Planning for Effective Progressive Overload
This three-part blog series suggests that many powerlifters have a narrow vision of progressive overload.
In part 1, we defined progressive overload and concluded that an athlete’s training program must adapt and evolve over time. An athlete must do ‘more’ of ‘something’ in order to create new stimuli and therefore produce new adaptations – the question is what exactly is ‘more’ of ‘something’? In this blog, we’ll start to create an understanding of what ‘more’ of ‘something’ actually means and how we can transition effectively from being a novice lifter to intermediate and advanced while still seeing strength gains.
It’s All about Numbers
Let’s face it; powerlifting is a numbers-driven sport. Virtually everything that surrounds training for and competing in powerlifting involves numbers from the sets, reps, and loads that are prescribed in training, to the attempts that are selected in competition. More than any other sport, powerlifting relies on these numbers for increasing strength and then being able to realize that strength on the competition platform. Numbers that provide information about an athlete’s training or competition are called a ‘metric’. These metrics allow you to understand your sport in more detail. Over time progressively overloading certain metrics allows you to create new stimuli and therefore new adaptations.
The Type of Metrics Beginners Track
Athletes often track a metric called the ‘heaviest weight lifted’, and use it to understand what they can lift for a particular exercise and rep range. As a novice athlete, progressively overloading your training can be simple. For example, from workout-to-workout your goal is to lift more weight for the same rep range every time you return to that particular exercise. Early in an athlete’s career, progress is often viewed as unlimited, gaining 10lbs or more per lift each week. But quickly, these sorts of early progress gains and personal records become sparse and the rate at which strength adaptations happen is much slower. At this point, doing ‘more’ than you did last week will be impossible – and you’ll hit your first plateau. This is when an athlete’s training needs to shift from viewing progress on a workout-to-workout basis to carefully monitoring key training metrics over a longer period of time. Only in this way will an athlete be able to continue to implement progressive overload principles, and break through plateaus in strength.
Shifting From Short Term to Long Term Overloading
Remember, strength gains don’t happen on a linear progressive curve. There are periods in an athlete’s career where strength gains happen faster or slower, and there are even periods of regress. Viewing success as a function of your last workout, or the last weight you lifted, will only lead to disappointment when you hit a plateau.
Every athlete will inevitably reach a plateau in his or her career. Reaching a plateau can lead to a lot of frustration, especially if an athlete has assumed that rate of progress would continue at a steady pace. To overcome these frustrations, an athlete must understand two important things: First, the same program repeated over and over will not lead to the same success rate. As stated in part 1, programs must shift and adapt as an athlete progresses. Second, an athlete must understand the variables that can be manipulated within a training program that ultimately lead to continued progress. Understanding these variables and the associated metrics are the basis of your entire training program.
For an athlete to continue progressing toward his or her potential will take many months and years to realize and not days and weeks. A more effective approach to program planning is collecting and analyzing metrics that allow for a long-term assessment of strength. This perspective shift from short-term to long-term gains will ultimately change how you approach each training session and how each program is designed.
In part 3, we break down some of those metrics that allow you to plan for long term gains.
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