Progressive Overload Principles, Intensity Techniques & Structuring a Deload with Examples
In this Article I’ll describe the Foundation for ALL Workout Splits, whether that’s a Push-Pull-Legs Routine or a 6-Day Split. Progressive Overload allows you to Track your Workouts and set Goals for your next Workout. Setting Goals and Attaining them, increases your Strength in a given Rep Range, which Eventually Results in more Muscle Mass.
Progressive Overload can be Followed by Intermediate Lifters who already Completed their Full-Body & Upper / Lower Split and are ready to Switch into a Push-Pull-Legs Routine, in order to make the most Progress possible. Progressive Overload can also be Incorporated into a Multiple-Day Training Split.
You can read more about Specific Training Splits in these Articles below:
Full-Body Workout Split for Beginners with Examples
How to Design your own Upper / Lower Body Program with Examples
How to Design your own Push-Pull-Legs Training Program with Examples
How to Design your own 4, 5 & 6 Day Training Program with Examples
Watch or Listen to this Articles YouTube Video
Progressive Overload Principles
Before you get started with Push-Pull-Legs or a Multiple-Day Split, it’ Important to get a Grasp on the Philosophy behind Progressive Overload and how it Benefits 99% of the Lifter with Average to Good Genetics. Exceptionally Good Genetics can train like an Absolute Donkey and still look Bigger, Leaner & Denser Naturally, then most Gym Rats on a Typical Steroid Forum Cycle!
When you Follow Progressive Overload, you Track of your Lifts with a Logbook or with Memory if you’re able to do so. Keep Track of your Accomplished Weight & Reps for each Exercise during the Workout. The next Time you Perform that Exercise, you try to either increase the Reps or the Weight, or BOTH!!
Progressing Working Weight & Reps
Personally, I prefer to Establish an Ideal & Maximum Rep Range for each Body Part and Aim to Break this Maximum Rep Range before increasing the Weight to Facilitate additional Hyper-Trophy. Let’s say for Chest the Ideal Rep Range is 6-8 Reps and the Maximum Reps are 9 or Above, in case you have an Awesome Workout and Feel really Strong that Day!
Whenever I reach 9 Solid Reps or more, meaning Reps with Continues Tension, without Resting at any Point during the Set, with Perfect Range of Motion (ROM), Perfect Form & Perfect Time Under Tension (TUT), in that Case I can Safely increase the Working Weight. This Weight increase will be an Achievable Increment, where I can Aim for 5-6 Reps, in order to stay Close to the Ideal Rep Range for Chest.
Every Following Workout I will Attempt to slowly build up the Amount of Reps I can do with that New Working Weight, until I reach 9 Solid Reps again, at which Point I will add more Weight to my Working Set and Start the Process of Progressive Overload & Forced Adaption all over again.
You only Perform Working Sets to Failure or Beyond Failure with Weights that becomes Challenging at the Bottom of the Ideal Rep Range. When the Barbell Bench Press becomes Challenging around 4-6 Reps, then you take that Set ALL the Way to Failure, which should be around 6-8 Reps in this Case. If you’re on enough PEDs & Food to Facilitate FULL Recovery before Training that Body Part again, then you can use a Spotter to help you Train Beyond Failure for Additional Hyper-Trophy. Keep in mind that you need to be able to Recover from Beyond Failure Training and shouldn’t Incorporate this Technique on all Working Sets. Ideally only on Body Parts you’re trying to Improve, to a Maximum of 3 Sets Beyond Failure per Workout!!
Honestly, not Everybody prefers to Train in a Relatively Low Rep Range of 4-8 Reps, some Prefer 8-12 and get Amazing Results that way. It’s very Important to Figure Out which Rep Ranges each Body Part Responds to for Maximum Hyper-Trophy.
Feel free to Start with 8-12 Reps per Working Sets, when you Plateau making Strength Progress, you can reduce the Rep Range to 6-10 Reps, then 6-8 Reps, and perhaps 4-6 Reps if your Recovery is 100% in Place. During this Trail & Error Period you can easily Assess which Body Parts respond well to each Specific Rep Range. Once a certain Body Part sees Significant Progress by Switching from one Rep Range to another, then you can stick with that Body Part Specific Rep Range and Maximize the Hyper-Trophy Response.
You should keep Gaining Strength, Size & Muscle Maturity until you Plateau due to Impaired Recovery Capability from Insufficient of Rest Days, Caloric or PED Intake. Until this happens and you need to make Adjustments elsewhere, you can slowly Drop Rep Ranges, which Result in very Noticeable Strength increases. Once you’ve assessed your Ideal Rep Ranges, you probably don’t want to increase them again, as Half the Weight, for Double the Reps doesn’t feel as Challenging & Rewarding as Heavy Weight for a Solid 6 Reps does!
Ideal & Maximum Rep Ranges
If you’ve already Figured out your Rep Ranges for each Respective Body Part, then you can stay with the Rep Ranges that work well for you. Otherwise you can Break the Body Parts down according to the Following Rep Ranges:
• Chest, Shoulders, Back, Hamstrings & Glutes; 6-10 Reps
• Biceps, Triceps, Adductors; 8-12 Reps
• Quads, Calves & Abs; 10-15 Reps
Adjustments & Variations for Additional Progress
You can Continuously Lower your Rep Ranges for every Exercise you Perform during your Workout, even Lower than your Ideal Rep Range for Hyper-Trophy, in order to Facilitate more Strength Gains, until you reach a Plateau. At that Point you have to make an Adjustment in order to Progress further. Adjustments can be made in many Different Aspects of your Body Building:
• Change the Workout Routine
• Change the Exercise Selection
• Adjust Food Intake with 10% Caloric increase
• Add an Extra Rest Day
• Take a Full Deload or Active Recovery Week
• Adjust PED Intake
Sometimes the Adjustment can be as Simple as Changing a Barbell Bench Press for a Dumbbell Bench Press. It’s very hard to Predict which Adjustment you need to make in order to Progress. You can use this Simple Checklist to see which Body Building Aspect you need to make an Adjustment:
• Not Progressing the Entire Workout but other Workouts are Improving? Change the Workout Routine!
• Not Progressing 1 Exercise but other Exercises are Improving? Change the Exercise Selection!
• Not Progressing on All Workouts and Slowly Recomping? Adjust Food Intake with 10% Caloric increase!
• Lingering Soreness due to Exercise Overlap? Add an Extra Rest Day!
• Not Progressing on All Workouts with Altered Sleep Patterns or Symptoms of Over-Training? Take a Full Deload or Active Recovery Week!
• Not Progressing on All Workouts and Gaining Body Fat from Caloric Increase? Adjust PED Intake!
More often than not you’ll need to make a Combination of Adjustments, which might be Hard for Intermediate Lifters to make Correctly. You can always make Single Adjustments on a Week to Week Basis until you Continue making Progress. Which is most likely due to the Combination of Beneficial Effects you’ll get for Several Adjustments made in the Weeks prior to Progressing again!
In the Beginning of Following a Push-Pull-Legs Routine this might be Relatively Easy, especially if you came from a Full-Body or Upper / Lower Routine Previously. The added Recovery you get from Spacing Body Parts apart with Several Days is more than enough to make Progress every Single Workout. However, the Longer your Follow a Push-Pull-Legs Routine, the Harder it is to make Consistent Progress with Regards to Progressive Overload. Due to Overlap of Exercises, Moving Insanely Heavy Weight which Requires more & more Calories and perhaps PEDs to Facilitate Recovery as well as Chronic Micro-Injuries, which Detract from Maximum Training Intensity to Progress beyond certain Training Plateaus.
Once you’re reached a Complete Plateau and can’t make any more Progress on the A/B PPL Split, while training 2 Days ON, 1 Day OFF, 1 Day ON & 1 Day OFF, which can take YEARS, it’s better to Transition into a 4, 5 or 6-Day Split.
You should be able to Develop the Majority of your Strength, Size, Density, Thickness and Muscle Maturity with a Push-Pull-Legs (A/B) Routine. When this Foundation has been Laid & Solidified, a Multiple-Day Split allows you to Train with more Volume and Focus on Refining your Physique, more so compared to what’s Possible with a Push-Pull-Legs Routine.
As long as Recovery is 100% in Place, meaning that Rest Days are Scheduled Perfectly, you’re Eating in a Solid Caloric Surplus and PEDs are Sufficient to Optimize Recovery further, then you can Incorporate a few Intensity Techniques.
Personally, I only use these Techniques when I have at least 2 Rest Days per Week and a Scheduled Deload every 6-8 Weeks, I’m Consuming over 4,000 Calories every Day and I’m using at least 500mg AAS per Week, with 2iu GH per Day and Insulin a few Days per Week, to help with Nutrient Delivery. In this Scenario my Recovery is Completely Optimized and I use some of the Techniques mentioned below.
Continues Tension, Explode & Control
Every Rep of Every Exercise should be Performed with an Explosive Positive and Controlled Negative. The Concentric Portion of the Rep can be as Short as 1 Second, although during Later Stages of the Set the Concentric Portion might take 5 Seconds as you Push to Failure & Beyond. The Eccentric Portion of the Rep can be between 2-8 Seconds, depending on the Exercise, your Ability to Control the Weight, the Strength Curve and use of Resistance Bands.
Weight should always Remain in Continues Motion with Consistent & Constant Tension on the Target Muscle, without Resting at any Portion during the Set, Reps should have Perfect Range of Motion (ROM), Perfect Form & Perfect Time Under Tension (TUT). Perfect Execution for Complete Muscular Development!
No matter what Training Program you Follow, a 1 Second Exploding Positive followed by a 2-8 Second Negative, without Resting, meaning all Reps are performed Consecutively, Works for 99% of the Body Builders & Fitness Enthusiasts. It induces a Meditative State of Training that feels incredibly Rewarding when you put the Weight down, and Blood Rushes into the Muscle after it’s been Occluded throughout the Duration of the Set. Those of you who Train like this for Years know exactly how that Feels like!
You can add these to Virtually anything and add Progressive Resistance or Reverse Resistance to your Exercise. Bands come in many Different Colors & Sizes, each with their own Maximum Poundage when Stretched under Full Tension. When you use Resistance Bands, you don’t add the Maximum Poundage of each Resistance Band to your Weight Total on the Exercise. There’s no way to Quantify the Additional Load as it’s Progressive Resistance, which Changes throughout the Movement of the Exercise.
Especially when you use a Resistance Band for Reversed Resistance, which takes Load from the Bottom Portion of the Exercise and Restores Load throughout the Movement of the Exercise, without increasing Load Directly like seen with Conventional use of a Resistance Band. Reverse Banded Exercises are Particularly useful for Pushing Movements, including; Bench Press, Dips, Overhead Press, Leg Press or Hack Squats. In these Cases the Resistance Band helps to take Pressure from the Bottom of the Movement, where Tendons & Ligaments are Stretched the Most under Tension. By Removing Load at the most “Compromising” Part of each Rep, Joint Injuries can be Prevented. It also allows for a more Explosive Contraction as Load is Restored throughout the Concentric Portion of the Rep. As long as the Resistance Band was Selected to Compliment the Strength Curve of the Exercise, the Restoration of Load will Feel exactly like a PERFECT Spot from your Workout Partner, Effectively Rendering them Obsolete…
When you have Several Colored Bands to choose from, Logging the Color of the Band instead of its Respective Maximum Load under Full Tension, is the best way to keep Track of Progression. When you Incorporate Resistance Bands, either Conventional or Reverse Banded, you’ll Notice that certain Exercises Require Thicker Resistance Bands compared to others. As you Progress in Working Weight, you Stick with the same Colored Resistance Band that Compliments that Exercises particular Strength Curve. Since the Strength Curve doesn’t change, Regardless of Weight used during your Working Sets, once you Logged the Color of the Resistance Band, you keep using the same Band with that Exercise until it Breaks!
Triple Rest-Pause Technique
Instead of taking 3 Sets to Failure per Exercise, while Pyramiding the Weight Up each Set, resulting in the Rep-Ranges to go Down with each Consecutive Set. Rest-Pause Technique allows the Central Nervous System (CNS) to Recover in between Consecutive Sets to Failure, using the Same Weight throughout the Performance of a Single Exercise per Body Part.
The Goal is to increase Workload with the same Weight, by Extending the Set with the Rest-Pause Technique, which results in more Reps over the Course of the Entire Set. For Example; 140kg / 315lbs Flat Barbell Bench Press x 8 Reps to Failure, then take 15 Deep Breaths after Racking the Weight. This should give you around 20-25 Seconds of Rest for CNS Recovery. Unrack the Weight and take the 2nd Set to Failure again, you should be able to get around Half the Amount of Reps you got on your First Set or 4 Reps with 140kg / 315lbs. Rack the Weight, take 15 Deep Breaths, Unrack and take the 3rd Set to Failure on your Final Rest-Pause Set, which should Result in another 2 Reps.
Instead of getting 8 Reps with 140kg / 315lbs on Flat Barbell Bench Press, you’ve now Performed 8+4+2= 14 Reps with 140kg/ 315lbs, close to Double the Hyper-Trophy Stimulus compared to a Conventional Set to Failure.
Before Implementing the Triple Rest-Pause Technique, follow a few Training Rotations with Straight Sets First, then incorporate a Double Rest-Pause Technique on a few Training Rotations, before adding a Triple Rest-Pause Technique a few Weeks later. This gives your CNS some Time to adapt and allows you to improve Recovery Capacity by increasing Rest Days, Calories or PED Intake accordingly!!
SPECIAL NOTE: In order to Perform the Rest-Pause Technique, Calories need to be at an All-Time High. You can’t do these Intensifiers on a Ketogenic Diet as you start to Burn Muscle-Protein for Energy, Dietary & Body Fat Supplies are not able to Feed the Energy Demand as Intra-Muscular Triglyceride Stores are generally Depleted, even in a Caloric Surplus on a Ketogenic Diet. You need to follow a Carb-Cycling Approach based on Activity Levels, High Carbs on Workout Days and Medium Carbs on Rest Days, no Low Carbs unless Deloading!
Widow Maker Sets
In some Exercises, like Free-Weight Squats or any kind of Heavy Dumbbell Presses, the Double or Triple Rest-Pause Technique is hard to Perform, as you constantly have to get the Weights into Position. For these Kinds of Exercises a Single Set to Failure is Performed, followed by a Widow Maker Set. This Set is a Weight Increment Lower, say your Working Weight on Squats is 140kg / 315lbs x 8 Reps, then you drop to 100kg / 225lbs and perform a 20 Rep Set. This is not a Conventional Drop Set; both the Working Set and Widow Make Set are Separate Sets that allow for Adequate Time of Recovery in between.
You can Rest during the Widow Maker Set, in order to Catch your Breath, but you’re not allowed to Rack the Weight and you will stay Under Tension when you need a Couple Breaths to Perform a few more Reps in your Widow Maker Set. It’s called a Widow Maker Set because the intent is to Kill Yourself with the Heaviest Weight Possible for 20 Reps, your Workout Partner would then Inform your Wife Post-Workout that you Died Squatting in the Gym.
20 Rep Widow Maker Sets should be used Sparingly, maybe 2 Widow Maker Sets per Week. Definitely not every Workout and certainly not each Body Part! Personally, I don’t do Widow Makers anymore because they severely increased my CPK & Creatinine Levels, meaning I was burning mostly Protein in the Later Stages of the Set.
SPECIAL NOTE: You need an AMAZING Blood Oxygen Carrying Capacity as well as Exercise VO2 Max for Widow Maker Sets, they will Suck the Wind out of you. If you’re not Athletic and don’t do any Medium Intensity Cardio on a Daily Basis, incorporate that First! Make sure you can Sustain Medium-High Intensity Cardio for at least 10 Minutes before attempting a Widow Maker Set. OTC Pre-Workouts, 300-400mg Ubiquinol, 2-5 Puffs Ventolin (Salbutamol), Offseason Anabolics that increase RBC Count & Hematocrit, Electrolytes, Cialis, Insulin, EPO, AmpK, basically anything that Actually increases Performance, are very Beneficial for Widow Maker Sets.
Drop Sets are Probably the most Common and “Easiest” Intensity Techniques that People utilize during the Workout. While some say it Contributes to Metabolic Stress & Fatigue, which forces Adaptation. Others say it Extends Time under Tension, which Results in Additional Hyper-Trophy. I’ve heard everything between; Drop Sets Burn more Fat, Drop Sets increase VO2 Max, Drop Sets improve Strength, Drop Sets are the Cure to Cancer…
Personally, I don’t really believe in Drop Sets, even though I occasionally Catch myself doing a Drop Set after a Heavy Working Set, where I Failed to meet my Target Reps. It’s almost Punishment for Failing during the Working Set.
In this Case I drop Weight to about 50-60% of the Working Weight and Attempt to Match or Best the Target Reps I was intending to get during the Working Set! Drop Sets are easiest to do on Cable Machines later in the Workout, as you need Minimal Time in order to Drop the Weight, which keeps Time under Tension somewhat intact!
Training Beyond Failure
If you want to Train Beyond Failure Correctly, you’ll need a Reliable Spotter that knows how you Fail on each Exercise. Your Workout Partner is probably the most Reliable Spotter you have Access too, but your Spotter could also be your Relationship Partner that Follows the Fitness Life Style. The Bottom Line is that you need a Spotter that you can Trust and Motivates you do get those last few Extra Reps Beyond Failure in for Maximum Hyper-Trophy.
NEVER EVER ask a Random Guy in the gym to help you Train Beyond Failure and give you a Spot!! This is Begging to get your Set Ruined by an Inexperienced Lifter, or worse, Result in Injury!!
Ask a Reliable & Trustworthy Body Builder that knows how you Train, knows how much Assistance you need with each Rep Beyond Failure and knows how to Motivate you with the right Words, Grunts or whatever Mental Que you need to get the Weight Up without them Assisting you.
I often ask my Wife to just stand next to me within Eye Sight when I go for my Maximum Effort Set. Her Presence alone gives me 2 Extra Reps and she’s always ready to Assist me with another 2-3 Reps Beyond Failure with a Perfect Spot each and every Single Time!
If you don’t have your Favorite Spotter on Standby, use Reverse Resistance Bands and they Provide Adequate Support along the Strength Curve, allowing you to Train Beyond Failure as well!
Structuring a Deload
In order to Prevent Reaching an Over-Trained State or even Break through a Strength Plateau when Progress Stall, you can Schedule a Deload Week every 6-8 Weeks, either by Training at 50% Intensity or by taking a Full Week Off from Training altogether.
If you chose to Train at 50% Intensity, you Follow your usual Training Program, but don’t take Sets close to Failure. You either Train with 50% of your usual Working Weight, for the same Amount of Reps, or Train with your usual Working Weight, but with Half the Number of Reps. Both Methods of Deloading Method allows for Sufficient Protein Synthesis, in order to Aid in Recovery of “Over-Trained” Muscle Tissue, but doesn’t send a Significant Signal of Hyper-Trophy, which prevents you from Recovering from this Over-Trained State.
Let’s say you Train Chest and you usually Start with Incline Dumbbell Press; the Warmups and the Feel Sets leading into your Working Set are done the same as before: 10kg / 25lbs x 20 Reps for 3 Sets, 20kg / 45lbs x 6 Reps, 27.5kg / 60lbs x 6 Reps, 35kg / 75lbs x 6 Reps, 42.5kg / 90lbs x 6 Reps and Finally your “Working Set” of 50kg / 110lbs x 3 Reps instead of the usual 6 Reps. Then move on to Incline Dumbbell Flyes: 15kg / 35lbs x 6 Reps, 20kg / 45lbs x 6 Reps, 25kg / 55lbs x 6 Reps and Finally your “Working Set” of 30kg / 65lbs x 3 Reps instead of the usual 6 Reps.
If you work in the 8-12 Rep Range you can aim for 4-6 Reps on your usual Working Weight. You simply don’t Train to Failure when Deloading, but you can still use the same Weights you always use, just for Half the Reps!
The aim is to Maintain the same Level of Strength, without causing a Hyper-Trophy Response that Requires a lot of Protein & Nutrients in order to Recover the Muscle Afterwards.
Alternatively, you can Reduce the Working Weight with 50% and Perform the same Amount of Reps you normally would, with your Previously Attained Working Weight the Week before. Instead of 50kg / 110lbs Incline Dumbbell Press x 3 Reps, you use 25kg / 55lbs x 6 Reps and instead of 30kg / 65lbs Incline Dumbbell Flyes x 3 Reps, you use 15kg / 35lbs x 6 Reps.
However, this Method doesn’t Maintain the same Level of Strength, but is sometimes Required to Preserve Blood Flow to the Target Muscles during a Deload Week, while Minimizing the Hyper-Trophy Response for Full Recovery!
During this Time you remove Cardio altogether, or Limit Cardio to very Low Intensity, much Lower then you Normally Perform! I think you’re better off doing House Chores like Laundry, Dishes & Cleaning compared to actual Cardio on a Treadmill, Stationary Bike or Elliptical Machine. Cleaning is pretty Low Intensity and helps to keep your Mind Off wanting to Train Insane!
Personally, I just take a Complete Week Off from Training, in order to Focus my Effort elsewhere. This gives me a Mental Break from Constantly trying to Attain Lifting Goals, Training To & Beyond Failure Regularly and allows my Body to Heal all the Minor Injuries you’ve Collected by Training 100% HARDCORE for Weeks on end. It also gives my Central Nervous System (CNS) a Complete Break from Failure Beyond Training and allows several Blood Work Markers to decrease as well.
After a Complete Week Off from Training, it’s also the Perfect Time to do Blood Work. The Body slowly Saturates with Training-Related Metabolic Waste Products, over Time several Markers slowly increase; Creatinine, Creatine Phosphate Kinase (CPK) & Liver Enzymes (ALT & AST). These Markers increase due to Incredibly Intense Workouts, Performed Several Times per Week, Week in, Week Out, until it’s Time to Deload!
You should feel Refreshed, Rested & Motivated AF to get back into the Gym again after a Complete Deload, while Noticing Minimal Strength Loss if that at all, often easily Beating Previous Strength & Rep Plateaus!
Recovery is Crucial with Progressive Overload and a Week of Complete Rest is a well-deserved Break from all the Brutality you Inflict upon your Muscles!
Symptoms of Over-Trained States
Besides Strength Plateau’s, there’s several other Factors which could Indicate an Over-Trained State. The most Common Que is Irritability, even though you’re not in a Chronic Caloric Deficit or using Harsh Androgenic Compounds like Trenbolone. You’re a bit more Snappy & Irritable then usual, because your Body is Tired and you need a few Days or Complete Week of Rest in order to Replenish your Energy Levels, Catch Up on Recovery and Restore your Mood afterwards.
Another Clear Sign is Altered Sleeping Patterns, which is usually Related to Chronically Elevated Cortisol Levels. Cortisol plays a Regulatory Role in the Circadian Rhythm, which Controls Sleeping Patterns. When your Laying Awake at Night, but need to take 1 or 2 Naps during the Day, it’s obvious that you need a Deload to Restore Cortisol Levels to Normal Parameters, which allows for Deep Sleep at Night and perhaps a 10 Minute Power Nap during the Day.
In more Cases then not, Naps aren’t Required anymore after 3-4 Days of Complete Rest and Sleep Patterns should be Completely Restored. You still Finish the Deload as Planned, to pass through a few Days & Nights according to your Circadian Rhythm and keep Cortisol Levels at the Bottom of the Reference Range, before you Crank up the Intensity for the next 6-8 Weeks.
Accrual of Micro-Injuries is another Sign, although a Complete Week of Rest might not be enough to Fully Recover these Injuries. Often you need to Revise your Entire Workout Program in order to Train around the Injury, or take Several Weeks of Complete Rest with an Active Recovery PED Protocol in order to Heal fully!