Progressive Overload

I want to explore the phenomenon of getting better. Read on.

Many people think that getting better happens in one of two ways:
1) Talent, skill, motivation, etc., are all predetermined. These people believe in what’s called the “fixed mindset”. Stepping out of your genetically pre-determined path is not something that these people believe in. (Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset is a concept from the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck:
2) Getting better requires drastic changes, motivational posters, catchy sayings, a makeover, emotionally spellbinding youtube clips, and a personal life coach.

But here’s how it really happens:
Our body is amazing. It adapts to most anything. Your brain creates new neural connections when you learn new things. Most people are intolerant to things like gluten and dairy, but don’t know it because their body has adapted to digest them. Your muscles get stronger every time you work them out.

This is what I want to focus on: our body. When you stress your body by picking up a slightly heavier weight than it’s used to, after allowing time for it to recover, your body will be able to pick up that new weight easier than before. Now, there’s a science to how much of “slightly heavier” is optimal to stimulate an adaptation, but the point is that if you make a small change, your body will adapt positively.

Why do I bring this up? I was in a public gym yesterday, and I noticed the fitness group that was slowly taking over all the equipment (and stealing my bench) was doing a workout. Their trainers were not concerned with how much they were lifting, and everyone was doing the same preset amount of reps and weight. Now, I understand that the goal of this program was for these older adults to get exercise, not to compete in elite sports. Nevertheless, it highlighted for me the difference between exercise programs, and a good strength and conditioning/athletic development program.

Exercise programs: stimulate your body by putting some sort of load on it. Little or no intention of improvement.
Good S&C/AD Program: Progress you towards a goal, or improved performance.

So if you’re doing an exercise “routine” or “workout” where you’re throwing weights on a bar by guessing what weight you should be using, two things can happen:
1) You under stimulate yourself, and your body doesn’t improve as fast as it could
2) You over stimulate yourself, and you injure yourself or hamper your performance

This is why I find it essential to track workouts and ensure that I am progressing steadily towards my goal. Without proper recording, you are risking inefficiencies while you fiddle around with what weight you should be using for an exercise to get optimal gains.

As mentioned, the body will adapt if you’re stimulating it correctly. The adaptations require hard work. But the gains should come incrementally and steadily. If they don’t, that’s a signal you need to adapt your workout.

The topic for this post came to mind as I was reading this blog:
I’m huge into habits ever since my teammate lent me the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg (
But what Leo (Zen Habits) said on his blog also made sense: make small changes to make your new normal. Everyone has tried gallantly to go cold turkey on a deeply embedded habit that they love. But we all know how hard it is to keep up a brand new good habit that was a drastic change from a previous old habit. Creating the new normal through small changes/progressive overload is a better way of changing habits.

So whether you are talking about training your body for improved performance, or creating a healthier, happier lifestyle, progressive overload (otherwise referred to as small changes) is a key factor to improving yourself. Ask yourself, what little changes are you making to get better today?


Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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