Weight Management

Progressive Overload for Fat Loss

Nathan Carr/ Fitness Coach
12 December, 2016

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An abundance of studies have concluded that resistance training is the cornerstone of an effective fat loss program along with a balanced nutrition plan.  The most important component of your program should involve the principles of progressive overload and the systematic manipulation of these principles in order to elicit the desired outcome. 

The aim of progressive overload is to build upon your workload by gradually increasing the stress placed upon the body over time.  This ensures that you maximize your training by encouraging physiological adaptations in a safe and effective way.  Without overload there is no further adaptation by the body which in turn means that your progress will stagnate.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to progressive overload as everybody is at different level of performance and therefore will have diversity in their training goals and needs.  So, if you’re new to resistance training it’s important to focus on making progress in your range of motion (ROM) and technique, with better form and ROM you recruit more muscle fibers, improve co-ordination and increase energy output – that is progress. 

Once that baseline is established you could then look at progressing some exercises to challenge your body in a new way.  For example, if you have been performing body weight squats you potentially could progress onto a barbell squat at which point you may be ready to start manipulating some more of the training variables (volume, frequency, intensity, duration and density) in order to reach more specific outcomes.


Volume refers to the amount of work done, this can be measured in a number of ways such as;

  • The number of muscle groups worked
  • The number of exercises per muscle group
  • The number of sets and repetitions per exercise/session
  • The overall intensity (load)

Any of these variables can be increased in order to apply progressive overload.


Frequency generally refers to how many training sessions are performed each week. Based on the Qatar Physical Activity guidelines the minimum frequency for resistance training is twice per week, so you could start there and increase to 3 times per week over time.

You also need to take rest into consideration, too much frequency can lead to diminished returns and risk of injury.


The time it takes to complete your training session can also be manipulated.  You could actually do more in the same amount of time or alternatively the same amount of work but in less time - either of these would represent progress.

Intensity (Load)

Intensity refers to how hard you work.  In resistance training, the closer you lift at your 1 rep max the more intense your workout. Therefore, if you want to increase the intensity of your workout you’ll need to add more resistance.  As previously mentioned you’ll only increase intensity if you can maintain the correct technique – this always comes first. 

Generally, we should be looking to increase the load over time by gradually adding more resistance (intensity).


Density refers to the rest between sets, this can also be manipulated to apply progressive overload.  For example, if we decrease the rest between sets you’ll build more stamina and endurance, however muscle force output may will also decrease.


There is a fine relationship between each of these variables, for example if you increase intensity naturally volume is likely to decrease in terms of repetitions/sets.  So, my advice is to seek the help of a professional whom will be able to devise a clear and periodised program.



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