Have you ever seen that person at the gym who does the same workout every day? Doesn’t matter if it’s Monday, Friday, Christmas day, or even National No Pants Day, they stick to their same routine. It usually goes something like this…
20 minutes on the elliptical machine while they catch up on all the “hot goss” in their favorite magazine. Then, they’ll usually head over and grab the same dumbbells they’ve been lifting for the last ten years and work through their favorite exercises for their glamour muscles. To wrap it all up, they’ll finish with some crunches and light banter by the water fountain.
And when they show up to the gym the next day, they do it all over again, like they’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Same exercises with the same weights, day in and day out. Never getting any better, never getting any worse, but just staying the same. And, that’s because these people are missing a key principle in their training: progressive overload.
What is Progressive Overload?
In simple terms, the Progressive Overload Principle states that in order for a muscle to grow, become stronger, or experience any similar improvement, the body must be forced to adapt to a stimulus or stress that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced. Essentially, if you want your body to improve, you have to give it some form of stress that is just outside of its current abilities.
The reason the person in the example above never gets any better is because they are never asking their body to do anything more than what is already accustomed to doing. Their body has experienced the same workout for years and because of that, they are more than capable of meeting the demands of that workout without having to bring about any adaptations whatsoever. And maybe that person is okay with that. Perhaps they’re content with their fitness as is. If so, keep on trucking.
However, should this person wish to see some improvements in their performance or aesthetic, they simply need to introduce a new stimulus to their body. It can look a bunch of different ways: a new exercise, more weight on an old exercise, more reps, more sets, less rest, greater speed, greater control, etc. Any of these strategies will be above and beyond what their body has been experiencing up to that point and will be effective in bringing about change to the body.
This is a fairly simple concept that has brought many fitness enthusiasts great success. But, the benefits of progressive overload don’t exist solely in the gym. In fact, this principle can be applied to all areas of your life.
Progressive Overload in Life
Many of us are great at attacking our weaknesses inside the gym, but fail to approach our lives outside of the gym with the same tenacity. Whether your goal is to learn a new skill, make more money, improve your relationships, or any other worthwhile pursuit, the key is progressive overload. It will come from a different form of sets and reps, but in order to see progress, you will still need to strive for what is just outside of your current abilities.
Choose an area that you would like to improve in (business, relationships, creativity, etc.) and analyze it the same way you would analyze your fitness. In what areas are you proficient? In what areas are you lacking? Where do your current abilities lie in the given area?
Once you have established where your current abilities lie, it’s time to push just past them! Maybe that means beginning to learn a new skill, or increasing your practice time, or increasing the frequency of your sessions. It can look a bunch of different ways, but the key is that it challenges you. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
If you want to get better at playing an instrument, increase your practice sessions or seek the help of a teacher. If you want to improve your intelligence, start reading about areas in which you are lacking. If you want to be less shy, try saying hello to a stranger every day. If you want to become more creative, start doodling on napkins or write in a journal.
These changes don’t have to be earth shattering. They just need to be a little bit more than what you’re used to. And, once you adapt to the new change and your comfort zone expands, you start the process all over again. You reach a little further.
Start Getting Uncomfortable
I challenge you to start thinking about your life outside of the gym in terms of progressive overload. Identify your current abilities and push to what’s just beyond your reach.
If you want to make change, it’s time to get off the metaphorical elliptical of life and try something that you’ve never tried before. Otherwise, you will find yourself running in place, but never really getting anywhere.
You’ve got two options: Progress or stagnation. Both options will be painful. But, do you want the pain comes from the struggle to improve or the pain that comes from the failure to move. The choice is yours.