When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science

Word: This text was the MASS Analysis Overview cowl story for April 2024 and is a overview of a latest research by Chaves et al. If you need extra content material like this, subscribe to MASS.

Key Factors

  • Ladies and men did unilateral leg extensions 2-3 occasions per week for 10 weeks. The topics elevated the load lifted as wanted on one leg and elevated the variety of reps per set on the opposite leg. 
  • The researchers discovered that each strategies of progressive overload led to vital will increase in leg extension 1RM and vastus lateralis cross-sectional space. There have been no vital variations within the pre- to post-study modifications between circumstances.
  • Numerous progressive overload methods can maximize short-term positive factors in novice trainees. In additional skilled people, particularly these aiming to maximise energy, load development is important. Moreover, selecting between rising load or reps is just not a binary selection; these progressive overload methods can be utilized at the side of one another.

Each week for years, I stared at my coaching spreadsheet, agonizing over the best way to obtain progressive overload. Ought to I enhance the load? Ought to I enhance the reps? Ought to I add units? Ought to I shorten the size of the remainder interval? Ought to I carry the identical weight however achieve this with my hat backward to make sure I set a brand new private report? Generally I might agonize a lot over these particulars that I’d attempt to implement all of them into one coaching block, which was a surefire approach to overcomplicate issues (professional tip: even when it’s not “optimum,” choose a method, consider in it, and keep it up for not less than a bit of bit). Regardless of my earlier indecision, these are all equally official methods to realize progressive overload or to set a PR (properly, perhaps not the hat adjustment). However is one higher than the opposite?

A earlier between-subjects research by Plotkin et al (2 – MASS Overview) discovered that skilled men and women had improved energy and muscle dimension to a (principally) comparable extent when evaluating load and rep development. Nevertheless, energy positive factors might have been barely higher (+5.9%) with load development compared to rep development. That research recruited skilled people however examined energy on a Smith machine, even though members had been extra accustomed to the free-weight squat. Thus, these outcomes can’t be completely extrapolated to different populations or to “particular energy” (testing energy on the skilled train). Moreover, one research is hardly going to discourage people from agonizing over the best way to greatest progress coaching to maximise muscle development. Fortuitously, a brand new within-subjects design research by Chaves et al (1) as soon as once more in contrast load and rep progressions for energy and hypertrophy in a mixed-sex inhabitants, however this time they examined particular energy. 

Objective and Hypotheses


The first goal of the reviewed research was to match modifications in leg extension 1RM and vastus lateralis cross-sectional space over 10 weeks of coaching that progressed both the load lifted or reps carried out in untrained women and men.


The researchers hypothesized that load development would result in higher will increase in each energy and muscle dimension than quantity development. They anticipated that load development would result in higher modifications within the quantity load (units × reps × load lifted) over time, which might in the end translate to higher positive factors in energy and dimension.

Topics and Strategies


Thirty-nine ladies (n = 19) and males (n = 20) who had not carried out resistance or cardio coaching for not less than six months participated within the research. Extra traits of the themes are offered in Desk 1.

When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 13

Research Overview and Coaching Protocols

The researchers used a longitudinal within-subjects design through which all topics accomplished every coaching situation. Particularly, over the course of 10 weeks, all topics carried out unilateral leg extension coaching and achieved progressive overload on one leg by rising the load whereas they elevated the reps all through the research on the opposite leg. Topics skilled each legs two to a few occasions per week for a complete of 23 coaching periods. The condition-specific protocols and development schemes are offered in Desk 2.

0424 Zourdos Strategies Table2
When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 14


Researchers assessed vastus lateralis cross-sectional space by way of ultrasonography and leg extension 1RM earlier than and after the 10-week coaching intervention. Researchers additionally in contrast the load lifted (absolute and % of 1RM), variety of reps carried out, and quantity load between the circumstances.  


General Findings

The researchers discovered that the themes considerably elevated each energy and cross-sectional space (p < 0.0001). There was no vital situation × time interplay for modifications in both energy (p = 0.20) or cross-sectional space (p > 0.87; Desk 3). Moreover, there was no vital distinction in quantity load development between the coaching circumstances (p = 0.19; Determine 1). 

0424 Zourdos Strategies Table3
When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 15
0424 Zourdos Strategies Fig1
When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 16

The one vital variations that existed had been immediately associated to review design decisions. Particularly, the themes lifted heavier masses within the load development situation (p < 0.001; Desk 4) and carried out 292 extra reps within the rep development protocol (1292 ± 302 versus 1000 ± 67 reps; p < 0.001). 

0424 Zourdos Strategies Table4
When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 17


The presently reviewed research from Chaves et al (1) discovered that reaching progressive overload by rising load or rising reps led to comparable positive factors in leg extension 1RM and quad hypertrophy. One other latest research by Plotkin et al (2 – MASS Overview) additionally in contrast load and rep development and located comparable outcomes. This interpretation compares these two research and discusses the conditions through which the particular methodology of progressive overload might matter. 

Comparability of Chaves et al (1) and Plotkin et al (2)

On the floor, the protocols in each research and the findings from each research (1, 2) had been comparable, however essential variations existed. Relating to the similarities, Plotkin et al (2) used a virtually similar protocol that consisted of a load development group beginning with 4 × 8-12RM (9-12 RM was used within the current research), and the load was elevated when failure was reached exterior of the goal rep vary. Plotkin et al had the rep development group full 4 units to failure with a 10RM every session and elevated reps as they may, which was similar to the current research. Moreover, each research reported that group-level positive factors in energy and muscle tended to be comparable between development protocols. Nevertheless, Plotkin et al reported that energy elevated “barely” extra (+5.9%) within the load development group, and that the rep development group skilled a 1.8% higher change within the sum of all rectus femoris website muscle thicknesses. Due to this fact, it’s crucial to debate methodological variations to find out why there might have been barely completely different findings and what this implies for the lifter. The three methodological variations to debate are: 1) coaching standing of the themes, 2) train choice, and three) the research design. 

The very first thing to think about is whether or not the share variations in favor of load (energy) and rep (hypertrophy) development in Plotkin et al (2) are actual variations. I feel there may be advantage to say that people usually gained extra energy from load development in Plotkin et al’s research, however in all probability not sufficient advantage to say that rep development was superior for hypertrophy. Within the presently reviewed research from Chaves et al (1), there was basically no distinction on the group degree (+1.4% in favor of load development) for leg extension 1RM when progressing load. Though load is clearly the first driver of energy positive factors (3), the themes within the present research had been both untrained or had not skilled for not less than six months, whereas these in Plotkin et al had skilled for almost 4 years, on common. Though load might play a job in energy acquire for untrained members, it appears to matter extra for skilled people (3). Moreover, Glass et al (4 – MASS Overview) noticed strong energy positive factors in untrained people who used solely ~40-60% of 1RM. Due to this fact, it’s potential that the novice coaching standing of topics within the presently reviewed research explains the dearth of between-condition variations in energy positive factors.

Chaves et al (1) had members practice a low-skilled motion, the leg extension, whereas Plotkin et al (2) utilized the free-weight again squat for coaching periods. It’s potential that the themes in Plotkin et al skilled enhanced energy advantages due using a extremely expert free-weight train. Curiously, Plotkin et al truly examined energy on the Smith machine squat regardless of coaching with a free-weight squat; nonetheless, it’s potential that the Smith machine squat was comparable sufficient to the free-weight squat in order that heavier loading in coaching for the load development group was extra helpful. I’m a bit torn on whether or not or not I actually assume coaching the free-weight squat with heavier loading was extra helpful for Smith machine energy, so I might in all probability lean extra into the coaching standing argument to clarify the doubtless higher energy positive factors in Plotkin et al. 

Lastly, the Plotkin et al (2) research had a between-subjects design, whereas the current research by Chaves et al (1) had a within-subjects design. I’ve beforehand written concerning the variations between these two research designs in higher depth. Briefly, a between-subjects research, comparable to Plotkin et al, compares two teams of topics, through which one group performs one coaching program and the opposite group performs a special coaching program. Importantly, the person response to coaching is very variable (5), and this design doesn’t permit the researcher to find out how a person would reply to the opposite protocol. Due to this fact, in an underpowered research (which is many, if not most, coaching research), if one group had considerably higher positive factors than one other group, on common, it’s potential that many in a single group didn’t reply properly to that protocol fairly than the protocol itself being inferior for everybody. For instance, within the research by Plotkin et al, the vary of enhance in Smith squat 1RM was +5.8-55.7 kg (load development group) and +4.0-33.2 (rep development group); thus, we have no idea if some people would have responded higher or worse within the reverse protocol. In distinction, Chaves et al (1) used a within-subjects design. Sadly, Chaves et al didn’t report particular person topic information; due to this fact, we nonetheless have no idea how people responded to every protocol. Nevertheless, the variations between teams for energy positive factors (1.2%) and muscle development (0.6%) had been very small; thus, it might be shocking if there have been massive variations in within-individual charges of progress.

It also needs to be famous that whereas a within-subjects design does permit us to look at how a person responds to each protocols, there is a vital limitation of this design because it pertains to energy positive factors. Particularly, coaching one limb will result in the “cross-education” impact, which is the development in energy of the alternative limb that’s skilled (6). Whereas I wrote about this in depth right here, information present that if people practice one limb and never the opposite they may enhance energy about 7-10% within the untrained limb, on common, in 4-12 weeks when coaching with ≥60% of 1RM (7, 8). Due to this fact, it’s potential within the presently reviewed research that the advantages of elevated loading within the load development group had been additionally realized within the rep development group, which explains the dearth of between-condition distinction in energy positive factors. To be clear, I don’t assume that’s why the energy positive factors had been so shut (1.2% distinction) between teams, but it surely’s potential that the cross-education impact dampened the distinction, even when to a trivial diploma. Importantly, coaching one limb won’t enhance muscle dimension within the different limb; thus, the cross-education impact doesn’t manifest for hypertrophy.

In actuality, the findings of the 2 research had been fairly comparable. It’s price reiterating that Plotkin et al (2) didn’t discover that there have been true variations between teams for energy positive factors, fairly the purpose estimate for energy positive factors “barely” favored the load development. Moreover, comparable hypertrophy between teams is no surprise, as the present research discovered that quantity load and quantity load development weren’t considerably completely different between teams, and each research had been set-equated between the load and rep development protocols. 

Particular Conditions Dictating Progressive Overload Type

Once I reviewed the aforementioned research by Plotkin et al (2) in Quantity 6, Subject 12, I mentioned many various methods to realize progressive overload, and the way these completely different methods may very well be intertwined. There may be not a lot sense in a complete rehashing of these particulars, since you’ll be able to merely click on right here and skim that article. Briefly, the load may very well be progressed based mostly on a predetermined proportion or absolute loading change, a earlier session RIR or velocity, or by plus set efficiency to call a number of. Moreover, the load, rep, and set progressions aren’t mutually unique and could be intertwined. For instance, this desk demonstrates how the load is simply elevated after a lifter can carry out a sure variety of units with a given load, illustrating how the load is simply elevated after a sure variety of reps are achieved with that given load.  Now that we’re conscious of all these progressive overload methods, let’s focus on when completely different methods could be preferable.

Allow us to start with development when energy is the first objective. Clearly, load development is an important and non-negotiable kind of development that should happen to maximise 1RM energy over the lengthy flip. Nevertheless, does load development must occur on a regular basis? The reply is a transparent “no.” For instance, a powerlifter can use a easy mannequin through which they enhance the load by 2.5 kg every week as they strategy competitors, in the end reaching heavy masses (i.e., ≥90% of 1RM); nonetheless, they could not have the ability to progress load every week, through which case they need to not drive it. In these conditions, it might be higher so as to add a further set or rep after which enhance the load the next week. Alternatively, the lifter may autoregulate the coaching load from week-to-week when peaking for a powerlifting meet or fitness center take a look at day; thus, they’d solely enhance the load once they had been in a position to. For instance, a lifter may program 3 × 2 @1-2 RIR and would carry no matter load they may do for 2 reps in that RIR vary, which might typically be heavier, lighter, and even the identical in comparison with the earlier week’s coaching.

Furthermore, somebody with energy as their major objective will nonetheless carry out quantity blocks sometimes, through which muscle development is focused. In these conditions, there isn’t a stress to extend the load, not less than not every week. Due to this fact, intertwining load with rep or set benchmarks is an efficient technique. As seen right here, a lifter may very well be prescribed a set and RIR benchmark through which the load solely progressed as soon as the benchmark was reached. For instance, a lifter may very well be prescribed squats with 3 × 8 with 100kg and add a set every week so long as they full all units at ≥2 RIR. Then, as soon as they had been in a position to carry out 5 × 8 at 2 RIR they’d enhance the load. Alternatively, a strength-focused particular person in a quantity block may tie load will increase to a rep benchmark. In quantity blocks, people targeted on energy might make the most of programming methods, comparable to rest-pause coaching, which have progressive overload built-in by making an attempt to carry out extra reps every time the technique is used. 

I’ve been on report saying that coaching for muscle development is much more forgiving than coaching for energy. After all, the 2 (hypertrophy and energy) are interrelated, but when energy is the primary goal, then load development is a should in some unspecified time in the future, periodization appears to matter (9 – MASS Overview), and a lifter should apply the particular train with which they will take a look at their energy (i.e., a powerlifter should carry out the squat, bench press, and deadlift). Whereas there are some “guidelines” for hypertrophy comparable to extra quantity (to some extent) drives muscle development and the person ought to have sufficient train selection, conventional (energy targeted) fashions of periodization don’t appear to matter (9) and progressive overload could be achieved by numerous strategies. A person can use rep or set development fashions as described above. The lifter may manipulate RIR all through the course of a coaching block to realize progressive overload. Particularly, a lifter may preserve the variety of units fixed and enhance the load in order that the RIR decreases from week-to-week to coach nearer to failure. Alternatively, a lifter may select to take care of the identical load and add units every week throughout the coaching block. On this scenario, the RIR would possibly truly enhance, however the enhance in RIR (coaching farther from failure) would possibly make it extra possible for the lifter so as to add a number of further units. One more technique may very well be for the lifter to shorten curiosity relaxation durations to make every set harder. This time-saving technique might also permit the lifter so as to add an additional set. To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone technique is any extra fascinating than one other; fairly, I’m simply presenting numerous choices. Desk 5 summarizes the suitable progressive overload methods for each energy and hypertrophy.

0424 Zourdos Strategies Table5
When to Use Specific Progressive Overload Strategies • Stronger by Science 18

Coach’s Nook

Let’s end up with a “coach’s nook” part to debate sensible factors for coaches and lifters when placing progressive overload into motion.

First, lifters will not have the ability to progress each session or week, and anybody who has skilled for a considerable period of time is aware of this. Due to this fact, since you already know this, don’t drive development each week and take a look at your greatest (though I do know it’s robust) to not get pissed off if you’re lifting the identical load for a few weeks in a row. Recall that the objective is progressing over time. The objective is to not enhance the load (or set or reps) for its personal sake. Saying “I did 40 units of quads this week” shouldn’t be a badge of honor (though it’s sort of superior). If that’s enjoyable, by all means, go for it. Nevertheless, if the objective is to maximise energy or attempt for one of the best aesthetics then don’t chase the set, rep, or load quantity, chase the energy or physique progress, which might typically come from being disciplined sufficient to not progress variables throughout a single week.

Secondly, don’t get paralyzed whereas deciding which progressive overload technique to make use of. All the methods talked about on this article have deserves. Discover one which applies to your targets and keep it up for a whole coaching block. As a coach and lifter, I’ve agonized many occasions over what precise methodology to make use of for myself or for numerous athletes. Usually, I’m higher at selecting a technique for others, however for myself, I might usually attempt to combine too many various ideas, mitigating their effectiveness or shedding concentrate on the primary objective (progress). My warning is to keep away from this entice and discover a logical progressive overload technique that’s applicable for you (or your shopper’s) targets and keep it up for an honest time period.

Subsequent Steps

In my overview of Plotkin et al (2), I known as for a brand new research evaluating load versus rep development, however with a free-weight train utilized in each coaching and testing. The presently reviewed research was a great addition to the literature for the hypertrophy outcomes as a result of it was a within-subjects design. For energy outcomes, it’s potential that the cross-education impact confounded the outcomes, though I doubt to a really significant diploma. Moreover, in a within-subjects design actions comparable to squats and bench presses can’t be used. Due to this fact, I’ll once more counsel that the following step could be to match load versus rep progressions in skilled people utilizing a free-weight squat or bench press as each coaching and testing workouts.

Software and Takeaways

Chaves et al (1) discovered that over 10 weeks, untrained people skilled comparable energy positive factors and hypertrophy no matter whether or not they achieved progressive overload by rising the load or the variety of reps, though we ought to be cognizant that the cross-education impact might have confounded the energy findings. Nevertheless, the dearth of variations between coaching protocols on this research doesn’t imply that the strategy of progressive overload is all the time immaterial. On the whole, these interested by energy should enhance their load at occasions, particularly within the coaching block instantly previous a energy competitors (e.g., powerlifting meet) or 1RM take a look at day. When muscle development is the primary objective, lifters have rather more flexibility to realize progressive overload by way of load and/or repetition changes. In the end, progressive overload methods could be intertwined and coaches and lifters mustn’t think about themselves sure to the binary selection of load or rep development.

This text was the duvet story for the April 2024 subject of MASS Analysis Overview. If you happen to’d wish to learn the complete April subject (and dive into the MASS archives), you’ll be able to subscribe to MASS right here.

Subscribers get a brand new version of MASS every month. Every subject consists of analysis overview articles, video displays, and audio summaries. PDF points are often round 100 pages lengthy.


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