An application of the Progressive Overload Principle Part I

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Strength and Conditioning for Health and Fitness

You have decided to do something about your health. You know that engaging in regular physical activities would be very beneficial. You understand that it is like medicine, but instead of swallowing it like a pill, you simply do it. And like medicine that has required doses, exercise too, has to be done regularly in the right volume and intensity so it will take effect. The person who you can rely on to help you with programming the exercise volume, intensity, as well as mode of your exercise would be your qualified and experienced fitness professional like a strength and conditioning coach. Not everybody may have access to one. But with or without them, it helps a lot if you understand the Progressive Overload Principle. Along with your specific goal, this principle forms the basis of determining the load (intensity), volume, rest, and mode of your training. Chances are, you are reading this because you want to train but may not have the guidance of a Strength coach. The concept of progressive overload will guide you along the way. Remember also that all physical activities have inherent risks. Common sense as well as application of the knowledge of fundamental training concepts like progressive overload minimizes these risks. You also assume all responsibilities when training by yourself.


Overload is different from over-overload. In training, increase the usual load from that which you are used to to stimulate adaptation. But not too much that you are not able to safely execute the movements.

The progressive overload principle is a concept which stresses that in order for improvement to occur, the workload and intensity during training, should be increased as the body also adapts to the new stress. Once the body is able to tolerate a certain amount of training stress, it will not adapt anymore not unless it is challenged again by increasing the previous load or volume or difficulty. In short do more than the previous or simply “overload”. But it has to be progressive otherwise the body won’t be able to cope and injuries may happen. Progressive means it is spread out over a period of many training sessions. It is closely associated with the General Adaptation Syndrome. Here is a story about GAS, a very important concept in Training.

Read about 6 principles that will surely improve your fitness.

Below is an example and template of how the Progressive Overload Principle is applied. It is a very good starting point if you want to start a regular physical activity. No fees to pay. You just have to pay with your sweat in order for results to happen. Tears not necessary. Oh, you would need a good pair of running shoes if you don’t have one.

Example: The goal is to improve general fitness to be able to perform daily activities without being overly tired. Mode is running.

Easy and moderate is relative for each individual. This describes the intensity. The volume here is described by time and we use a realistic target of 15 minutes. Not that hard to do and not that hard to insert into your schedule. It usually takes around two weeks for the body to adapt to new stresses so we use the first two weeks for “general conditioning”. It is also a sort of introduction. You would make necessary adjustments like what time of day you would do it. Make sure that it is in your schedule. You might also break in your running shoes or scout around for a good pair of running shoes during this period.

Period Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 15 minutes easy jog 15 minutes moderate jog 20 minutes easy  jog
Week 2 15 minutes moderate jog 20 minutes easy jog 20 minutes moderate jog

The next four weeks now have distances instead of time. Record how fast you can finish those distances. Do not to sprint the whole time but think of just being able to finish the distance and enjoy the experience. Record your time for week 3. Aim to improve your time each week. We use 5km for this period since it is do-able by majority of the population. You can also register for the next 5km fun run! It would give you a more exciting objective that you can look forward to. It opens up a lot of possibilities.

Period Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 3 2km jog 3km jog 5km jog-walk
Week 4 3km jog 4km jog 5km jog-walk
Week 5 3.5km run 5km jog-walk 5km jog
Week 6 3.5km run 3.5km jog 5km run

It is highly recommended that you do a warm-up and cool down activity before and after each session. Click here for a suggested routine. It is also a good practice to bring 500ml to 1 liter of water. You should drink anytime you wish, especially after training even if you are not thirsty. See future posts on how to progress from this program to include more fitness components like strength.

Here is a recommended warm-up routine.

Remember, the progressive overload principle needs time to work. The example given here is 6 weeks in duration which is just enough time to try and long enough to feel some results as long as there is progressive overload. Use it to Train Better! Live Better!

  1. […] program can also be added with the general conditioning (Click here for previous post) depending on one’s goal and ability to recover. They serve as examples on how the progressive […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s