Why use the Overload Principle?

The overload principle is a fairly straightforward idea that posits that in order to improve your health and get in better shape. For this you must progressively overload your body. Lifting heavy weights, running longer distances, working out more days a week, along with other forms of physical exertion. This causes the body to adjust and become leaner, stronger, quicker, and more energetic.

It is very likely that if you are a trainer, you have already been exposed to the premise of the overload principle. It is a concept that you should understand firmly and deeply enough to structure optimal workouts for clients and friends alike. To assist you in helping you and your clients reach their health goals. We will go over the basics of the overload principle and elaborate on some invaluable tips with regard to it.

What Is The Overload Principle?

Fitness abides by seven primary ‘laws’ and the overload principle is one of them. The idea is simple: in order to see persistent movement in fitness-related results (strength, muscle size, endurance, etc.), the duration, type, and intensity of one’s workout must progressively increase.

When a client begins their workout regimen, because they are sedentary before it, the body begins to quickly respond to the new regimens. As the client becomes more fit, exercising at a persistent rate, with the same methods, and steady intensity. They will begin to bring in diminishing returns, until the progress essentially plateaus. As the body adjusts to the stress of the exercise routine, it will become the new norm. Therefore no further progress will be made until the body is forced to endure higher stress levels by systematically increasing exercise.

Issues With The Overload Principle?

To make athletic and fitness performance gains, it is necessary to engage in overloading. When the overload principle is not applied, or not applied correctly, the results will be detrimental.

Ignoring the Overload Principle

If the client continues to train with persistent intensity and frequency as when they started, ignoring the overload principle, the level of gains made will quickly lessen until no further gains are made. Since our bodies are good at adapting to stress, a small amount of exertion goes a long way at first, but once our bodies get stronger, the same training level no longer pushes the body enough to produce any value.

Overdoing The Overload Principle

The other side of the spectrum is also problematic. When necessary stress applied is exceeded by increasing the intensity of workouts too quickly, the overreach causes overexertion of effort. Which then takes the body out of commission, potentially for days.

Overtraining is another example of the excess of the overload principle. This happens when the trainee goes far beyond the scope of the necessary training. With the correct amount of overloading than their body is ready for, over a lengthy period of time. This could result in a state that it takes weeks or even months off of optimal performance levels. This is due to putting far too much into the exercise regimen.

When you know you have overtrained

If you suspect that you have overtrained, there are some signs to look out for to tip you off. These include:

  • Loss of sleep, weight, or appetite
  • Increased resting heart rate and blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Long recovery times
  • Emotional instability (irritability, mood swings, etc.)
  • Chronically sore muscles

Proper Methods Of Overloading

There are a few strategies that can be leveraged to assure that your client healthily continues to overload without hitting a plateau. Every strategy is ultimately predicated on increasing a workout factor, or multiple factors throughout the duration of their training. Put together, the expansion of these factors becomes known as the FIIT (frequency, intensity, time, and type) principle.

  • Frequency: The number of times your client exercises per week. When the frequency is increased, the number of exercise instances weekly goes up.
  • Intensity: How much effort your client has to put into a particular workout. For instance, running on a treadmill can involve increasing the speed and tilting the angle of the track to simulate running uphill.
  • Time: As exercise routines progress, the time spent engaging in them can increase. If a client runs for 15 minutes, increasing the run to 25 minutes is an example of the time overloading principle’s application.
  • Type: This is the actual exercise the client is engaged in. For instance, if the client is exercising their upper body and they do pushups to do so, adding weight lifting to the regiment is an example of a type overloading.

One important factor is to change up the overloading aspects for the client. In other words, when the intensity is increased in one session, another aspect, like frequency, should be increased in the subsequent session. If the client runs, one day the speed at which they run can be increased. The following day, the speed can be slower, but the time can be increased. This way the overloading exertion on the body varies. This helps minimize the chances of plateauing.

How To Gradually And Safely Overload

The key to applying overload is to do so gradually and progressively as it can be dangerous to the client to increase any of the training’s elements too rapidly. It will lead to overtraining, and more pertinently can result in muscle soreness or injury. Here are some important rules to follow when applying the overload principle.

  1. Map out a gradual plan to increase overload throughout the exercise regimen. To reduce overreaching or overtraining problems, and certainly to mitigate the risk of injury, you should never permit a client to make too drastic of a jump in any category.


  1. When dealing with strength training, focus on working on the form prior to progressing to heavier weights. When it comes to weights, you should look to increase the frequency and time factors prior to increasing the intensity. It is only when the client has learned a safe and productive form, that a slow increase in intensity by upping the weight.


  1. Before deciding on the appropriate amount of intensity and weight, you should always test your client’s maximus.


  1. It is important to log your client’s progression across all categories, to trend how the various categories are being increased.


  1. To avoid overtraining and injury, make sure to plan for recovery time. This recovery time can be in the form of a rest day. However, the rest day does not need to be lacking in any type of exercise. It can involve engaging in a light workout or alternating it with harder ones.


  1. Don’t train until the point that your client burns out. Overload is good for progression but going until the client is exhausted or nearing collapse is never a healthy approach.

Periodization within the overload principle

To get actual results from training, the client’s progression should not be viewed linearly. A way to accomplish this is through periodization. Periodization is the idea of variety in the training regimen, meaning that the training should alternate in its approach. Not every subsequent workout should be a longer, harder, and faster version of its predecessor.

The term “periodization” refers to the systematic preparation of training periods. This is a necessary training strategy for accommodating the overload principle. While varying the workout types, it is also important to variate the high-intensity ones. Do this with either low-intensity alternatives, or periods of rest. This is the theory behind the GAS (general adaptation syndrome) principle. In essence, it is the application of longer, frequent, and more intense workouts. Which need to be properly mixed in with rest and less intense exercise.

What are periodization cycles

The periodization plan involves three types of approaches:

  • Macrocycles: This refers to an extended period of training (typically lasting from 6 months to a year in length). These training sessions are geared for some final goal or competition. For example, a runner can train for the better part of a year to ultimately run a marathon, with the present goal of beating a realistic time expectation for its completion.
  • Mesocycles: These cycles are partitions of the macrocycle, which are broken down into periods of months, or several weeks. These are cycles made to accomplish small goals. In the case of a marathon runner, these could involve running a half marathon or even a 10k. These periods can focus on particular aspects of the training such as hypertrophy for lifting and strength training.
  • Microcycles: While keeping the overarching goal of a macrocycle in mind for your client, these short week to two week periods keep to a more detailed workout focusing on attainments in particular training areas.

Why is periodization so important?

Periodization helps you to change up your client’s overall workout and take advantage of overload. To do this you need to include sufficient recovery or low-intensity tasks into the mix. Changing the emphasis of each mesocycle and varying sessions within each microcycle helps achieve the overall targets by providing adequate overload, variety, and recovery time.

The overload theory is a central concept of fitness. Without overloading the body, you will never see improvements in muscle mass, stamina, height, or aerobic health. However, overreaching and overstressing the muscles results in overtraining, which leads to diminishing returns and risks injury.

For these reasons, it is imperative to establish the right overload balance. One that will achieve results without sacrificing bodily health. When paired with periodization in a proper workout program, your clients can experience appropriate overload levels. This results in significant health improvements as well as the achievement of their physical and success targets.

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