Right? Initially, I'm gonna say, Well, can you get creative? Can you instead of doing three sets of five, can you do five sets of three? Can you do a top set, and then a back offset like things like that, which kind of still let you increase by weight and not really change much else. But eventually, you're going to truly plateau. And that's because you're at the point where the stress is so high that you can't recover quickly enough to adapt and increase it in the next session. And so now it stretches out, now you might only be able to go up each week, right? Or even longer than that. And at this stage techniques, like heavy versus light days, where the light days don't place too much stress, but maintain your strength, or top set back offset, or rep ranges, and other advanced methods. Those are what are going to allow you to continue with that progressive overload. And we're gonna get into all those in a bit. So stay tuned for that. This is just a high level kind of public service announcement for intermediate lifters. I want to take a quick detour on the programming and then we'll get into the methods. So when your lifts start to plateau on a three day per week program, I think you have two really good options. The first is heavy light medium. And the second is a four day split. So heavy light medium is if you want to continue working out three days a week. And what you're going to do is fluctuate the intensity, that's the weight on the bar, and the volume of your sessions throughout the week. And so instead of like squatting heavy three days a week, you're going to do for example, a heavy day, where the volume is low, you might have three sets in 85 or 95% of your max of your one RM we call it a load, right, and lower reps, like three to five reps. So this might be your three by five day, for example, then Wednesday might be a light day, this is where you're going to have maybe an extra set or two but at a moderate volume, it still might be three sets but it's going to be lighter weights, it's gonna be like 60 to 75% of your one RM little bit higher reps, let's say eight to 12 reps. And then you're going to have a medium day on Friday, which is kind of splitting the difference this is maybe maybe four sets and like 780 5% of your one hour for like six to eight reps right and and you can look this up you can google HLM heavy like medium. There's a million ways to do this. It was described really well in practical programming, which is like the sequel to starting strength. Look up any of Andy Baker's articles on the subject. The point is that By rotating these parameters, these training variables, it allows you to continue pushing on a weekly basis, but then maintain your strength on a session by session basis. And then it allows for more recovery. That's the point. So that's option one. The second option when you have to, when you've plateaued, is a four day split. And this is probably the most common thing that people do, it spreads out the fatigue a little more, it basically splits your body in half, usually like upper lower upper lower, so you do upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body on Thursday, lower body on Friday, that's the most typical, there's a lot of different ways to do it. But this now hits the muscle groups multiple times, but it's not like you're squatting every session. So you can technically add more volume to certain movements, because you're spreading it out. And the frequency ends up being two times per week for each muscle group. So an example of that would be on the upper days you would do maybe one that's focused on, well, here's the approach I like take the four big lifts, and just split them up across the four days as your main lifts. So bench on Monday, squat on Tuesday, press on Thursday, deadlift on Friday, that's just one example. You can arrange them however you want. But but make sure to have like, upper lower upper lower, lower, lower upper lower upper. And then you would have accessory lifts and direct or isolation work after those main lifts. So on bench day, you might then do an incline dumbbell bench after the flat barbell bench, and then have a couple other movements for your shoulders. And then maybe biceps, right. So I'm not going to get into more detail than that. The point is that now you can progress, continue to progress all your lifts while managing fatigue compared to the full body. And because you are for example, benching on Monday, even though you don't bench again to the next Monday, you are pressing on Thursday, and you're probably also doing some chest related work on both days anyway. So you're kind of maintaining your strength between the weeks right between the sessions. Okay, that's, that's more than I even wanted to get into on programming. Because even though programming is important, I think the principle of progressive overload, we want to focus more on the specific session based strategies, right that to provide that overload. And I'm gonna do that now. But before I do, I mentioned it earlier, friendly reminder, I created a detailed guide for you on progressive overload. To go with this podcast, just click the link in my show notes under episode resources, or go to wits. & weights.com/free. Hey, this is Philip. And I hope you're enjoying this episode of Wits & Weights, I started Wits & Weights to help people who want to build muscle lose fat and actually look like they lift. I've noticed that when people improve their strength and physique, they not only look and feel better, they transform other areas of their life, their health, their mental resilience and their confidence in everything they do. And since you're listening to this podcast, I assume you want the same things the same success, whether you recently started lifting, or you've been at this for a while and want to optimize and reach a new level of success. Either way, my one on one coaching focused on engineering your physique, and body composition is for you. If you want expert guidance and want to get results faster, easier, and with fewer frustrations along the way to actually look like you lift, go to wits & weights.com, and click on coaching, or use the link in my show notes to apply today. I'll ask you a few short questions to decide if we're a good fit. If we are, we'll get you started this week. Now back to the show. Here we go. So this is going to be organized by the types of ways you can progress. You can progress by increasing weight, reps, sets, intensity, or some combination of these variables. So I've got a lot in here again, this is an epic episode. So listen through all the way and you never know what you're gonna learn. How do we increase by weight? All right. The easiest way to do this with what we already talked about, just increase the amount of weight each session for your movement, add some increment, it might be two and a half 510 pounds, maybe it's 20 pounds when you're just getting started. And that's it. Simple. Okay, if you're a beginner, that's all you've got to do. You can almost not even listen to the rest of this episode, and you've got your game plan. Okay, another way to increase weight is to if you are logging your lifts, and you know what your last maximum was your last, let's say five rep max, which we would call your five rm and now you're doing another five, like three sets of five, for example. And your last three by five RM was, you know, 200 pounds now might maybe you aim for 205 pounds, even if it was several weeks or months ago, because you've been for example, rotating through different lifts and maintaining your strength on all those muscle groups. But now you want to come back to this specific lift and you Want to try to beat your, your weight from last time? All right. So that's another way to do it, that's more of an advanced strategy. But another way to increase weight is to base it off your percent of your one rep max. So if you know what your max is for the training cycle, right, let's say it's 375, on the deadlift, all right, and you want to do 80%, on RM, then you can do 80%. And then next time do 85%. And that next time 90% of the reps might change. And that's where we get into multiple training variables. But the idea here is that you can increase the weight based on a percentage, okay? That's really it for weight, it's kind of a simple variable, if you're gonna leave it at that now I'm gonna get into reps, this is where we start to make it more flexible. Yeah, more complicated, but more flexible. All right. Generally, when we're talking reps, we're talking about rep ranges, like if you are working in a range of eight to 12, very common rep range, all you're going to do is you're going to do, let's say, three sets of 10, this week. And then next week, if you kept the weight the same, you can hopefully do three sets of 11. That's, that's a simple way to increase reps. That's not typically the way that I do it. But that's one way to do it. The way that I do it is a rep range method, where you drop the load during your workout set to set to stay in that rep range. And then next time you work out, you increase the load, and you keep doing it until the reps fall so low that they're out of the rep range, and then you reset. So let me explain what I mean. Let's say you do three sets of eight to 12. And you 100 pounds, I don't know what a moron, I'm gonna say what movement we're doing, let's say you're lifting 100 pounds. And on the very first set, you're able to get 10 reps. And it's it's very hard to get those 10 reps, that's what we're talking about, right? It's very hard to you couldn't get an 11th REP. Or maybe you could have gotten 11. But we're talking direct isolation work here, for example, like bicep curls, you just max out and you get 10 reps. And then you take your rest period, let's say two or three minutes, on the next set, you should be able to get no more than 10. And probably you should only be able to get nine, eight or nine at that same weight. All right, so you do it, let's say you get eight. Now on the third rep, you have a choice. Since you're in the bottom of the rep range of eight to 12, you can either stay at that weight again, and you're not going to hit eight, you're going to hit like maybe six or seven. And that's okay to do if you want to do it that way. Or you drop the load by about 10%. So that you can stay within that eight to 12 rep range. And it's as simple as that then, next session, right, maybe it's a week later, the same movement, you increase the weight to let's say, 110 pounds, right 5% 10% depends on getting what movement we're talking about. So you get 110 pounds, and now you're able to get, let's say, nine reps. And then on the next one, you get seven reps, oh, now you're gonna drop the load to 100. And now maybe you get eight reps again. Alright, but you still got within that eight to 12 on the first set. So we're gonna increase the weight again next time, now we're gonna go up to 120. On the next session, you do 120. And that first set, you're only able to get seven reps. All right, you're going to drop the load to 110, try to get between eight to 12 Drop, drop it if you need it again to say it's 12. But that first set tells you it is time to reset. And so the next time you do the movement, you go back down to some weight higher than the last time you started the cycle between eight to 12. And that might be going back that might be going to 105 pounds. Remember, when we started this example, we were at 101 10 and 120. Maybe when you reset, you go to 105. Last time you got 10 reps at 100 pounds. This time, you're trying to get 10 reps again, at least, but at 105 pounds. So you see how it kind of rotates up and down and up and down. But generally trends upward over time. That is my preferred way to use rep ranges. So I wanted to spend a decent amount of time on it. Now, some other ways to use reps are for example, you can do your normal workout. And then on the last on the last set, you just go all out and do as many reps as possible to failure even if you weren't necessarily targeting failure on the first few sets, right? Another way to do it is to do ramp up sets actually increase the reps, when I already said that you're dropping the load and you're increasing the reps. So increase the relative intensity of the sets. So scratch what I just said. Okay, what I wanted to say here, let me be specific is you can keep the sets the same, but reduce the rest periods. That's what I wanted to go with this. So let's say three sets of, of 10. Right? But you reduce the rest periods between them from two to three minutes down to maybe 30 seconds. And we're going to talk about some of these intensity things later on. But when you do that, what's going to happen? Well, the reps are going to drop. So you can Drop the load to keep the reps the same. And you might have to drop it more than you would otherwise, knowing that you have less rest, go to them saying. So, intensity techniques we're going to talk about in a second. But I wanted to talk about reps. And I mentioned that rep range method I prefer, okay, hopefully I didn't lose everybody there. Let's talk about increasing now, by sets. Okay, sets is an interesting one, because you can't keep increasing sets forever, right? For for practical reasons, mainly, but also volume and fatigue, meaning if I'm doing three sets this week, then four sets, and five and six, I mean, if you get to 10 sets of an exercise, you're gonna be in the gym for three hours. And that just might be completely exhausting, right, but let alone the stress that you're trying to add. So however, I have run programs, where I will cycle for like four weeks, on an increasing set basis, and leave everything else the same. And then I will reset back to the original number of sets, but at a higher weight. So you might do three sets at whatever weight and reps, next week, same weight and reps, but just add a set the following week, add a set the following week and a set, and then you reset back to three sets but at a higher weight. So that's one way to do it. Another way to do it is to add extra sets at the end of whatever sets you have as like a top off at a higher weight. Now this is kind of the opposite of top set back off, which I'm going to talk about in a minute, this is actually doing like two or three sets, and then increasing the weight. And doing one more set really heavy. This came up in my research on this topic, this is a way to program it, it's not something that I personally like to use, I actually prefer the opposite. And that is the first set being heavier, and then a back off set being lighter. So let me explain how that works. And I really love this with bodybuilding programs, because it's very time efficient. And if you are training to failure effectively, like if you're really getting all those effective reps in, you may not need a third set. That's that's the goal here. So the idea is to follow your heavy top set with a lighter back offset. And the way this looks like is you would perform a, let's say you're doing barbell rows, right, you would do your work set at like three to five reps, at whatever weight it is to get three to five reps. So it's gonna be pretty heavy. And this targets strength in neuromuscular recruitment, all the stuff we talked about, then you take your rest period, maybe it's three minutes, maybe it's five minutes, and you reduce the weight by say 10 to 20%. And do it for like six to eight or eight to 10 reps, whatever makes sense for the load. And you might just have to do one back offset, maybe you do too, right. So maybe it's not just top set back off, it might be top set, multiple back offsets. I also like this approach, when there's a lot of fatigue from the movement. Like for example, if you've got a history of low back fatigue from your deadlifts, or your squats, but you want to keep pushing the top weight on the first set, you can do that and then use back offsets to manage the fatigue that way, you're you're hitting the stimulus, you're hitting the strength, but then you're still getting in some volume. So the intensity of the top set, combined with the kind of the metabolic stress of the back offsets gives you a nice stimulus, right. And this can be done for main lifts, or big compound lifts, for example. The only other way I can think of in terms of adding sets and progressing with sets is if you add like a a supplemental isolation movement, right after a compound lift, to just throw in some extra volume, but I mean, then you're just talking about you're doing another workout, you're just doing another exercise, but you're kind of building that, that muscle group, so to speak, in a way that where it's already warmed up. And now you're just kind of throwing in an extra set. Okay, so that brings me to intensity techniques, okay, and there are a lot of these, there are a lot of intensity techniques. And by intensity, I'm using it in a little more loose sense, not just weight on the bar, but actually overall stress. So one easy way to do this is to reduce your rest periods. And there are definitely advocates have who point to the science and I've seen kind of a mixed bag here, of why don't we just reduce all our rest periods go toward failure. And on the second and third set, we're gonna get way less reps, but we're getting effective reps, if you subscribe to the effective reps theory. Now others will say well, that's not the that's not the whole picture. There's something to be said by those earlier reps that contributes to hypertrophy. And so we should take full rest periods. My take on it is do a little both. Just have fun with both and add some variety. It's fun. If time is a big concern, then yeah, you can reduce your rest periods knowing that it's going to eat into the amount of reps you can get in the subsequent sets. Okay, so anyway, this is a variable that you can change. Most people I'm in my pay And don't rest long enough when they're when they're beginners and they're doing compound lifts, they're just not resting long enough. But later on, when you get into advanced techniques, this is a way to toggle the intensity. Another one is drop sets. Alright, so drop sets are simply doing a set, and then decreasing the weight, and then immediately doing another set without any rest, and then decreasing the weight and keep doing that. And you get like a huge pump that way, it's another way to kind of increase the intensity. Another one that I kind of alluded to already is called rest pause sets. And all this is is you do a set, you pause for no more than 15 to 20 seconds, and then you do your next set. And the idea is you shouldn't be able to do more than like half the reps of the last set when you do this. And the principle is, you've already exhausted the muscle or pre exhausted it, and now you're hitting just the effective reps. This comes from the dog crap. Yep, you heard that right, do G GCRA PP training method by Dante Trudel. And my coach, Andy Baker likes to use these and I find them a lot of fun, and they actually save time. So in some of your direct isolation work, it could be a good technique. Now there's a similar technique called Myo reps that you may or may have heard of, and seen on social media and bodybuilders and everything. It's a bit more complicated, you basically, you do an activation set, they call it and you go, just shy of failure, not quite failure, but then you rest for five seconds, but you rest for five seconds per rep that you were able to do. So let's say you did 10 reps. And it's like, you could have done 12. So you're just shy of failure, you would rest for 50 seconds. And then you would do many sets of like two to five reps with very short rest periods. And you just keep going until the performance just drops off a cliff and you're done. That's my rep said, that's the best way I could describe it. Again, I don't think it's too complicated. I just like rest, pause sets, just do a set, wait a short amount of time, do another way short amount of time do another easy. Okay, another way to increase intensity is very, it's controversial, I think because some people love it. Some people hate it, some people are like whatever. And that is an RPE, or an IR, our IR based approach. All right, RPE is rate of perceived exertion. And so it's on a scale of one to 10, a 10. RPE means you have no reps left in the tank, that's the most exertion exerting the set could be. The inverse of this is our IR rate reps in reserve, it's simply the opposite of RPE. So like, if RPE is one to 10, ar AR is 10 to one. So a 10 RPE is a zero, AR AR, you've got zero reps left in reserve in the tank, an eight RPE is going to be a two AR AR, you've got two reps. So you get what I'm saying. If you are very attuned to your body and your exertion level, and your ability to hit these numbers based on RPE, I guess you can use it like some of the some very skilled, effective, you know, bodybuilders and power lifters use this and some big names and people that I follow, including, like Dr. Eric Helms and others, have used these, you know, talk about these approaches and recommend them. So who am I to say, like, it's not going to work for you, I would say the big challenge here is that it's subjective. And I prefer things that are objective and repeatable. And so, you know, if, if the idea with RPE, and AR AR is to make sure you don't leave gains on the table, I like it for that, right. Like, if it pushes you, I kind of like it for that. But I think for a lot of people who use it prematurely, it does the opposite. It makes you think like, oh, okay, I'm gonna eight RPM done. And if if your coach or an experienced person saw you on video doing that, they say, Huh, that's like a six RPE, you probably had like two or three more reps to go. So I'm just putting it out there. If you're following that such a program, just make sure it's appropriate for you, and you're using it for the benefits that it provides. Okay. Another way to increase intensity is focusing on bar speed, right on velocity on power. This is focusing on faster contractions. So that's like on a bench press the contractions when you push the bar up. So for a benchpress continue with this example, you might lower the bar to normal one or two seconds rate, pause at the bottom for a second and then explode up. I actually use this approach on my what's called dynamic effort days for the Westside style conjugate program that I'm following, where we use a lot more sets, like eight or 10 sets of just a few reps, let's say two, three or four reps at a lighter weight, what you focus on pushing the bar really quickly in the contraction phase. So yeah, that's all I have to say about that. Again, there's there's controversy about how effective this is. If you're not very strong, how effective is it? Should you be measuring the volume with like apps and sensors and all that, if you want to get into all that go for it? I think it's very limited application to people who know how to use it, and I will do Then at that, okay, then we have tempo work, right? This is where, okay, so I'm not necessarily a fan of like going super slowly, in the full range, like, for example with a squat, going down slowly. And then I mean, I'm sorry, I'm not a big fan of slow, concentric. That's what I meant to say. The and I think I said contraction. In my last example, I meant to say concentric, but you know what I mean? I'm a fan of a slow eccentric with a pause, and then a fast concentric, if you're going to do tempo work, the pause, especially I think, is where the magic is because you stop the stretch reflex. So for example, pause squats with a squat safety bar or front squat, really good for a quad dominant pump, right? Like, if you want to really hit the quads hard from a hypertrophy perspective, you do a safety bar, squat down slowly, you pause for good, like second are to where all the momentum is taken out. And then you push up as fast as you can, as you know, and that's where you're kind of combining bar speed and power with tempo work to get a little bit of extra intensity. This, this could also work if you have dumbbells, and you just don't have heavier dumbbells, you could slow it down, right? Put a pause in there, slow down the E centric and then explode up. Okay, continuing on mind muscle connection. The mind muscle connection is one of these bro science things that I think has a lot of validity. The idea being that if you just turn off the music, turn off the podcast, sit with your thoughts and listen to your body and look at them muscle and really think through the full range of motion of the eccentric, and the concentric of the movement and contract throughout the movement, tighten your muscle, I think of bicep curls, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right talks about that all the time, like looking at your muscle and imagining that it's growing right before your eyes. And I've seen plenty of guys, women too, who they'll do a bicep curl. And it's like, they don't even go all the way down. And it kind of just flinging it up and down. What I want you to do next time you do a bicep curl or anything like it is slowly go down to the full almost where you're locked out, but not quite that full lengthened movement in the bicep, look at the bicep, and the whole time, I want you to be contracting the bicep on the way down and on the way up, not just on the way up. In other words, don't become soft on the way down, contract all the way down, hauled in nice and bring it up. Okay, that mind muscle connection approach you might find greatly increases the intensity of how you were doing it before. And now you get more out of the movement for the same load. So that's my muscle connection as a whole. That's a whole topic in and of itself. Alright, then we have pre exhaustion techniques. And this is where I'm not talking about warm ups here. Like if you do a lift and you warm up the lift to the point where you're ready to go. I don't think of that as pre exhaustion, I think of that as like getting getting ready to where you can get the most out of it. Pre exhaustion is where you do something like an isolation exercise, right, like let's say a tricep exercise, before you do a compound lift, like bench press. So now you've exhausted you've pre exhausted the triceps, which is a key muscle involved in the bench press. And now the bench press is more challenging. And the the stress moves to a different part of the benchpress. Right, because now for example, your triceps become the bottleneck. And so and maybe it's not the triceps that you want to do it maybe you want to pre exhaust the your pecs with like flies or something. There's a lot of different ways to do it. But it could make the compound lift more challenging and in a different way, so you get something different out of it. Okay, the next one is called post activation potentiation. Okay, now this one's a little bit weird, but not weird, but I mean, it sounds technical. All it is, is performing a heavy strength movements, before you do a similar explosive movement. I mean, honestly, the easiest way to think of this is like overload. So do heavy strength movement, that's maybe two or three rm and then go much lighter, like a top set back off. But another way to think of it as doing a for example, rack pole, which is a partial range of motion deadlift, very heavy, but then do a lighter deadlift or power clean, and see if it enhances the performance of the ladder because of the increased activation of the former, just one of those things that are out there. Okay, just a couple more in this in this group, I told you this would be a lot accommodating resistance. This is where you add bands or chains. And what this does is it changes the resistance curve, it makes the lift more challenging at the points where the muscle is typically stronger. So for example, if you put bands on a barbell and connected to the bottom pegs of a power rack into a squat, it's going to be the the band is going to stretch and be really tight at the top of the squat. And that's where you're usually stronger as well, right? The sticking point is down at the bottom. So now you're adding challenge we're going Normally, it would be less challenging. That's the idea with bands or chains. There are arguments as to whether this is even effective for people who are not that strong. So this comes from the west side, you know, conjugate method, look into it, if it's something you want to try, there's, there's all sorts of ways to do that, with your deadlifts, with your bench with your squat. And then the last one under intensity techniques is intentionally overreaching. If you're feeling it, and overreaching, I'm using that term carefully, as opposed to overtraining overreaching is, if you know your body really well, if you're an advanced trainee, and you've been doing these lifts for a while, and now all of a sudden, you just feel extremely ahead of it ahead of it this week, like, I don't know you've over adapted, you just feel stronger, intentionally doing a little bit more, right? Maybe more on the weight depends on if you're like, in a program where you test your one RM that day. Because if you're not, I would just stick with whatever was programmed, but you know, getting an extra rep, even adding an extra set, these are options are always on the table. Like if I feel if I'm doing three sets of whatever, and I do the third set, I'm like, You know what, I'm gonna throw in another set in there, I feel that that's gonna be really helpful to me today. And I'm feeling fresh and ready to go, I'm gonna do it. So that's all, that's all that is. Alright, so some of these training variables can be combined in different ways as well, that I wanted to mention. So we're going to do that now. And then we're going to conclude with talking about fat loss. So stay tuned for that. So one, one method is called double progression. And I already alluded to this, basically, where if you're doing a rep range, you can, you can either increase the reps, or increase the weight, and lower the reps. And so you've got two variables going on. Honestly, there's so many different configurations where you can do that. And each coach will tell you something different. The way that I described earlier is the way I like to do it. But again, you can progress however you want. The second thing is called pyramid sets, or ascending sets. And this is actually increasing the increasing the weight each set, while the reps come down. Now, as I mentioned before, I like to reduce the weight and keep the reps in the range. But there is a technique where you increase the weight and the reps come way down. For straps, let's talk about this. These are cheater reps, okay, there's, this is a controversial area as well, in something like bicep curls, where you can just go to failure and then do one more rep with a little bit of momentum. I mean, is it going to hurt you probably not, isn't going to be effective, and maybe not. But maybe. And so there's, there's mixed evidence on whether like, it's even worth doing the cheater reps given the chance of, of injury. And, you know, like the cost benefit isn't really there. So they're, they're even forced reps in the context of having a spotter or an assistance, where, like on benchpress, you know, you do your last rep, and then you're on your last rep to failure, and you can't get it up and your spotter kind of helps you get it up. Again, I'm not sure there's much of a benefit to that. But I wanted to mention it because it is out there as an option. We talked about drop sets, so I'm not going to repeat that. And then there's something called stripping sets where you reduce the weight, you reduce the weight between sets. So it's kind of like drop sets, but you keep the reps constant. I mean, it's basically drop sets, trying to keep the weight constant. So you'd have to drop the right amount so that the reps stay the same. That's hard to do. So I would just go with normal drop sets. Okay. That's it for all the methods I hope that wasn't like ridiculously long or detailed. But what I want to do now, the last topic I want to address is, how do you train during a fat loss phase, aka, I'm gonna cut bro. Training for progressive overload during a calorie deficit is achievable. And I would say it's essential, like the principle of it is essential if you want to maintain your muscle mass. Now, if you're a rank beginner, you might be able to gain strength and muscle during a cut. Right? It's not optimal, you're better off being at maintenance or in a surplus. For most people, we're just trying to hold on to what we've got. And so the strategies might differ a little bit from those used during maintenance or bulking phase because of the reduced energy. But they're not that much different. But I am going to talk about the differences right now. Regardless, you are still training as if you are able to build muscles. So the the mental state is still geared toward progressive overload, alright. The primary goal during a cut is to maintain strength, and this preserves muscle mass. And strength tends to be the first thing to go followed by muscle mass. So even if you're not increasing your lifts, if you can keep them where they are, if you can keep them consistent, that is a form of overload relative to your bodyweight because you're losing weight. So don't forget that some people forget that like, Oh, my goodness, my list have stalled. But I lost five pounds or I lost 10 pounds actually, in that case, they in relative terms, they really haven't stalled you've actually gotten you've actually maintained or maybe gotten a little stronger relative to your weight. The second intensity, this is a big misunderstood area of cutting of training during a cut. And that is we want to focus on maintaining intensity, the weight on the bar. Rather than trying to increase volume during a cut. In fact, you may end up having to reduce volume, maybe not. But recovery is impaired because you don't have the calories coming in. So intensity is the most important rather than volume. Okay, the next thing during the cut is something called autoregulation. And we've already talked about different methods of autoregulation. But this is you being able to adjust your training intensity and volume within the session based on how you're doing that day. So that you don't overreach or overtraining, right. So like rep ranges are already a way to auto regulate in a way, because it's not, you're not just going for fixed sets and reps at a particular weight, you got some flexibility there, you can change the load between sets, right, that's one way to do it. Another way to do it is to find your max for that session on a lift, and then base, the remaining sets on that Max and the max might be lower than it was last time, but relative intensity is still there. Another thing I want you to focus on during the cut, because you don't have enough recovery capacity is efficiency in your workouts, quality over quantity. This is where you can experiment with some of what we talked about, like the mind muscle connection, or shorter, more intense sessions, or just having two compound lifts. And one accessory instead of you know, two compound lifts and accessory and two or three direct movements, right just kind of shortening the number of exercises, but really focusing on quality. We talked about progressive overload as being not just about the stimulus or the stress, but also about the recovery. So you get the adaptation. And during a cut recovery becomes a harder resource to come by. And so it's even more important that you get enough sleep, that you manage your stress that you're hydrated enough, right? To maximize that recovery, you should be doing those things always. But it becomes that much more crucial during a fat loss phase. And then the last thing is even small progressions, like adding a rep, or slightly increasing weight can be significant when you're in a deficit for some of the reasons we already talked about. So when you're cutting, it's important to have realistic expectations, right? The rate of progress is not going to be the same as it is during maintenance or a surplus. So the focus is more on intensity, quality, and maintaining as much lean mass as possible. And of course recovery. It's like finding that sweet spot where you're providing enough stimulus to maintain muscle without over taxing the system. Okay, I think we're on coming up on an hour. Now, we covered a lot of detail today. But I think it was necessary to thoroughly explain the what, why and how of progressive overload. And here's the thing, if you're a beginner, don't be overwhelmed, you have the easiest job in the world. And that is just push the weight up session after session in a linear fashion to get much stronger in a matter of months, and pack on your first five to 15 pounds of muscle. And then when your list start to plateau, you'll be able to expand your programming, do more techniques as an intermediate lifter to keep the gains coming. And here's the thing, you've got this beautiful epic episode that you can always refer back to, for the many ways to do that. Or you can always reach out to me, you can schedule a free 30 minute results breakthrough session using the link in my show notes. This is a 30 Minute totally free call no selling or pitching you on my coaching whatsoever. We're just going to map out your specific strategy for nutrition or training whatever you need the most help with. And I can point you in the right direction when it comes to training effectively using progressive overload so that you can make progress. And again the link to schedule a free call is in my show notes. I always have a few slots each week. All right in our next episode 125 peptides, hormone therapy, medical esthetics and personalized wellness with Kristin Jim. We discuss peptides, hormone therapy, medical weight loss, and other ways to complement lifestyle interventions to optimize your health. As always, stay strong. And I'll talk to you next time here on the Wits & Weights podcast. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Wits & Weights. 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