The Principle Of Progressive Overload

What would you say is the number one thing that holds people back with their training?

I’d argue that it’s program hopping. We all know someone that does it – they start a new training routine with bounding enthusiasm, give it 2-3 weeks, then read some conflicting information elsewhere and decide that they need to switch things up. This programming ADHD – the search for the perfect training program – is the cause of the phenomenon of the perpetual beginner.

In the short-term the difference between an effective and ineffective exercise program is simply whether it was followed long enough for it to produce a noticeable training effect -which nearly anything will for a beginner. This will last around 4-6 weeks.

For a program to be effective past this phase however it needs to follow the Principle Of Progressive Overload’. If you feel you’ve been spinning your wheels down the gym lately, or want to check that your routine is capable of giving you the results that your efforts deserve, this may be the article that you need.

Should I Choose Program X or Y?

Mark Rippetoe is famous for recommending sets of 5, Jim Wendler for his 5/3/1 program, and Martin Berkhan for a double-progression ‘reverse-pyramid’ set-rep system. Who is more correct?  – They’re all right. There are many different training programs that work and these coaches know this. The only reason they may appear dogmatic in their writing is that they know it can be counterproductive to allow people too many choices with their training.

  • The most important thing for the beginner trainee is that you get on a good strength training program then stick to it.
  • The most important thing for the intermediate and advanced trainee becomes not what program you follow (for you must have followed a good one or you wouldn’t be intermediate or advanced), but how you tweak it to follow this principle of progressive overload so that you keep advancing with your training.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post by S&C coach and widely respected researcher, Naoki Kawamori explaining the subject. The main points can be summarized as follows:

  • Adaptation of the body to a progressively increasing load is essential.
  • There are a variety of ways you can create overload to force adaptation.
  • Continuing to workout with the same load is called ‘exercise’, not ‘training’.

The Principles of Progressive Overload

by Naoki Kawamori

There are various aims of performing resistance training such as muscular hypertrophy, increasing muscular strength and power, and reducing the risk of injury, etc. Whatever the aim, there are several “principles of training” that should be adhered to in order to perform resistance training effectively and efficiently.

Once you have made the decision to follow this ‘principle of progressive overload‘, your chances of making bad decisions when setting program variables such as exercises and the number of sets and reps are far lower. On the other hand, if you ignore the ‘principle of progressive overload‘ and decide to engage in flashy-looking training in pursuit of the latest craze, you are not as likely to achieve the desired effect.

In this article I would like to explain about this ‘principle of progressive overload’. First, the term ‘principle of progressive overload’ can be divided into the “principle of overload” and the “principle of progression” which can be considered separately.

The latter “principle of overload” tells you that it is necessary to stimulate the body with a stimulus (=overload) which exceeds the stimulus the body receives on a regular basis (and to which it is accustomed) in order to make the body adapt for your intended purpose (such as muscular hypertrophy, increasing muscular strength and power, etc.)

Let’s take a person performing 3 sets x 5 reps of 40kg squats three times per week. For this individual, 3 sets x 5 reps of 40kg squats three times per week is a stimulus their body receives on a regular basis; if they continue with this exact same routine, overload will never be applied to their body and they cannot expect any further training adaptation.

To create overload for this individual, it is necessary to increase one of the program variables (frequency, weight, sets, reps, etc.) If we increase the squat weight from 40kg to 45kg, for example, this weight of 45kg will provide a new stimulus for this individual (=overload) and their body will try to adapt to the change in environment, resulting in physiological adaptation such as muscular hypertrophy and increases in muscular strength and power, etc.

Notes on Overload and Adaptation

It is necessary to point out that there are a variety of ways of creating overload and the adaptation that is caused by each method differs. There are several methods to create overload in resistance training such as:

    1. Increasing the weight lifted
    2. Increasing the number of reps per set
    3. Increasing the number of sets
    4. Shortening the rest time between sets
    5. Increasing the difficulty of the exercise
    6. Expanding the range of motion
    7. Increasing the frequency of training

There are also other methods of creating overload which are not mentioned here; they have been omitted as the purpose of this article is not to cover them all.

Once again, what I want to say here is that the type of physiological adaptation that will be caused will differ depending on the manner in which the program variables are manipulated and the type of overload that is created.

For example, increasing the number of reps per set is one method of creating overload, however this method would not suit the training purpose of increasing maximal strength, for instance. Even if you started benching 40kg×5, added an extra rep each week, and reached 40kg×17 after three months, it is doubtful as to whether you would experience significant improvement in maximal strength (bench press 1RM). This is because muscular endurance, rather than maximal strength, is primarily trained through this method.

Of course, beginners could still expect a certain increase in maximal strength through this method, however creating overload by increasing the weight lifted is much more efficient if your main objective is to increase maximal strength.

In short, while it is important to create overload in accordance with the “principle of overload”, it is also necessary to pay attention to the type of overload that is created. This leads on to a discussion of another training principle known as “the principle of specificity” which, if possible, I would like to leave for another time.

“Progression”: Continually increasing the load

When I refer to my dictionary to check the unfamiliar word “progressive” as it relates to the “principle of progression” (the first half of the ‘principle of progressive overload’), the definition of “proceeding step-by-step, little by little” is given. Applying this to training, it indicates that it is necessary to increase the training load little by little.

For example, if I increase my bench press weight from 40kg to 45kg in accordance with the “principle of overload”, physiological adaptation will occur as a result and my muscular strength will increase. However, if I continue to train with this weight of 45kg, I cannot expect further (continued) increases in muscular strength. This is because training with a weight of 45kg, along with my increased muscular strength, will become routine and cease to be a stimulus which causes further adaptation (=overload). Therefore, if continued training adaptation is desired, it is necessary to increase the training load little by little (progressively) in line with increases in physical strength.

“Exercise” and “Training”

I sometimes see people at the gym performing the same exercises with the same weight and for the same number of reps each time.

I take a sideways glance while thinking “That guy has been doing the exact same thing for the past year. That’s amazing in a way.” However, this means that “progression” is missing in this individual’s training. Even if he persists with this training, he cannot expect significant improvements in muscular strength.

Still, this is all good if his goal is to simply come to the gym, enjoy exercising and raising a sweat, and relax with a nice cold beer afterwards.

What this guy is doing is exercise, not training. Moving the body in and of itself is the purpose of exercise. If you enjoy moving your body and feeling good for a while, there’s absolutely no problem with that; I have nothing negative to say about it at all.

Training, on the other hand, is a process through which to achieve medium and long-term objectives (such as muscular hypertrophy and increasing muscular strength and power) and that differs from exercise which achieves a temporary purpose. In training, moving the body is merely a means, not the purpose itself.

If you are exercising, it’s not a problem to perform the same exercises with the same weight and for the same number of reps each time. However, systematic training in accordance with the “principle of progression” is necessary in order to achieve medium and long-term objectives such as muscular hypertrophy and increasing muscular strength and power.

As I’ve explained, increasing the training load, rather than continuing with the same load, is a very important essential in the “principle of progression”. However, another important point we must not forget is that these increases are little by little.

There are limits to the body’s ability to try to adapt to external overload. Not only does adaptation not occur when overload is created beyond these limits, it also leads to a temporary decrease in physical strength. And if this excessive overload continues for some time, the athlete may fall into an overtrained state. (Although personally I don’t think that it’s so easy to overtrain).

So, it is also important to increase the load little by little to avoid this negative state. The extent to which “little by little” refers will differ depending on various conditions such as the athlete’s training experience, genetic potential, nutrition, sleep, and rest, etc. For example, a beginner may be able to add 2.5kg to their squat each training session, however it is not practical for an intermediate trainee (training 2-3 times per week) to continue to increase their load at such a rate; their program will have to be changed so their load increases by 2.5kg every week, for instance. As the athlete builds experience and reaches an advanced level, it may become necessary to wait a few months before increasing the weight by 2.5kg. In addition, the rate of progression that is appropriate for an athlete who maintains proper nutrition and gets a good night’s sleep and quality rest will differ from the rate appropriate for an athlete who neglects these essentials. For that matter, the appropriate rate of progression will also differ depending on the characteristics of the exercise, as well as factors related to the athlete himself. For example, the appropriate rate or speed of progression will be faster for compound  (multi-joint) exercises which utilize more muscle groups and muscle mass compared with isolation (single-joint) exercises which train small muscle groups. Successfully ascertaining and adjusting the degree of progression while taking into account these various factors can also be considered a way for the Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach to display his ability. An S&C coach cannot control an athlete’s genetic potential or their behavior outside of training sessions (nutrition, sleep, rest), so they are faced with quite a difficult task…

If at a Loss, ask “Does it Apply to the Principle?”

The ‘principle of progressive overload’ combines the “principle of overload” and “principle of progression” above. I consider this ‘principle of progressive overload’ a pillar of my S&C training. When I’m worried about whether one of the training programs I have created is appropriate or not, I always go back to the ‘principle of progressive overload’ and check whether my program holds true to this principle. I also base my decisions on whether to introduce new exercise and training equipment on whether the ‘principle of progressive overload’ can be applied. Recently, flashy-looking, eye-catching exercise and training equipment seems to be in fashion, but can load be increased little by little as the athlete adapts in training utilizing this equipment? That is the criterion. Exercises that do not meet this criterion are no longer considered training exercises; they are positioned as simple drills. You may wish to introduce these drills in between warm-ups and the sets of training exercises if they help you to better perform training exercises that make up the main component of an S&C program. However, drills are not the main component of an S&C program; they are auxiliary components that occupy the same position as warm-up and mobility drills.

The same can be said about training equipment. There is a lot of training equipment that claims to train functional movements, however I feel that the ‘principle of progressive overload’ can only be applied with a few pieces of equipment. And I’m really forced to say that the general versatility of training equipment that doesn’t fit the ‘principle of progressive overload’ is extremely low. I am sure to hear the counterargument of “No, no, the purpose of functional drills and training equipment is to train “movement”, so as long as you are able to reach a decent amount of weight, it doesn’t matter if you don’t add any more.” But if you ask me, that is not training.

I have no problem with sports coaches using these kind of drills and training equipment as part of skills practice, but I cannot understand why an S&C coach, who is not expert in the athlete’s actual sport, would devote the athlete’s precious time to “training movement” through these kind of drills and training equipment. It is possible to apply the ‘principle of progressive overload’ if implementing basic barbell and dumbbell training exercises; you can increase both muscular strength and power and train basic “movements”. It is far more efficient.

So, you have just learned about the ‘principle of progressive overload’. Those with a little background knowledge of training theory and exercise physiology may be thinking “That rings a bell. Was it in the textbook?”

Alternatively, there may be many of you who feel that this is merely conceptual and not a concept that can actually be employed in S&C training. There was a time where I thought that way, but actually working with athletes made realise that it it is actually a really valid concept.

Your training methods (the manner of manipulating training variables such as exercises) will change as you study, obtain new knowledge, and gain experience. However, the principles of training will always remain unchanged. The principle I introduced today, the ‘principle of progressive overload’, is the most important concept and serves as a pillar of my training.

I hope all readers can maintain strong S&C training pillars and continue to make steady progress with an appropriate training program without being drawn in by trendy pseudo training.


Naoki Kawamori Japanese Strength ResearcherNaoki Kawamori is a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach and is employed at the National Sports Science Centre in Japan. After studying sports science at Waseda University (one of the top private universities in Japan), he studied abroad in the U.S. and Australia where he obtained his master’s degree and PhD. He then became involved in improving the physical strength of top-level athletes in Japan and Singapore. He specializes in the collection and analysis of S&C-related papers and their application to the field, and supports athletes as an S&C coach with both his scientific and practical knowledge.

On a personal note, my research geek friend, Bret Contreras, told me that Naoki is one of his favourite strength researchers (on his website Bret talks about the studies that Naoki did, here and here) and we feel lucky and privileged to have him as a guest writer on our Japanese site. His blog can be found here (Japanese).

Excellent companion articles to this: 

Questions welcomed in the comments.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

74 Comments on “The Principle Of Progressive Overload”

  1. […] 3. Purchasing a crap program, kidding yourself that it will suffice. – P90x is a notorious example. (It fails to work past a few weeks because it doesn’t allow for progressive overload.) […]

  2. Vladimir says:

    First of all, forgive me if I make mistakes in writing, my English is not so good.
    I’m a beginner, I’ve been lifting for around 3 months now.I started with light weights for isolation exercises.
    Every workout I go a bit heavier for muscle growth, but after a while, for example, my bicep curl, is getting stronger by lifting heavier every time, but I don’t feel sore other day as much as I would’ve been if I was lifting lighter weights.
    So I don’t want to go lighter, because of the “progressive overload”, but when I continue lifting heavier I am getting stronger, but I don’t feel sore other day, not even a half as much as I would’ve been if I was going lighter.. and I just feel like am not really breaking my muscles.
    If you could help that would be great.

    1. What you feel is largely irrelevant at this point, Vladimir. You’re getting stronger, stick with it. Don’t chase soreness.

  3. […] effective training routine must follow The Principle of Progressive Overload. This means that it must plan for and allow us to consistently add reps, or weight to the […]

  4. Alex says:

    Hey Andy first off I got to say I love your articles very informative thank you. To the question at hand is there ever a situation or variables at play that dictate stopping of a progression pattern and progressive overload (calorie range like defecit, or amount of time progressing, current volume, level of trainee, etc)? and maybe even just maintaining new Strength levels for a while.
    I’ve been running linear wave loading that I found here for about 6 months. weight on deadlift is starting to feel unbearably heavy. According to BenDover2013 comment above I easily am above the intermediate trainee level

    1. Hi Alex, thanks for the question.
      weight on deadlift is starting to feel unbearably heavy.
      – Sounds like the RPE has crept up higher than it probably should have. Consider dialing back a little. Three places to learn about RPE:

      • Specific programming examples: The Intermediate Bodybuilding Sample Program or The Intermediate Powerlifting Sample Program
      • Email course: A Course on How to Implement RPE in Your Training
      • My book: The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid

      To answer your other question: Yes, absolutely. Progress will not happen forever in a calorie deficit. More on this in my choosing a program article. (Note: if you don’t find it there, I’ll have switched that section to my “Training Principles” article, which I think makes more sense. This has been on my to-do list for a while.)

      Hope that helps, Alex!

  5. Rami says:

    What i inderstand from this that volume calculation matters more than weight for making progression overload. Thats right?

    1. Hi Rami, yes. Weight (load) is a part of the volume calculation. So, load can remain the same or be reduced, as long as the number of sets is increased so that the total load goes up.

  6. rami says:

    if i decrease the weight but doing more volume(weight*reps) can i achieve muscle hypertrophy?my goal is size not strength(sacroplasmic hypertrophy)

    1. Yes.
      Size follows strength follows size. It’s unavoidable.

  7. Jenn says:

    Hi Andy! If I’m doing 10 reps of 100 lbs, 4 sets on a particular exercise, and I want to increase weight but drop reps, I’ve been wondering if this simplified math would work – 10 reps x 100 lbs x 4 sets = 4000. So say I do 6 reps of 125 lbs for 6 sets. That’s 4500. So I’ve increased load despite less reps? Have I over simplified?

  8. Jason says:

    I do reverse pyramid training, so after warm up, I do my heaviest set first. Right now I am stuck at a 120lbs overhead press for 4 reps, but I want to be able to increase the number of reps here. Should I drop the weight slightly (to 117.5lbs) and continue with that weight until I can do 8 reps, and then return to 120lbs to hopefully blast through the plateau?

    1. Hi Jason. Consider stopping the RPT, try a fixed set-rep pattern (4 sets of 4, 5 sets of 5, for example). You’ll probably be able to increase your training volume which will drive your size and strength up. – See the notes in the RPT article on this.

      1. Jason says:

        Thanks, I’ll consider that. I read the article here on Big-3, and it said to take a 2 minute rest between sets. Since 5 reps would be pretty heavy weight, should it be 3 minutes of rest between sets?

        1. If that helps you get the job done better. Keep it consistent though.

  9. Phil says:

    I have been thinking that it just might be best to use a certain weight for an exercise like say 200 pounds for the bench press and just keep using that weight until the the last rep of the last set is easy..example

    set 1 200 x 8 …the weight is easy last few reps
    set 2 200 x 8…the weight is still easy but not as easy as the first
    Set 3 200 x 8…the weight is starting to feel a little more difficult on the last few reps
    set 4 200 x 8 ..the weight was a challenge on the last few reps of the set
    set 5 200 x 8…the weight was a real challenge on the last 2 reps.

    Then add just enough weight to make the last few reps set of the last set tough again ..then just keep using that weight until it is easy to lift on the last set again.

    What do you think about this method and will it work long term ?


    1. What do you think about this method and will it work long term ?
      Sure, you could do that. It’s similar to the progression scheme covered in my article on the Big 3.
      – Nothing will work forever, you’ll need to adjust. Consider checking out my training book.

  10. Geraldo Rivera says:

    Came across this page again I had forgotten to check for a response, thanks!!

  11. geraldo rivera says:

    If youre only interested in bodybuilding do you need to apply periodization methods or will single double triple progression keep working? Thanks.

    1. Hi Geraldo. Periodization is necessary in order to keep progressing past through the intermediate and into the advanced stages. However, this can be simpler than with strength alone.

      Discussing it all is well beyond the scope of me being able to answer in the comments here, however if you’d like to find out a very good breakdown of the necessary details, Eric Helms has it covered in his Muscle & Strength Training Pyramid series on youtube.
      I’d usually say here, “hope you find that useful” but I know you will. Enjoy!

  12. […] muscle requires something called “progressive overloading“. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to strength train with […]

  13. A Skinny Person's Guide to Gaining Weight - BluGry8MiDawg says:

    […] muscle requires something called "progressive overloading." This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to strength train with […]

  14. A Skinny Person’s Guide to Gaining Weight | Emelar IT Group says:

    […] muscle requires something called “progressive overloading.” This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to strength train with […]

  15. Seah says:

    Hi Andy,

    Should we take sets to failure? I recall you suggesting not to do so. However, if we don’t do that how will we know if we have gotten stronger or its time to up the weight or reps?

    1. You can take subjective measures, for example, was that(were those) set(s) easy or hard? If the former then you increase, if the latter then you don’t. Or you set rules for yourself on when to progress. An example of this is covered in the big 3 routine article.

  16. Yanni says:

    Hi Andy,

    I train for 8 years without results, i am skinny and when i eat to gain weight it’s all fat. I’ve tried thousands of programs, i can increase the weight i lift for the first 2-3 workouts and then the weight starts to decrease. Why is this happens?


    1. Hi Yanni, I’m taking wild guesses here based on two sentences, but it’s probably due to not eating enough, compounded by the belief that you can’t rather then that you can.

  17. […] effective training routine must follow The Principle of Progressive Overload. This means it must allow for you to consistently adding reps, or weight to the bar over time […]

  18. Hey Andy!

    Do you think your approach is also work for performance based athletes? For example, MMA, CrossFit, track and field and so on? Or for example people who have to have a low body-fat AND have to do high performance work? For example in some fitness competitions, where your first round is more like a typical bodybuilding round and secon round is more like a conditioning test. What do you think?

    1. Hi Philipp. Can you define what you mean by “your approach” bud? We’re talking about the article above?

  19. Parker says:

    Hey Andy, great stuff as usual. Forgive me if I’ve missed it in any other topic but has the issue of rep scheme regarding amount of energy stored ever been addressed hear. I continue to hear about high rep adding room for more nutrients and energy stores. This sounds like typical bro-science and just would enjoy your view on it. Thanks again for everything.

    1. Typical bro science bud.

  20. macks says:

    Hey mate- great article. Helps to fill in those blanks in my knowledge and reaffirm certain beliefs. I didn’t see any reference to the “time under pressure” idea of counting out slow movements on reps to put muscle under 30-40 secs of pressure to enable maximum growth potential. I remember Martin making fun of this concept…do you think it holds any value?

    1. There are times where you’ll have sets within your programming that will be in the 30-40 second range, there are others that won’t. Don’t worry specifically about the getting it in that range every set – simply isn’t necessary.

      Now that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t valid. For hypertrophy you need a combination of the following in your training:
      Mechanical Tension
      Metabolic Stress
      Muscle Damage

      TUT concept comes from this, especially the “stress” part. Bret Contreras explains it more fully here.

      1. macks says:

        fantastic. thanks for the reply- it’s opening my eyes a bit

  21. Serial training | Jared Waltz says:

    […] the principle of progressive overload in weight training. Andy Morgan at did a good recent article on this topic, but for those who are unfamiliar, the core concept is that one must continually and […]

  22. Razi Ben Shushan says:

    Great article Andy.
    I’m reading your blog often and i have to say you doing an amazing job to simplify IF.
    I wanted to ask you something about a knee pain and progressive overload.
    I’m working out almost 2 years now, I’m 27 years old and healthy with no previous injuries.
    Just recently I took my training more seriously and started to lift heavy. I’m doing the Strong lifts 5×5. I’ve started with an empty bar and for the past two months I’ve progressed with the weights slowly and successfully , 2.5 kg progress every workout.
    In the last week the weights are very heavy for me but i feel that my body adapt really good to progressive overload.
    In fact I broke my PR on the squat and it felt pretty easy if I compare it to the last time I did it(without progressive overload).
    Couple of mounts ago I’ve used to do all kind of workouts without understanding what I was doing, and one time when I did a squat (high bar squat, currently I’m doing low bar as Mark Rippetoe explain on Starting strength and it is much better) in the wrong way while my knees came too much forward and since that workout I have a knee pain, not very strong but still.
    After that happened I said to my self that I must know exactly how to workout and how to preform the exercises.
    I’ve read a lot of books and blogs, including yours (: and I’ve realized that almost everything I did was wrong. From workouts to nutrition.
    Long story short, right now i feel that my workouts and nutrition are 100 times better than before but I still have that knee pain from the time I did the wrong squat (this is how the trainer in the gym instructed me to do and obviously he didn’t know anything about training).
    As I mentioned before I’m doing all the compound movements as instructed in Starting Strength, I think that my knee feels better since I’m working out that way but it still hurt a little bit, and since now the weights became heavier I’m a little afraid that maybe I can hurt my knee more.
    from your experience what do you think about it? Should I continue working out regularly and keep the progression with the weights? And generally what your opinion about it?
    Did you train someone with similar problem?
    I will appreciate your answer and thoughts about it.
    By the way when I’m doing the movement (like squat for instance) I don’t feel any pain, I feel the pain after the workout only when I squeeze my knee or squating very low with that knee, but I can walk fine and its not bother me too much that it ruin my day or something.
    Thanks in advance.

    P.s my native language is not English so I’m sorry if I made any mistake (:

    Keep up the good work man! You have an amazing blog that helped me a lot and probably to a lot of other people as well.

    1. Razi, thank you for the comment. Glad you have been finding the site helpful.

      In future please keep the comments shorter as this is too long. Do your best to shorten things. If you can’t then the question requires too much context to answer which isn’t really fair use of the comments function, which really should be clarifications on points in the articles.

      You have an injury issue which I can’t possibly answer about. See the FAQ on injury bud.

      1. Razi Ben Shushan says:

        Hi Andy.
        Sorry for the long comment (:
        I’ll read the FAQ.

  23. DW says:

    Hi Andy,

    This was a great article. Here’s a question for you. I recall from an earlier article that you suggested that an individual concentrate on getting stronger (more muscle mass) if he was weak and fat before moving to a cut protocol. In someone has a high body fat percentage and therefore, weight, should the determination of strength be based upon how much he can lift relative to his total bodyweight or his estimated lean body weight? Thanks.

    1. DW, interesting question for multiple reasons. First your answer: We need to pin down a standard for “high body fat here so we’ll consider an obese person (i.e. >30%). This individual wouldn’t want to pin themselves to bodyweight strength targets for obvious reasons. Should they do it by lean body mass? Well, not really good to do that either as they can’t estimate it very well. Better to just assume that if you’re weak it’s lower than you think/need, thus just better to work on getting mobile enough to do the lifts and then stronger.

      It can be better to think of the lifts as practicing a skill, something fun, work on getting the form right when starting out instead of obsessively chasing strength from the get go. I may be guilty of pushing people into the latter mindset.

      Now, as for why I think it’s interesting: Calorie restriction for an obese individual and for a lean individual is different. The obese person has far greater energy availability (the fat stores) and also far less risk of muscle losses. Can’t remember where else I’ve written about this but basically, fatter beginner-trainees can get away with larger deficits without compromising strength acquisition and muscle gain.

      Consider this effect as a sliding scale. Consider the effect of potential for muscle growth while in a deficit as being on a sliding scale also as a lifter advances.

      1. Alright, did a little sketch to myself on the back of a tissue paper ad. Don’t have another one on hand to clear it up, but if you can read it here you go: Lil sketch

        (yes my writing to myself is terrible)

        1. DW says:


          Thanks for your response. This makes a lot of sense. Although I have been training for a number of years, my bf% is currently on the high side (25% – >30% est.). I would be considered strong relative to my ideal bodyweight (175 – 177lbs) but not to my current overall weight (237lbs). It seems that if I could maintain my current strength as I get closer to my ideal weight, that would be a huge win in the long term.

  24. Eric says:

    Dang this really spoke to me today when I read it. Thoroughly awesome. Agree 100%. Which is why, recently, when I decided to cut down a bit, I decided NOT to change my training protocol. I’m doing a Beyond Brawn approach. So far so good. But I just didn’t want to change this when I FINALLY have a groove going.

    Andy I’ve got a q, in another part of the site you mentioned that if you are skinny (I am) but not a beginner or weak (I’m not) then one should cut. And you’ve mentioned in other places it’s better for muscle gain. Is there a level of leanness you suggest before switching over to a slow bulk? Most of the guys on your transformation page are sup 30in on the waist.


    1. That’s more of a personal judgement call. I’ll rewrite that advice from two years ago.
      In your case you’ve identified yourself as skinny (not thin), which means you’re better off bulking for now. Slight hypothetical metabolic advantages (p-ratio) are not worth battling the mental game over.

      1. Eric says:

        Cool, thanks. I leaned out quite a bit last year and got down to a 28.75 in. waist at a weight of 143, I’m 5’7.5. I still didn’t look as lean as the guys you have on the transformation page. Not really comparing myself, just using the transformation as a guide of sorts, but I just didn’t want to keep leaning down and look like a twig. I guess I still have quite a few pounds of muscle to gain.

        I should have done a slow bulk after that, but oh well. I just got a few pounds to lose from that decision.

        Have a good day and thanks,


        1. Sure no worries. We’re all on a journey and we all learn as we go. The main thing is that we’re improving. One thing is for sure, you’ll be far better off in ten years than if you sit on the couch doing nothing.

  25. Great post! Sounds like cherrypicking from “Beyond Brawn” and “Starting Strength” =) Loved it.

  26. gadang says:

    Nice article here Andy. I have been training with RPT (mainly compound) and doing IF diet for the past couple months. At the beginning it was easy to do progressive load. But now, I felt stuck. All the numbers on bench, press, squat have been stalled. When currently my deadlift is more than 1.5*body weight (and I believe I can push a bit more on it), my squat is just slightly pass 1* body weight. Bench and press even worst, not even 1*body weight. I’ve been trying to deload the weight, take a few days off, but doesn’t seem to work. Nutrition and rest are more or less the same, nothing changed on my routine. Do I have to stick with the current weight, train with it until I can overcome the numbers? Appreciate your feedback.


    1. Hi Gadang, no not necessarily. Recall from above:

      There are several methods to create overload in resistance training such as:
      Increasing the weight lifted
      Increasing the number of reps per set
      Increasing the number of sets
      Shortening the rest time between sets
      Increasing the difficulty of the exercise
      Expanding the range of motion
      Increasing the frequency of training

      Are you missing the more obvious part though, that your nutrition isn’t permissive of the gains? You can’t cut and make progress forever.

  27. fernando flavio says:

    I injuried my wrist and elbow(tenosynovitis) on both arms. Since i’ll be looking for a rehab i’ll be recommended for sure to get small loads and high reps.
    Is that suppose to stagnate my process?

    1. Potentially for now.

      There are several methods to create overload in resistance training such as:
      Increasing the weight lifted
      Increasing the number of reps per set
      Increasing the number of sets
      Shortening the rest time between sets
      Increasing the difficulty of the exercise
      Expanding the range of motion
      Increasing the frequency of training

      Discuss this with your physiotherapist and see how you might adjust those variables while not aggravating things and also allowing for recovery.

  28. Jeff Fairey says:

    Great article, very informative….one day I hoe to see thus stuff sink in to my thick skull.

    Many of my friends are asking me why I lift heavy weights and therefore why should they if their goal is to look good naked and I’m having trouble answering the following question they ask me:

    “Why can’t I just do exercise (endurance training aka cardio) vs strength training if all I want to do is lose weight (fat) and look good naked?”

    I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know how to answer that question succinctly & accurately, care to take a shot Andy?


    1. Ha, good question Jeff.

      Because they won’t have the muscle mass to support looking good at a low body-fat percentage by the time they get there.

      You may as well stop there because the rest is pretty much wasted breath if they decide not to take your word for it. Everybody overestimates how muscled they will look when very lean. This is true of any trainee that hasn’t cut to shreds before, but even more so for people that have never trained. For most people the only way they’ll actually realise it is to cut down to a very low body fat, and then they’ll realise that they actually look far more on the ‘skinny’ end of the spectrum than a physique someone would use the word ‘shredded’ to describe.

      The single most important factor for maintenance of lean muscle mass when in a calorie deficit is a resistance training program, protein intake comes second and isn’t a substitute. So even for those that have good genetics and a decent amount of muscle mass despite not having weight trained, if they persist with a calorie decifit they will lose muscle mass and end up, in all likelihood, skinnier than they’d like.

  29. Totalholistic says:

    Great article. Would have wished to hear more about training to failure. In my experience I have found that training to failure is one guarantee that I have done my muscle growth potential good service no matter the weight range or rep range. I go to a small gym and at times you are not able to use a given machine or dumbbell since availability is an issue.

    Ironically, I like this situation because I see it as an opportunity to vary my workout according to the availability of equipment on any given day or session. Point is that if I am forced to use a 14kg dumbbell instead of an 18kg, I simply go to failure. Same thing if I am forced to use a 10kg dumbbell. Going to failure means I have carried my muscles to the maximum or near maximum potential. Yes I count the reps as part of custom and routine but going to failure is what matters. Rep numbers are just a guide. That’s my view anyway.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article.
      As a beginner you are seeing results despite not having more load to play with. There will come a point where the adaptations cease. Roll with it for now, but when things stop working come back to this article and apply the principles.
      Please comment with your name from now on bud.

    2. Glad you enjoyed the article.
      As a beginner you are seeing results despite not having more load to play with. There will come a point where the adaptations cease. Roll with it for now, but when things stop working come back to this article and apply the principles.
      Please comment with your name from now on bud.

  30. JB says:

    If the goal of a cut is to lose body fat and retain muscle, can one apply progressive overload principle in this scenario? Or is the main focus to just retain strength rather than progress?

    1. Scott says:

      I’m wondering this as well. I keep reading that as a novice I should be able to add weight to the bar pretty consistently, regardless of calorie surplus or deficit, however that has the not been the case for me. I haven’t lost strength, but I assumed once I implemented a proper and consistent routine that I’d be able to add at least a bit of weight to the bar. Any thoughts?
      Currently on an IF cut.

      1. Muscle mass is rarely built on a calorie deficit, exceptions does occur though =)
        When slow-bulking there is a huge difference.

        I’m on IF ( cutting atm), and not progressing in the lifts, but since i’m not weaker I know for sure I’m not losing any muscle. Same principles to apply though, always trying with more weight even during the cut is working for me. As stated in the article, when you are not progressing with 2.5kg increases, try 1kg, 0.5 kg, 0.25kg and even smaller weights ( read the Beyond Brawn if you can). You can get some metal washers and create som 0.1kg weights. Poundage progression in small steps are a key factor in my opinion.

      2. Another good article here Scott.

        1. Scott says:

          Thanks Andy. I guess I may not be as beginner as I thought. I’ve apparently squandered my ‘newbie gains’ with years of fuckarounditis!

    2. Nutrition is an facilitator – it allows the adaptations to take place if the right training stimulus is given. If the energy balance is compromised, then the training will be also, however a beginner generally will be able to make progress for a time despite being in a calorie deficit.

  31. Sartek says:

    Yes, great article! And how to distinguish between “beginner trainee” and “intermediate and advanced trainee”?

    1. In my opinion this is a good reference(correct me Andy if you think it’s wrong):

      Strength Goals: Intermediate
      Bench press: body weight x 1.2
      Chin-ups or pull-ups: body weight x 1.2 or 8 reps with body weight.
      Squat: body weight x 1.6
      Deadlift: body weight x 2
      These numbers are for a raw (no straps, belt or knee wraps) single repetition(1RM).
      The progress towards the intermediate strength goals should be fairly linear, meaning that there should be no plateaus that cannot be solved in an uncomplicated manner.

      1. Correct. Thanks Ben, you beat me to it.

  32. Miles says:

    Great article! You sir remain the best online forum for S&C and diet.

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