July 4, 2017 in Programming

Overload is a key concept in strength.

It means that you’re doing more of something over a particular time frame (typically a training cycle). In simple terms, we can think of overload as being able to do more weight for the same number of reps.

For example, on week 1, let’s say you do 405 for 3 reps.  On week 2, you do 415 for 3 reps (more weight, same reps).

However, the approach just described can be downright frustrating because, at some point, you won’t be able to ‘lift more weight’ than you did the previous week.

This is where we must think of ‘overload’ on a deeper level.

Let’s look at 3 things you can do to start overloading your volume in more effective ways.

1. Linear Volume Increases with Static Intensities

Let’s clear up some definititions.

Linear: progressing in a single series of steps that represent a straight or nearly straight line.

Static: not moving or changing.

There’s one more thing we need to clarify:

Baseline Volume:  The average amount of volume you do on a weekly basis over the course of a long period of time (~2-3 months).

With these definitions in mind, the goal over a training cycle would be to bring your volume levels up from your baseline while maintaining the average amount of weight you lift each week.

Over 4-weeks of training , you might implement the following progressions:

  • Week 7: Train at baseline volume (e.g . 10,000lbs)
  • Week 2: Train at baseline volume + 5% (10,500lbs)
  • Week 3: Train at baseline volume + 10% (11,000lbs)
  • Week 4: Train at baseline volume + 15% (11,500lbs)

Meanwhile , the average intensities that you lift would maintain around the same level. For the sake of argument, perhaps you maintain 75-80% loads during these planned and incremental increases in volume.  Note that we’re not maintaining an absolute intensity, but a range — staying within a 5% weeklky average intensity range seems appropriate for this method of overload.

For example, you might maintain similar loads from week-to-week or implement small increases, but do an additional set or rep to primarily progress your volume .

2. Increase Relative Intensity Zones with Static Volumes

In a previous article, Putting Context to Your Volume, we defined relative intensity as a prediction of how close you are working to fatigue when accumulating your volume . Relative intensity takes the number of reps and intensity (bar load) used in calculating overall volume .

You can accumulate volume in multiple ways. If it were achieved with light weight and low reps (3 sets of 3 reps at 60%), then this would be considered a low relative intensity. However, if you were lifting the same intensity (60%) but performed 12 to 15 reps you would likely be very close to your fatigue limit.  This would be considered a higher relative intensity.

Let’s assume that over 4-weeks of training you maintain around 10,000lbs of weekly volume. You might implement the following progressions in relative intensity:

  • Week 1: Train in 100% yellow zone
  • Week 2: Train in 50% yellow zone, 50% red zone
  • Week 3: Train in 100% red zone
  • Week 4: Train in 25% yellow zone, 50% red zone, 25% black zone

(Inside MyStrengthBook we categorize relative intensity zones by using different colors — you’ll see that the higher relative intensity zones are categoriezed by yellow, red, and black, with the lighter intensity zones by light blue and grey).  

Here, you can see an increase from relative intensity zones that are much easier to recover from, to more challenging zones where it should be harder to recover.  Over the weeks, the volume stays exactly the same.

3. Pushing Volume Over Baseline

Just as a reminder from above, baseline volume is the average amount of volume you do within a particular timeframe. The higher you train above your baseline the more it challenges your recovery. In overloading your volume, you must look at how it relates to your baseline. If you want to ‘push’ your volume you will need to push it above your baseline.

Athletes differ in how much and how long they can train above their baseline and still feel ‘recovered’. Broadly speaking, athletes who train 20% above their baseline might start to experience a recovery deficit, especially if that volume was accumulated in yellow, red, or black relative intensity zones.

Over 4-weeks of training, you might implement the following progressions:

  • Week 1: Train at baseline volume
  • Week 2: 10-20% above baseline
  • Week 3: 20-30% above baseline
  • Week 4: Maintain 20-30% above baseline (or increase/decrease based on fatigue indicators)

The most important element here is the percentage increases above baseline. The overall volume isn’t as important as the relationship with your average.  Over time, you’ll recognize how many weeks you can train above your baseline, and by how much (as a percentage), before you need to take a de-load or recovery week (i.e. return to baseline or manipulate relative intensity).


So there you have it! Three ways you can start overloading your volume in your next program.

  • Increasing volume linearly while maintaining similar average intensities.
  • Accumulating your work in harder relative intensity zones while maintaining similar overall volumes.
  • Thinking about how your volume relates to the average amount you normally do.

Remember, everyone is different. The examples above are not exact prescriptions , but are for demonstration purposes only. In our next article we will investigate how volume should be managed depending on the goal of the training cycle.

See you in our NEXT ARTICLE where we cover some more volume examples.

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Avi Silverberg is the Co-Founder of MyStrengthBook.  He holds a M.Sc in Exercise Science, and has been the Head Coach for Team Canada Powerlifting over 7 World Championship cycles.  He’s also a bench press enthusiast with a career high 300kg equipped bench and 227.5kg raw bench


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