While this may seem like a simple question on the surface, it is really a very important and highly involved concept that gym-goers need to understand if they hope to continue making progress.
It’s a concept known as progressive overload and it is a vital element in exercise programming because this provides the stimulus needed to keep the body, well, progressing…
It’s only when we change some variable in our approach, like the weight of the dumbbells we lift, the number of reps we perform, or the number of exercises we use to target a muscle group that our body is forced to adapt. It is that constant adaption that our muscles have to go through during our training (combined with our diet) that eventually builds the type of body or results in the improved sporting performance we’re after.
Those of us who keep doing the same routine, using the same weights will eventually stop seeing results. Without any form of progression, your body will reach what is commonly referred to as a training plateau, where it stops adapting to the exercises you are doing. In fact, over time your muscles may even lose strength and muscle. This happens when the body or muscle adapts through various physiological processes to cope with the stimulus or stressor we impose on it. Without any incentive to keep adapting, like a heavier dumbbell, the muscle becomes more efficient over time at performing that specific movement with the same amount of weight. The end result is fewer calories burnt over time, less muscle tissue damaged, and as a result, less of a positive response.
To keep making progress in the gym we need to introduce progressive overload, and increasing the weights you lift is a sensible first step to doing so. It is recommended that you change this variable at least every three weeks, but every week is also suitable if you feel strong enough. In terms of deciding how much more weight to add, the conservative approach is no more than 10 percent per week.
That means, if you were curling 5kg dumbbells, you’d select 6kg (when last did you see a 5,5kg dumbbell?) at your next training session. This is by no means a hard and- fast rule. If you feel that you’re unable to complete your required sets and reps with your current weight, keep using it until you can. Once you reach that point you can then move up in weight.
Consistency is key
And by changing just one variable – the weight of the dumbbells in your case – you’re also able to stick to the same training programme over a prolonged period of time. Provided it is a sensible plan developed by a qualified professional, this will ensure you give it sufficient opportunity to deliver results. Always remember that the body responds best to regular change, so if you haven’t changed anything in your programme for a while then this could be exactly what you need to start seeing results again.
Implementing progressive overload in your gym plan is important because it also stimulates the development of stronger bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. It also improves blood flow to muscles and enhances the mind-muscle connection by stimulating more responsive nerve function.
Here are some additional ways to change up the variables in your programme:
Include supersets, giant sets or drop sets to increase the number of reps you perform during a session.
Reduce your rest periods, or perform non-related exercises back to back in complexes or circuits to keep the intensity high
Author: Logan Leigh Rix
Logan blends her passion and profession by working as a digital and social media marketer and content creator in the fitness, health and wellness industry. She’s also a personal trainer, former Face of Fitness finalist and Fitness Magazine featured athlete.