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The real reason you’re not building lean muscle - wtf is progressive overload + why do I need it?


Resistance training has become SUPER popular over the last few years. Before, it was deemed just for athletes, bodybuilders and for those who wanted to look “huge” and “manly”. Although some of those connotations still exist, it has become a lot more popular and recognised for its health-related benefits for everyone.

But effective resistance training can’t exist without a good program that’s designed to help with technique, goal setting and progressive overload. That’s where Train With Soph comes in, whether your goal is to build lean muscle or drop body fat, our programs are designed with progressive overload principles to help you achieve your goals!

But what is progressive overload and why is it important?

If there’s one thing I can attribute the greatest change in my physique to, it’s focussing on improving my strength. That’s the simple way to put it, now let’s chat about the scientific reason my body changing so much: 

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during resistance training to increase muscle growth. This can come in many forms, not just increasing the weight we’re lifting which we’ll discuss shortly. Progressively overloading each week or over the time of our program, will make sure that we’re constantly putting “stress” on our muscles when we resistance train.. To put it simply, in order to build lean muscle mass, we need to be working our muscles harder than the week before to reap the benefits. It doesn’t need to be major changes, it’s been suggested anything between 2.5%-5% is suitable in helping you build lean muscle.  

How can I be progressively overloading to build lean muscle?

  • Increased resistance: Aka getting stronger! Gradually increasing our weight or load that we’re lifting. Make sure when you’re increasing load that you're focusing still on perfect technique to avoid injuries. 
  • Time under tension: The tempo we’re moving in an exercise that puts stress on our muscles. We want to be putting our muscles under stress for longer periods of time to maximise muscle growth. This can include, paused reps, slow eccentrics and 1& ¼ reps
  • Rest periods: Insufficient rest periods means slower recovery for muscle damage. Rest periods are essential in making sure we can perform well between each set, as our muscles recover better. 
  • Volume: Upping our sets and reps overtime. If you think you’ve got one more set you could do or if you could do a couple more reps this will still help you build lean muscle. This is a particularly good method if putting more load on is just not an option. 
  • Exercises per session (as compared to gym sessions). Depending on the individual, you can increase how many exercises you do in a session or add another day in your training program. This will increase the frequency in which you target a particular muscle group hence increasing overload for muscle growth. 
  • Technique: Greater range of motion, proper form and technique will also contribute to greater muscle gaining outcomes. Couldn’t get as deep in your squat one week with 50kg on your back, but get a few cm deeper the following week? This counts too!
  • Recoverability: The forgotten and hard to measure factor is our ability to recover. If you’re not recovering between sessions you’ll hinder your ability to continue to progress. Don’t feel guilty when you rest - it’s KEY if your goal is building sexy shape! 

Essentially in order to create muscle growth and build “lean” muscle which most of us want to achieve, we need to be progressively working harder each week through using one of these methods and following a program that’s designed with the right exercises and for progressive overload. If you’re struggling and you need some help, become a TWS member today and I’ll do the heavy (mental) lifting for you!

Soph xx