Progressive Overload – Why You Need to Use It, Regardless of Your Goals

Progressive Overload may sound complicated and intimidating, but it's actually quite simple and accessible - with a little help.

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Crystal OKeefe: Welcome to the MetPro Method podcast. I'm your host, Crystal O'Keefe, and today I am joined by MetPro Coach Joe Brauer. We're going to be discussing progressive overload and how to use it. Joe, thank you so much for being here today.

Joe Brauer: Of course, Crystal. I always appreciate doing these, so, thank you for the opportunity.

Crystal OKeefe: Well, I love when you're here, I always think we have a lot of fun. Well first of all, I guess I should start with how long have you been working, like with Exercise, a personal trainer? Like, tell us a little bit about your background.

Joe Brauer: Yeah. So, you know, been in the industry for about a decade now, and have been personal training throughout it, so about for the last 10 years.

And Most of my experience has fallen in the corporate realm. I think I mentioned that on a previous episode. So a lot of my personal training, is you know, included that clientele or that population. But I also have a lot of experience with field sports athletes, so soccer players, lacrosse players, and people in that population to really help their agility and explosiveness and lateral quickness and things of that nature.

And progressive overload is something that no matter who you are, no matter how old or what your experience level is, it's something that you have to incorporate if you want to get the most out of your exercise program. So I'm excited to, uh, shed some light on it.

Crystal OKeefe: Well, I'm glad because I want to start with the fact that it sounds like progressive overload sounds like it should be some kind of bad guy name in a movie. That's what I think. Like I picture like, you know, progressive overload this summer.

Joe Brauer: Yeah, you're right. I never even thought of it that way, but you're, you're right, it kind of does. But he's the good guy. He's the good guy. He's not the villain he's the hero.

Crystal OKeefe: What exactly is it?

Joe Brauer: Yeah, so it's basically the concept of continually increasing the intensity of your exercise stimulus to further physiological adaptation. Okay, sure. That's basically fancy words for saying you need to make your workouts harder if you want to get strong. And I think we've all experienced, this adaptation in some way.

We've all experienced, at least our body, adapting to our exercise stimulus. If you run five miles every day for a month, right? You, most of us have experienced by the end of the month, if you do the same thing, it gets easier, right? So progressive overload is really the concept of changing that exercise stimulus, increasing its intensity.

Further get stronger, further benefit the physiological adaptations that exercise produces.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay, I think a lot of us do this naturally, but I also think there is a subset of people. I feel like none of us, maybe, maybe it's just me. Maybe I'll just start with me. I feel like you maybe people question whether or not they're making it hard enough.

Quick enough. Like they're, they're making it hard on themselves, there's so many different ways to progress things that, like how does it work that you're being like systematic about it? Like, when I hear progressive overload, the word progressive, makes me picture something systematic happening.
So how do you make that work?

Joe Brauer: Yeah. So, there's a lot of different ways to progress your program, right? And progressive overload really made a name for itself in the strength training and hypertrophic style of training kind of community or conversation, but it's required in all modalities of exercise if you want to progress and get stronger.

So, I'm going to focus a little bit on the strength training piece first and explain how you can progress systematically that way. And then we can touch on the cardio piece as well. But there's really two main ways that you can progress your workouts that are applicable for the general population, right?

Just for the individual, who has their own workout, their own routine, right? The first one is increasing load. So, lift heavier, add some weight to the barbell, add some weight to the machine that you're using. So that's one weight to progress. And the second is increase volume. And so, volume technically includes load and includes the weight you're lifting.

But for the sakes of this conversation, let's just define that as sets and reps. Three sets of 10, four sets of 10, right? Those types of things. So those two avenues, are the easiest way for the individual to progress their strength training. We're still on strength training here, so you know, add weight or add volume, right?

Sets and reps, or do more work, right? Those are kind of the two easiest and most applicable ways that everyone can progress their own workouts. There's a lot more, I will say that there's a lot more in a lot more ways to progress your strength training programs and if you have a personal trainer or if you have a MetPro coach.

You know, we can get into the nitty gritty, time, under tension and works to ratios and more complex, ways to progress your program. But for, the individual who has their own workout doesn't have a personal trainer or MetPro coach. Adding load, adding volume, you're right.

Sets and reps are kind of the two easiest ways to progress your strengths training workout.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay. So then are there recommendations for how much you should add to be systematic?

Joe Brauer: Yeah, so, there are general guidelines and my philosophy is always err on the side of caution.

And you don't want to progress too quickly because that's when you know the risk of injury increases, right? So, for an example if you're waking up Monday morning and you have uh, call it a bench press, right? Three sets a 10 for 45 pounds. You're going to do the barbell three sets a 10, and you want to progress it next week, right?

You need to be really mindful, and this is where I might actually take a little different approach, Crystal, where understanding how much to progress really depends on the individual. Right? Okay. I mean, I can't get through a podcast without saying, it depends. At least once, you know.

Crystal OKeefe: Fair enough. Angelo would be proud.

Joe Brauer: Exactly. At least the minimum, right? I have to say it depends at least once, but for the sake of this example, right? If you're, if you wake up Monday morning, Right. You add three sets of 10, 45 pounds on the barbell or just the barbell itself, right? Bench press. You need to be really in tune with your recovery, and this is a different angle and a different approach that I want to explain because everybody is different, right?

Everybody can progress at different rates and at different times. And so the best way for you to tell how often and how much you should progress at the individual level is to really be in tune with your recovery and how that exercise stimulus, how that workout felt the last time you did it.

So, it's Monday, three sets, a 10 bench press. You have the barbell. You need to be aware and conscious of how is this workout feeling in the moment? Is it easy? Is it medium? Is it difficult? An hour after, the night after. The second day after. And the reason you need to be conscious of that is when next Monday rolls around and you have three sets of 10 with, you know, just the barbell 45 pounds.

You need to remember how that felt last week. Because if you were, so sore, so tired, you couldn't lift your arms above your head, it was super difficult. You'll remember that. So, when the second Monday rolls around, maybe you shouldn't progress, maybe. If anything, you should actually decrease.

If you felt that way the first time you did it, and the same goes for the flip side, right? If you did that three sets of 10 and it was super easy, it was a breeze, you were fine, right? The next time that workout comes around next week in your training program, okay, there's room to progress.

You remember how last week you did it and it was super easy. Right. And so, like I said, I always err on the side of caution. So maybe you throw five pounds on each side, and you do 55 pounds instead of 45 pounds, or, you do three sets of 12 instead of three sets of 10. And so, progressing in that way and err on the side of caution and using your recovery is your main driving tool to determine when is really smart and advantageous. If you don't have a personal trainer, if you don't have a MetPro coach, if you're all on your own. So that’s what I would recommend with how often.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay. Now that's strength. Tell me about cardio.

Joe Brauer: Mm-hmm. That was all strength.

Yeah, that was all strength. Okay. Let's talk about cardio. So I'm sure our marathon runners can attest, but you need an element of progressive overload in a cardio program to get stronger. Same way you need it for strength. Okay. And you know, if you have a 16 week marathon training program, you know that week one, in the base building beginning of the program looks a lot different than, week 10 in peak training.

Right. Or whatever it's, and so those programs, implement progressive overload to get you stronger, right? And prepared for the event. And so, there's really two ways to progress your cardio programs as well. It's not just running, this applies to the bike, this applies to the rower, right? And. Those two ways really the first being increase your distance.

So instead of running five miles, you run six, you run seven, pretty simple. Or increasing your speed. Okay? So, if you're running five miles at a 10 minute per mile pace, next week you run five miles at a nine 30, right? And five miles at a nine minute pace, right? And so, you can run that same distance, but just do it more quickly.

So those are the easiest or the two easiest. Tools that I recommend for progressing cardio programs is essentially distance and speed. And the same rules applied for the strength training as far as err on the side of caution. Be mindful with your recovery, and those sorts of things, but that’s what I would recommend for the cardio piece.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay. By the way, as the slowest runner on the planet. I feel like the progressions that you were saying for the speed, made me very jealous. I wish that I could progress like that with my speed. Oh, sure. Five miles, 10. Good example.

Joe Brauer: A strict example, for example, sake. Yeah. I mean, if one week you're going at a 10-minute pace and the next week you're going at a nine minute pace, that's, that's quick.

That's a very fast progression, let's just say that.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay. Okay. All right. And you've established, this is for all workouts, so it doesn't matter if you're doing HIT training, if you're doing any kind of cardio. Mm-hmm. Any kind of strength, this is what you do, whatever your primary goal is, whether that's strength or cardio of some type, should every workout be geared toward going harder than the last one, or should it be like every third one or every once a week like you said, or how do we know how often to do that?

Joe Brauer: Yeah, great question. Great question. So, here's my second. Inclusion of It depends because everybody's different. How often should you do it? Now you know, I hate to say it depends so many times, but this is where like I mentioned prior, being in tune with your recovery is pivotal. I said every week is an example.

That is a good base to start off with is see if you can progress every week, because, seven days ago you can usually remember how you felt after a given workout if you're doing the exact same one. But there's, I have clients that I have progressing their programs every two weeks, every month, even.

Every four weeks. And so it really depends on the individual, what program you're doing, and also how you felt throughout that program, and so that's where being in tune with your body and being in tune through recovery really comes into play because, like I mentioned, you'll remember if you were extremely sore from a workout the week before.

And so that is an indicator for you to possibly not progress if you couldn't make it through that previous workout. You know what I mean? Mm-hmm. So, you can use that recovery as a guide for you, I'd recommend. Once a week at the minimum. As far as progression goes, I don't think you should progress every day.

Uh, once a week at the minimum, if not longer. And once a week is really only if you were able to look back on that previous workout or that previous week and it was a breeze for you. Right. And everything was easy and you were able to crush it and you felt great. Right. Okay. Be in tune with your body I was able to do it.

I'm going to go a little bit harder this time, and it's not always linear. So that doesn't always mean that the next week, the third week, you'll be able to progress at the same rate or at the same, percentage of ratio as you did between week one and two. So, throughout your entire program, you have to be so conscious of your recovery, so conscious of how your body responds to that exercise stimulus to better be able to progress in the fashion that you feel is appropriate. If you have a personal trainer, if you have a MetPro coach, have that conversation with them, oh, I felt great. Your coach will ask you, Hey, how difficult was that workout? These types of things. And then you and your coach together, can you know, progress your workout at the cadence that you both seem as fit, necessary, et cetera.
So hopefully that makes sense. It's basically recovery. Again, I don't want to repeat myself, but you just really need to be in tune with that piece if you're by yourself because that's so pivotal in, in being safe, really.

Crystal OKeefe: It makes perfect sense. It does make me wonder. If there's like an ideal sense of soreness that you should look for when starting a program, because I know you shouldn't be sore every time you do a strength workout. And I'm specifically talking soreness for strength because, at least in my experience, you are not sore every time you do cardio.

Um, so I don't think that's how you should be judging your recovery for cardio, but your recovery for cardio. Tired and heavy feeling that heaviness. And, I'm just wondering if you, if you have any like general like guideposts that people can look for in regards to how, how recovery, how success their recovery.

Joe Brauer: Yeah. The extreme being strength, you could barely lift your arms above your head after you did that. Okay. That was probably a bit much. So maybe this time we need to back it off. So is there, a feeling of, that you can think of that people can look for that's like, I think I'm ready.

Crystal OKeefe: Besides, that was super easy. Is there another one? And maybe there isn't, I'm just asking.

Joe Brauer: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to say Crystal. It's really hard to say because everybody's so different. Yeah. So, it's, it's hard for me to say, if you feel this way, You can progress or you can continue because this way is so variable, right?

It's, it's so variable and that's why you really need to understand what if I feel this way feels for you. And you know when you wake up the next morning, if you're experiencing muscle soreness, you’ll be able to tell, if you have experience in exercise and training, you'll be able to compare that feeling with previous workouts, previous weeks, previous programs, et cetera.

And so there may often be times where you don't know, like you feel sore, but you're on the fence. Yeah, I could probably get this workout in, maybe I can, maybe it'll be tough. And you'll be able to be in tune with your body through that workout. Or through the warmup. Especially because I've had clients in personal workouts where in the morning I feel great and then I start the warmup and I'm like, whoa, yes.

No, not okay. Now that I'm actually moving my body, now the blood's flowing. There's no way I'm going to progress this workout with-

Crystal OKeefe: It's like all of a sudden your body's like, Nope, that's not happening today.

Joe Brauer: Exactly. Exactly. And so, it's always a bummer when that happens. Cause it's like you wake up, you feel great, and then you're like, all right, I'm going to crush this workout.

And then you start the warmup and you're like, No, I'm not. Yeah, I'm just going to get something in.

Crystal OKeefe: And conversely, there are so many times that you think, oh, I'm so tired. I'm just going to do a light workout today. And then you get going and somewhere some, somehow it comes out like this extra strength that you didn't know was there.

And at least for me with running and it's like, oh, I just got a pr. I have no idea where that came from.

Joe Brauer: Isn't that the best feeling ever? The other way around it is like when you get started with your warmup and you're just like, oh, this is amazing. This morning I felt sore, but okay, I'm going to crush this workout now.

Yeah. I just, I wish every morning and every workout could be on that side of the equation.

Crystal OKeefe: Yeah, yeah. Me too. It would be a lot more motivating and a lot easier too.

Joe Brauer: Yeah. Yeah, it's just so individualized. It's really hard for me to say.

If you feel this way, then you can progress. Right. I, I can't say that. I can't say that. That's, so, that's good.

Crystal OKeefe: I'm glad that you can say don't just go with one specific thing. I mean, if there isn't one specific thing mm-hmm. It's everybody's different.

Joe Brauer: That's a fair answer. Everybody's different.

Yeah. And so just being really conscious about that, and I mean, it's, it's so important, if you have a program that you looked up online or on YouTube or from a personal trainer, your goal is going to be to perform that program. Do that program as it's written out. You're not going to be able to every single workout.

Like we just discussed some Mornings you're just not going to be feeling it. And so, it's really important to start, at least if you haven't in the past, start to be really. Conscientious of, how your body feels and what muscle soreness feels like, and you'll be able to create a scale on your own of, oh man, I'm really sore.

Oh, I can do this. Oh, I feel great. Everybody's scale of muscle soreness is completely different. So, you know, if you haven't in the past, now is a good time to get to. Started of being conscious of how your body responds to exercise.
Crystal OKeefe: Okay, so let's say you've kind of gotten into a little bit of a rhythm.

You're trying this out. You're progressing like once a week. Mm-hmm. You feel pretty good. Do you know, is there like an easy way for somebody to say, this is working? Like, is there a way to track it and be like, yes, I am doing the progressive overload correctly?

Joe Brauer: Yes. Yes. I mean, yes, there is test and retest.

Simple as that. So, I can explain it a little bit. If you're doing progressive overload, so if you're, if you're working through a month-long program, for example, and you're adding weight, or you're adding sets and reps, or you're adding distance, or you're adding speed, you're adding one of these four concepts we went over, it will work.

It will work. And that's just how our bodies work. But sometimes you need to know it’s working right? Almost every time. You need to know it’s working. Now that I say that. You want to make sure you're getting stronger. And so, the best way to tell is to test and retest. So, find a program, find an exercise, routine or a fitness test.

There are millions online, our MetPro clients can attest. We've got over a dozen fitness tests that we put our clients through that assess, physical fitness and basically do that fitness test that you find at the beginning and make sure you know what it is. Write it down, write down the results from it, and then repeat it later after the program. And then you'll be able to compare. You can compare what your results were after you implemented that progressive overload in your program, and you can compare what they were at the beginning when you first started. Now I'm realizing a question that I would have as I'm answering your question, Crystal, is how often should you retest?

Crystal OKeefe: That is a great question. That is a fabulous question.

Joe Brauer: That's I'm answering this, I'm like, yeah, test and retest. I'm sure the next question people are going to have is, yeah, but when, so let me answer that. Um, you know, it, this varies, right? This varies. Now, I personally, like to test and retest every month, okay?

So about every four weeks I put myself through various fitness tests that , are applicable to the program that I did for that month. You want to make sure that the fitness tests accurately captures the style of training and the modality of training that you're doing so that your program is effective in that test specifically.

You know what I mean? You don't want to do a strength training fitness test and then run every day for a month. You need to make sure they're comparable. So, I personally do every month. I have clients that I put it a fitness test every two weeks.

I have some that I do every week, right? But I will say the shorter the timeline between fitness tests, the harder it's going to be to see improvement because you need to give your body time to rebuild and time to get stronger. So if you do a fitness test on Monday, and then that same fitness test on Wednesday you're probably going to have the same results.

That's not enough time to really implement this progressive overload concept and to get stronger. So, I'd recommend once a month, that's what I do personally, but that timeline is really up to the individual.

Crystal OKeefe: Okay. That's a great advice and I think a really good cadence. A lot of times when people are doing, fitness tests, they'll base it on whatever program they're doing too. So that's another way you can do it if you're doing, yeah, if you're doing a 12-week program, the monthly works out really nice because then you have three tests throughout that.

But if you have like a six-week program, maybe just wait till the end of the six weeks. So yeah, that's great point, great point. Is there anything that we haven't gone over about progressive overload that you want to make sure that listeners understand?

Joe Brauer: I don't think so. I mean, one, one point that I think is cool that we didn't touch on was.

The reason we need progressive overload is because our body adapts to the exercise stimulus. And I want to throw in this comparison to our metabolism. It's really fitting, right? So, the same way our metabolism adapts to our intake: our calories, carbs, protein, fat, what we eat affects our metabolism.

How we exercise affects our body. So our metabolism's job is to adapt to our intake. Our body's job is to adapt to the exercise stimulus that you put it under. And so we need progressive overload because if you do the same workout every single day or every week, as the weeks progress, your body's going to adapt to it.

Just like our metabolism adapts to our intake. So, we need to modify that program. We need to change something; we need to change that stimulus to continue to see further adaptation. So, I just wanted to throw in that little tidbit of, it's really cool how our metabolism adapts to our intake to find homeostasis.

Our body adapts to our exercise to find homeostasis. So, it's required. Progressive overload is required if we want to continue to get stronger, continue to, progress and get more fit. So, it's just a really cool concept that everyone should be doing.

Crystal OKeefe: I totally agree and, thank you so much for teaching us so much about it.

I really appreciate your time today, Joe. Listeners, that's all for this week. You can find all the MetPro Method episodes anywhere you get podcasts, or you can go to Please be sure to follow the show and rate and review lets other people know what they can expect from the show. you can also learn more about MetPro at

I'm your host, Crystal O'Keefe, and I'll be back next week. Until then, remember, consistency is key.

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