An Introduction to Progressive Overload: Siobhan Milner’s Minis

Why You Should Always Check Your Supplements Are Third-Party Batch Tested: Siobhan Milner's Minis Total Performance with Siobhan Milner

Are you someone who identifies as being injury prone? Have you given consideration to how you progress in your training?

Today is the first episode of a series that will run throughout the podcast which are shorter solo episodes where I dive deeper into a particular topic. I am super excited to get into the nitty-gritty so that we can all progress with intention and (hopefully!) with less risk of injury. If you have a topic you want me to dig deeper into then please let me know over on Instagram, or shoot me an email.

In this episode, I am talking about a concept from exercise science called progressive overload. This principle involves gradually increasing the stress placed on the body. Our bodies are resilient and adaptable, so they respond to the right amount of stress placed on them. And I think we know this at least somewhat intuitively because we know that all kinds of training are hard, and we adapt to that challenge!

The issues arise when you’ve sustained a super short, sharp increase in training load, and it’s just been too much at once for the body, sometimes resulting in pain or injury. So how can we implement progressive overload in our training? Take a listen and I’ll introduce you to this concept!

Important Links:

    • Stay up to date on the Total Performance podcast where you can join Siobhan Milner and guests as we explore the many aspects that come together to build our total performance.

Transcript for An Introduction to Progressive Overload: Siobhan Milner’s Minis

Siobhan Milner: 

Hey everyone. Today I’m gonna be talking about an important concept from exercise science that I think not everyone is necessarily aware of unless they’ve worked with an exercise physiologist or a strength and conditioning coach who has specifically told them what they’re doing and why. And this concept is called progressive overload.

Progressive overload is a principle of exercise science that involves gradually increasing the stress placed on the body. Our bodies are resilient and adaptable, so they respond to the right amount of stress placed on them. And I think we know this at least somewhat intuitively because we know that strength training is hard.

We know that conditioning like running, cycling, and swimming, we know can be hard as well but we know that we get better as a result of the stress that we’re placing on our bodies. But I think the thing that people sometimes forget about, measuring where their own baseline is and progressing consistently and gradually from there, I would say, 90% of the people who come to me with injuries have come to me because they’ve sustained a super short, sharp increase in training load, and it’s just been too much for the body.

It has not been a progressive overload. Progressive overload is a fundamental component of successful strength training programs, but also conditioning programs. If you’re really taking this into. It can help contribute to decreasing your injury risk, and it can certainly and will improve your athletic performance.

So the basic idea is that the body’s only going to adapt to a stimulus if it is forced or encouraged to do so. So by gradually increasing the stress that we place on the body, the body is forced to adapt to that stress, and we become stronger. We become fitter. We have physiological. This adaptation process is essential for us to develop all components of our fitness and achieve our goals.

So this concept is also why it can sometimes be hard beyond a certain point to see adaptations continuing. If you’re just doing things like group fitness classes now, I have absolutely no problem with group fitness classes. I think they’re amazing for general health and., and I think the most important thing when it comes to health and fitness is picking something that you’re gonna do consistently.

But if you have a really specific goal, like if you are wanting to run faster or if you’re wanting to lift something in particular, then what we’ve gotta do is, as I say, increase progressively, but also be consistent in how we are progressing. So what that means is not doing something totally different every week.

It’s always a fine balance. Our body needs a certain amount of variety, but also enough consistency to adapt, which is why we often will change the program that we’re working on when it comes to strength, for example, every four to six weeks. So there’s a lot of different ways we can carry out. Or implement progressive overload.

So that could be, I think maybe the most obvious one that people think of is increasing the weight of something that you’re lifting. But it could be also things like increasing the number of reps or increasing the total volume in terms of sets in a session or even across a week. It can even be decreasing rest periods and increasing the frequency of training sessions.

This is something that I know a lot of my clients who are coming to me for rehab or are just general population. They sometimes look at the training amounts that I do, and they’re, they’re shocked and sometimes they wonder, is this actually good for you? And the thing that I have to tell them is I have progressed, again, progressive overload,, I have progressed to be able to handle this level of training volume over time.

And I will just also add that we know that the higher your VO 2 max is that this is a measure of your aerobic fitness. In fact, it’s often considered the gold standard measure of aerobic fitness because it reflects our cardiovascular and respiratory fitness, and it’s a really good predictor of our ability to complete endurance activity.

So we know, for example, that the higher your VO two max, the lower your risk of mortality. The same thing goes for muscle math and strength. So, In the case of exercise, there’s not necessarily such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to our mortality risk, our risk of death. However, again, progressive overload we need to build up over time, and this is not to say that you have to build up to doing anywhere near the same volume that a professional athlete does, or even someone like myself does.

You don’t even have to do the exact same types of activity, although I will say it is recommended that for optimal physical health, we carry out both strength training and conditioning exercises. Look at this. I’m doing a solo episode and I’m still getting sidetracked. Anyway, what I wanna tell you about progressive overload, whatever the method is that we use to.

So, as I said before, increasing the weight, increasing the number of reps, increasing our training duration, the frequency of our training, whatever the method, the key is to gradually increase. This is what’s gonna promote adaptation and not over-training. So what does gradually increasing mean? Well, it’s gonna depend on where your baseline is.

So if you are currently doing no exercise consistently on a regular basis, then you’re gonna have to progress pretty slowly. I often say to. Clients, especially those who come to me for rehab, may not have had a regular exercise routine before. I usually say start low progress. Slow and progressive overload for injury or pain is also different from progressive overload for optimal strength in fitness.

So if you’re coming to me with no injuries and you’ve, you’ve got a good training history, we can progress you faster than someone who’s coming to us with injuries or. So what do I mean by that? Let’s take running as an example. So let’s say you’ve never really run before and you decide that you’re gonna go out and run for 15 minutes.

If you don’t have a history of any sort of lower limb injuries, this might be okay. But if you’re someone that’s had something like medial tibial stress syndrome, sometimes called shin splints or some sort of lower-body injury in the past, or you know that running has caused pain for you in the past, this could be a pretty big increase.

So often for people who are returning to running after injury. We’ll start really low. We might start with walk-run intervals. We might even start where you only run for one minute a day, and then rather than increasing from one minute to five minutes, you could think of this as a fivefold increase when it comes to pain, right?

That’s quite a big increase for your body to try and handle. So you might only be cr sticking at one minute a day for a few days and then trying two minutes. If that works, then you’ll be increasing again, but you’d be increasing really, really slowly if you were increasing for pain or. If you don’t have to take pain or injury into account, we still have to be at least a little bit patient.

And some of you might have heard this rule in the past of no more than 10% per week. It’s not a bad rule to live by, but again, you’ve gotta take into account how much training you are currently doing as well. Because if you’re not doing a lot of training, then 10% could be quite a small absolute amount.

So for example, if you’re only training, let’s say 60 minutes per week, if we increase by 10%, then the next week you’d be si doing 66 minutes. But if you were doing six hours a week, then if we increase by 10%, we’d be adding on about another 36 minutes. Again, you can probably handle that if you’ve got six hours consistently under your belt.

But just keeping in mind that when we get to, for example, things like really, really heavy. If you try and increase by 10% every week, at some point it’s just not gonna happen. That progression’s gonna get slower and that’s okay. So that’s where you might progress in the, in the case of weightlifting, with things like increasing the number of sets, decreasing rest periods, all of these sorts of things, the way you progress your training is going to depend on your specific goals.

Often, in the beginning, it is about increasing volume. So what I mean by that is the total amount of work, that total duration across a week. Because that’s gonna help build you that capacity, the endurance, and whatever it is you’re doing, to then be able to handle intensity later. So we often start with volume first.

If we are not using progressive overload if we’re just doing the same thing week in and week out. First of all, your body’s really good at adapting to stress, as we said earlier. So it’s going to realize like, oh, hey, I’m pretty good where I am. I know I’m talking about the body like it’s a sentient being, but I think you understand the analogy.

The body’s gonna realize like, ah, I know what I need to do here, and you won’t see these improvements in your strength and fitness anymore. You’ll reach a plate. Pluto and the performance are maybe not the most worrying thing depending on who you are. If you’re an athlete, it’s an issue, but it could be an issue when it comes to things like an increased risk of injury due to overuse if you’re doing the same thing week in and week out.

And I will say as we age, our bodies experience a decline in muscle mass and strength. Age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia, and it actually begins around the age of 30. When we lose muscle mass and strength, we see a decrease in mobility balance coordination. We see an increase in the risk of falls and injury, but if we continue strength training, we see that bone density is improved, and the chance of osteoporosis is decreased.

Osteoporosis has also been managed with strength training and more muscle mass. And strength is also associated with a decreased risk of many chronic diseases like type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease in some cancer. So what’s my point regarding this in progressive overload? As I mentioned, as we get older, we are going to naturally experience a decline in our muscle mass and strength.

So we have to work harder to even keep that plateau that we talked about to make sure that we’re not sliding backward. And of course, eventually, we will, we won’t be as strong at 80 as we are at 40, 50, 60. But the more that you can progress, the higher that you can get your strengths baseline, and the better off you’re going to be later down the track because that backslide is not gonna be as big.

So I have some people often in their forties or fifties coming to me saying things like, oh, but I don’t really wanna increase my muscle mass from a health and fitness perspective. Trust me, you do, because we’ve gotta work against this age-related decline in our muscle mass and strength that is associated with a huge risk of mortal.

This is why this concept of progressive overload is important. It’s gonna allow us to make progress over time. It’s really hard for me to give you exact values and percentages on how much to increase just through a podcast because I don’t know you and your training baseline, and I also don’t know your goals.

But you could try this 10% rule and see how that goes for you, especially if you’re a newer one and if you’ve got something like pain or injury to deal with, just be aware that you’re going to have to progress a little bit slower than a non-injured athlete or a person without pain. But that doesn’t mean you can’t progress.

In fact, we still want to keep progressing because we wanna build our tolerance to movement so that we’re less likely to experience pain in normal everyday movement activities. If you’re interested in finding a little bit more out about how to manage your load and. I highly recommend looking up something called the acute chronic workload ratio, and if it’s something that interests you, I can always record a little podcast episode about that as well, cuz this is a great way to look at your training load over time and to see whether you’re in the risk zone for over training or under training.

And maybe that’s one more thing I should point out. In this podcast episode, I’ve mainly been talking about increasing our training load and volume, and intensity. But if we wanna decrease our injury risk, we also really have to think about making sure that we don’t have huge drops in our training volume or intensity, because that predisposes us to an increased injury risk in the weeks following that drop.

So if you’re having a rest week, an adaptation week, a recovery week, which you might have heard about, um, athletes doing from time to time. Something called a deload week. We sometimes do that every fourth, fifth, or sixth week. It really depends on the athlete and the phase they’re in, and also just the person.

If you’re someone that’s working a full-time job and you have a family and you’re trying to participate in sports, then you might even need to reload more frequently. But what we wanna make sure when we have these weeks that are slightly less intense to allow our bodies to recover and adapt, because again, when we rest, that is where our adaptations happen and we actually get fitter.

You just wanna make sure that you’re not pulling back by too much because then that’s when we can lose some of these adaptations and then be at a higher injury risk when we try and go back to doing what we were doing before in terms of volume and intensity. So often we talk about reducing by a maximum of 20% of the total volume or intensity.

So again, that can be kind of a general number to keep in mind, but if you look up acute chronic workload ratio, then you’re gonna get a little bit of an idea of the exact numbers and how to work that out as well. And if you hate math, you don’t even have to do the math yourself. You can find calculators online for that.

I’d love to know if you have any more questions about progressive overload. Feel free to shoot me an email, at or leave me a comment on Instagram I just wanna thank all of you who’ve been listening to this podcast so far. I’ve got a new episode coming out with another guest in a couple of weeks.

We’re gonna be shifting to biweekly episodes, so that’s hopefully gonna give you all a little more time to catch up on some of the episodes that have already been released as. If there’s anyone that you’d love for me to talk to, please let me know. Or any topics that you’d like me to cover myself in some solo episodes, feel free to reach out.

So my take-home message for you is to start thinking about gradually increasing the challenge of your training sessions over time. And when it comes to things like running, but also weightlifting as well, we wanna increase that challenge but still try to maintain our good form. We have to consistently challenge ourselves to give our bodies a little bit more stress in order to adapt well.

But again, the key is progressive and gradual. Happy training!