New Approach to Strength and Conditioning – Progressive Overloading

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’ve taken a new approach to my strength training so in this post I’m going to explain the program I’m using – progressive overloading.

The idea of progressive overloading has been around for as long as training has existed. The earliest well known example I’ve found is Milo of Croton, an ancient Greek wrestler who carried a four year old bull on his shoulders, before killing, cooking and eating the whole thing in a day. He managed to carry the massive weight of the cow by starting when it was a newborn calf, and carrying it each day as it grew to it’s full size. Every day the bull would have been a smaller percentage heavier, allowing Milo’s muscles to get slightly stronger each day, and adapt to heavier and heavier workloads. This is the core idea of progressive overloading – start light and increase the weight in small increments, until you’re lifting heavy.

So step one of my new plan was to calculate my one rep max of each of the major compound lifts: Deadlift, Squat, Hip Thrusts, Bent-over Row, Bench Press and Shoulder Press. I did this by putting a weight I considered heavy on, and doing as many reps as possible with good form. I then used a calculator from bodybuilding.com to figure out what my theoretical maximum is. You can physically test for your one rep max, but it comes with a fairly significant risk of injury, and seeing as I already have a dodgy knee I’m happy working with the theoretical number.

Once I’d figured out these numbers I needed to figure out my 80% mark; this is the low end weight for strength training, so is a good place to start for progressive overloading.  I do three workouts a week, and so I divided my training into upper and lower body sessions, and alternative workouts each session. So a two week split would look like this:

Monday Wednesday Friday
Week One Upper Body Lower Body Upper Body
Week Two Lower Body Upper Body Lower Body


And each of those workouts are laid out like this:

Exercise Sets/Reps
Upper Body Bench Press

Bent-Over Row

Shoulder Press

Pull Up

Chin Up

3/3

3/3

3/3

3/5

3/5

Lower Body Squat

Deadlift

Hip Thrust

3/3

3/3

3/3


I started at 80% of my one rep max for each lift, and each week added 5% more weight (other than for pull ups/chin ups, they’re included because I suck at them and want to get better!). The plan is to keep increasing incrementally until I can’t manage the 3 sets of 3 reps. At that point I’m going to recheck my one rep maxes and restart the process.

These three strength days leaves me two morning workouts to put that strength to work developing explosive power, meaning lots of power cleans, polymeric work, box jumps, prowler pushes and tire flips. I’m going to do a separate post about my power training days, because they’re an area I’m just starting to explore and perfect, so keep an eye out for that post in the future.


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