is progressive overload the only way to build muscle​

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By robb the singh

is progressive overload the only way to build muscle

Regardless of whether this story is true or even possible, it demonstrates the most fundamental component of any training program Progressive Overload Method .

If you want to do professional athlete or bodybuilding then you need to include progressive overload program in your exercise for good muscle growth which prepares you for next level

When the progressive overload is a missing component from a program, that program will simply be minimally effective long term. Conceptualizing progressive overload as a cycle works well. These gains enable you to apply progressive overload.

Progressive Overload Method

In the modern day, I’m not sure many trains with calves or bulls. Rather, freeway and or machine training seems far more common with these.

Two of the most popular ways to Progressive Overload Method are, with all other training variables kept constant, increasing load or the number of repetitions performed. 

In this article, we’re analyzing a brand new study comparing these two progressive overload methods for muscle and strength

Comparing Progressive Overload Method via load or rep increases leg extension. Strength gains were not different between progressing through load or reps, but muscle growth of the vast lateral was greater for the load versus rep progression.

Yet there were important limitations to this study. It wasn’t a randomized controlled trial. Rather, it combined the results of two separate studies.

One study progressed with load, and another study progressed with reps.

That resulted in the training frequency and duration differing between the load and rep progression groups.

I noted there was a researcher who had a study in the works. That is the study that has now been released. It’s the first randomized controlled trial comparing load and rep increases for muscle and strength.

2- New data Load vs reps concept in progressive overload

38 trained individuals were randomly assigned to a load or rep group. All subjects were trained in these four lower body exercises with these variables.

  • In the first session, the load group attempted to increase the load they trained with across sessions while staying within the eight to twelve-rep range.
  • The rep group maintained the loads used in the first session and aimed to perform more repetitions across sessions on their exercise sets.
  • Food diaries, although not always super reliable, were measured by the researchers. And fat, carb, protein, and calorie intake were similar between the load and rep groups before and after the study.

Strength was assessed via one rep maps on the Smith Machine squat and muscle growth via the thickness of the mid quad lateral, Quadruplenemius lateral gastrocnemius and soleus increases in virtually all muscle growth measurements were similar between the load and rep groups, although mid quad growth tended to slightly favor the rep group.

We’ll discuss potential reasons shortly. Smith Machine Squad strength gains were fairly similar between both groups, with a low group seeing a small two kg greater increase versus the rep group.

So overall, this study finds load and rep progressions are fairly comparable for increasing muscle and strength. Let’s dissect these findings more.

Deeper analysis about load and reps progressive overload

we noted mid-chord growth slightly favored rep progression versus load progression. It’s not clear why this is, but the researchers speculated rep rangers on the squat may have something to do with this.

  • The rep group trained with higher reps on the squat in the later portion of the study, and higher reps on the squat may enhance rectus Morris recruitment, a large part of limited quads due to accumulated fatigue in the other vastly quad muscles.
  • Lower reps on the squat as done by the load group may not involve this as too high Rectosmoris activation with heavier loads may more meaningfully inhibit hip extension motions.

I’m not too sure about this speculation. I think more research would be needed to verify how Reptosmoris recruitment differs between higher and lower-rep squats.

Another explanation is the greater midword growth with the rep group was just due to chance, especially given growth of the other muscles was similar between both groups. Somehow the rep group might earth have had better rectus, and more building abilities.

In any case, this study still largely suggests muscle growth is similar between load and rep progressions, and this makes a lot of sense. A wide range of studies suggests per set reps between six and 35 are similarly effective for muscle growth, provided those reps are performed to or close to failure.

So long as you stay within this range from session to session, regardless of whether you do this by increasing load rep numbers or a combination of both, it makes sense muscle growth outcome should be the same as for the strength gains.

Smith Machine Squad gains were fascinatingly very similar between both groups. The load group saw a minimal two kg greater increase.

Only given strength is based on lifting the heaviest load you can. I’m sure many would have expected the load group to have seen much more notably greater strength gains.

The lack of differences in strength may have something to do with the fact the test was conducted on a Smith Machine squat. Neither group trained with a Smith Machine squat, rather a free weight squat, and so perhaps this strength test was too nonspecific.

If one red max free weight squat was tested, maybe strength gains would have been more notably superior for the load group. Another consideration is both groups trained with eight or more reps.

This matters, as the literature suggests one rep max strength gains are superior when training with heavier loads that permit five or fewer reps versus lower loads with more reps.

The reason for this is likely that training with heavier loads and fewer reps is more specific to a one R max. Thus, it’s likely that consistently training with heavier loads that permit five or four reps is a great idea if your goal is to max wanna f max strength and progressing load is needed to effectively do this across sessions.


Progressing load or reps are probably similarly effective for muscle hypertrophy. For strength, though, the new study indicates load and rep progressions are similar.

It’s limited as it used a nonspecific strength test and subjects trained with rep numbers suboptimal for strength. In all likelihood, I think progressing load rather than reps is your safest bet for maxing one rep max strength “Progressive Overload Method”.

I made too many articles for muscle growth. The Ultimate Guide to Benchpressing for strength and hypertrophy. With more than 100 scientific references from technique to training, variables to comparisons, and other fascinating science.


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