Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Basics: Overload

More training terms.

The overload principle is simple - your body will adapt to handle the load its given. To be effective, a workout must provide a stimulus greater than your body can handle without adaptation.

If you do the same workout and same exercises, your results will be the same each time. Once your body has adapted to specific weights, reps, sets, etc. you can't get better results by repeated it. You must provide overload, not a repeat of the same load. This overload can be provided in a variety of ways.

More weight. If you do the same workout and same exercises with more weight than the previous time, you've provided a weight-based overload. Your adaptation will be mostly strength oriented, because the stress was to your strength level.

More reps. If you do the same workout and same exercises with more reps than the previous time, you've provided a volume-based overload. This overload also changes the nature of the adaptation. As you are able to complete more reps with a given weight, you are changing the demands on your strength - from more neural adaptation and pure strength to muscular size and then endurance. See Basics: Rep Range for more details.

More sets. You can also provide a volume-based overload with more sets. Like adding more reps, there is a limit to how far this can go before your initial sets are providing a smaller and smaller stimulus. But some workout programs demand very high reps - the "German Volume Training" bodybuilding program uses 10 sets of 10 reps!

Less rest. Instead of adding, you can subtract. Take away some rest time between sets of exercises or between exercises. This forces your body to adapt to doing the same workload in less time. Instead of resting for 2 minutes between each set, try 90 seconds or 1 minute. This generally works better if you're not doing maximal strength exercises - it's hard to rest only 2 minutes and then do another set at your limit of strength! This idea of less rest is part of the reasoning behind some forms of circuit training, such as the barbell complex. The difference between 3 sets of 10 with 1 minute rest and with 30 seconds rest is huge, it's the same work in half the time, or double your workload! Remember that cutting down the rest drastically can affect the load, so cut it down a little at a time.

Less recovery. Add more workout days, for the same load. Instead of training 2x a week, train 3x a week. This is easy to quickly overdo, however, since it's tempting to get to "train 6-7 days a week." That's draining if you stick to the schedule, and disheartening if you don't. But it's still a form of overload.

You can mix and match these, but in general, it's easier to track your results if you just change one at a time. If you do 3 sets of 5 reps of back squats for 135 pounds with 3 minutes rest between them, you can overload next time by doing one of the following:

- Add more weight, perhaps doing 3 x 5 x 145 or 155.
- Add extra reps, so you do 3 x 6.
- Add a fourth set, so you do 4 x 5.
- Cut the rest time to 2 1/2 minutes.

All of those will represent a different form of adaptation. All of them call for more stress on the body. It would be a huge increase to go from 3 x 5 x 135 with 3 minutes rest to 4 x 6 x 155 with 2 1/2 minutes rest, and unless the 3 x 5 x 135 was well below your strength level, you would be unlikely to match it!

Of course, you should try to match your overload to your goals. If your goal is more raw strength, adding weight for the same reps, sets, and rest is probably the way to go. Need more endurance? Add reps for the same sets and weight, or add some sets. Need to cut down your workout time and still get in a good workout? Cut down the rest time between sets.

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