Home Fitness Training 5 Ways to Program Progressive Overload for Clients without Adding Weight

5 Ways to Program Progressive Overload for Clients without Adding Weight

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The means of designing a consumer’s fitness program can really feel somewhat like building with Legos.

Every brick you finally determine to add to the venture wants to account for your consumer’s occupation, distinctive way of life points, present fitness stage, and even particular person preferences and tendencies when figuring out, amongst different components.

That’s why each consumer’s “finished building project” (i.e., customized training plan) is exclusive.

But regardless of how totally different a consumer could also be from the following, you’d discover that there’s one building block you need to use—no exceptions.

Do what that’s?

It’s progressive overload. In different phrases, the strength and conditioning principle that states we’d like to improve the calls for on the neuromuscular methods over time to create and maintain physiological diversifications from resistance training. 

And opposite to standard perception, progressive overload isn’t nearly including weights.

This article outlines 5 methods you possibly can preserve your shoppers progressing—without resorting to heavier dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells. 


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Have Your Client Perform More Reps

Let’s say your consumer is deadlifting 235 kilos. Adding 22 kilos to the barbell is only a 9% improve in weight—and, usually, your consumer would have the ability to deal with the load.

However, when it comes to isolation exercises (e.g., bicep curls, triceps pushdowns, lateral raises), implementing the identical diploma of improve is not possible. Having your consumer go from 10- to 15-pound dumbbells on these entails a whopping 50% bounce in load.

There’s no method your consumer would have the ability to carry out the exercise with correct type and approach. If in any respect.

So, how do you get your consumer to progressive overload on this case?

Ask them to get one other rep (or two) with the identical load. For instance, say your consumer is performing the dumbbell lateral raises with 10 kilos for 10 reps. Instead of handing over a heavier dumbbell the next week, get them to carry out 12 reps with the 10-pound weights.

You’ll know it is time to (lastly) improve the load when your consumer can carry out anyplace between 15 to 20 reps—with nothing lower than excellent type—on all their working sets. 

Program Shorter Rest Periods

Get your consumer to work more durable throughout their periods by reducing down on their inter-set relaxation durations.

This forces your consumer’s muscle groups to work “overtime,” considerably growing metabolic stress—one of three key contributing factors to muscle hypertrophy (the opposite two being mechanical pressure and muscle harm).

There’s an essential disclaimer right here, although.

Don’t be over-enthusiastic about lowering your consumer’s relaxation instances. Doing so can damage their general training quantity—since they’d be fighting a excessive stage of collected fatigue throughout their working sets—and make them worry turning up for their periods!

But this begs the query: Just how a lot can you narrow your consumer’s relaxation instances by?

That depends on the type of exercises they’re doing. Here’s a common guideline to show you how to determine:

  • Single-joint exercises: 2 minutes
  • Compound exercises: At least 3 minutes

In common, you possibly can afford to be somewhat extra “generous” along with your consumer’s relaxation durations on compound actions. While extreme fatigue and the ensuing form-breakdown are unlikely to trigger severe accidents on the lateral raises, the identical can’t be stated for deadlifts or squats.

Change Up Your Client’s Exercise Tempo

Get your consumer to raise to a hard and fast tempo.

This is especially helpful for shoppers who love to “cheat” and bounce out of the underside positions of their lifts (e.g., squats and bench press) as a result of tempo training is all about shifting slowly and below management—which will increase time below pressure (TUT).

TUT refers to the period of time a working muscle is held below pressure throughout an exercise set.

In different phrases, growing your consumer’s TUT raises the demands you’re placing on their muscles. And that’s primarily the crux of progressive overload. Once once more, although, don’t take this methodology of progressive overload to the acute.

There’s sometimes no want to have your consumer carry out any part of any motion for greater than 10 seconds.

In addition to being an unpleasant experience overall, having your consumer decrease themselves for 12 seconds on a pull-up solely hurts their training quantity and reduces the effectiveness of their workouts (in the event that they’re even ready to do it within the first place).

Improve Your Client’s Range of Motion

Pay attention to how your consumer is performing every exercise. Are they struggling to hit a full vary of movement (ROM)?

If they’re, then bettering your consumer’s ROM is without doubt one of the best methods to assist your consumer progressively overload without including weight.

To illustrate, let’s assume your consumer can’t go deep sufficient (i.e., greater than a 90-degree bend within the knees) on the leg press due to overly tight hip flexors and restricted ankle mobility.

They’re solely shifting the load, say, 40 cm on the leg press machine.

Now, think about that you simply then have your consumer stretch out their hip flexors (with one thing just like the lunge stretch) and work on their ankle mobility (with one thing just like the knee-to-wall drill or weighted ankle stretch). 

What occurs? Thanks to improved mobility, they’re ready to—on the very least—hit a 90-degree bend of their knees on the backside place.

So, as a substitute of solely shifting the load 40 cm, they’ve now elevated the “effective working distance” to 50 cm on the machine. And that is primarily progressive overloading: getting your consumer’s muscle groups to work more durable over time.

Also, generally, all of your consumer wants is a cue to use a full vary of movement on their actions.

For occasion, with an exercise like bicep curls, you possibly can say one thing like, “Make sure you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position before starting on another rep.” 

Maintain Training Volume Even as Your Client Loses Weight

If your consumer has been sticking to the weight loss workout plan you’ve created, chances are high they’ve misplaced weight. Congratulations!

Here’s one thing price remembering concerning the course of: When your consumer loses weight, they’d inevitably lose a proportion of muscle mass along with fat—even when they’re nonetheless training exhausting and keeping their protein intake high.

Did that having your consumer carry out their workouts with the identical exercises, together with sets and rep ranges, now may also be thought of progressive overload?

Let’s assume that your consumer had a lean mass of 88 kilos once they started training with you. They had been ready to squat 220 kilos. After three months in your exercise plan, their lean mass now is available in at 77 kilos as a substitute. And guess what?

They’re nonetheless ready to squat 220 kilos for the identical variety of sets and reps as earlier than.

But wait. How’s that progressive overload? It’s all acquired to do with relativity. A easy method to give it some thought could be with the “load lifted to lean mass ratio.” Let’s calculate the ratios collectively:

  •  Before your consumer misplaced weight: 220/88 = 2.5
  • After your consumer misplaced weight: 220/77 = 2.86

There you will have it: Because there’s much less lean muscle mass to “shoulder the burden,” your consumer’s muscle groups have to work more durable now!


As you possibly can see, there are various methods to obtain progressive overload without growing weights.

That’s why it’s so essential to adopt a holistic view of your client’s training—doing so permits you to determine on probably the most appropriate method that’ll get your consumer the outcomes they’re looking for.

Just keep in mind this: Progressive overload (with or without further weights) ought to solely be performed on the inspiration of correct lifting type and good approach.

There’s little level in inserting further calls for in your consumer’s muscle groups simply for the sake of it. You’d be dishonest your self, shortchanging your consumer, and, worse, placing them at elevated threat of accidents.  


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