🤫 Progressive Overload and Heresy

If you looked fitter than average, you were strong for everyday life, and your workouts were challenging enough to keep you fired up about them, would you worry about not including some ongoing benchmark in your fitness that everyone says you must pursue?

I ask because I don’t care about progressive overload. I’m not writing this to be provocative or edgy; just wanting see who else might be on the same page… or if I’m crazy and totally alone.

Of course, during some workouts I use more weight than usual, but it’s based on tension and fatigue, and it’s not always predictable from month to month.

(The further this goes the more it feels like a confession. Forgive me fathers for I have sinned.)

The funny thing is, sometimes the working weight I use on barbell lifts is what other serious female lifters would consider a warm-up weight. But as long as I feel challenged, and my workouts are consistent, I’m not going to worry about what other women are doing.

And if you’re another woman who sees me and feels good about herself in comparison, cool! Glad I could help you feel like a rockstar — because you are one. But your goals aren’t mine.

“Won’t you explode into a puddle of fat or become weak if you’re not progressively going heavier?!”

I haven’t yet. And my eating is really laid back; it’s just low in crap food and high in protein. In fact, I’ve dodged the obesity and binge eating that plagued my family as a kid. My sister dodged it by developing an eating disorder that killed her. So, if anyone has the risk of exploding or imploding, it’s me.

And so far, the way I train — even if it’s not considered hardcore — hasn’t caused any physical problems or emotional strife. Quite the opposite.

So if I’ve found a way to maintain a healthy body comp and a decent amount of strength, I’ve already won. Yet, I often feel discouraged by fitness experts who have strong opinions about how to lift and how not to lift.

Oddly enough, I can’t help but notice that some of the strongest men, and greatest proponents of progressive overload, often look pregnant. That doesn’t seem healthy. We know how waist circumference is associated with disease.

This leads to another question: Have we lost sight of what really matters with resistance training? You know, fighting the aging process and muscle loss, feeling good on a daily basis, being able to move your body around more easily, looking like someone who won’t easily be a victim, and heck, standing out as a fit person in public places. I think so.

It just seems like those are easily accomplished by consistently challenging the body, and challenging the body doesn’t have to be based on a percentage of your 1RM.

Things that are challenging include spending time under tension, getting a mind-muscle connection that causes a burning pain and pump, combining exercises in a way that creates metabolic fatigue, or yes… using more weight than you did last time. But that last thing has become so anal for people who aren’t competitive powerlifters.

“You’re missing out if you’re not getting stronger.”

Sure. I’m not getting stronger on the specific lifts someone else deems most important. Nor am I getting stronger in the one to three rep range. Avert your eyes because there’s even more heresy to come:

Even if it means I’m not getting stronger in general, no biggie.

Maybe in the future that’ll change. But once you’re strong enough to do whatever you need for optimal living, and you’re cool with the way your body moves, looks, and feels, you’re probably not going to suffer any huge consequences of weakness.

Yes, more strength would be super cool. I could post videos showing how strong I am and maybe even compete to win some kind of thingamabob. This is only halfway facetious because I love validation just as much as anyone else. But you can improve your life with weight training on a consistent basis without making every workout harder than the last.

Being stronger than 82% (or more) of the population, which doesn’t lift regularly, is pretty cool. If you achieve or surpass that level of fitness and maintain it for several years, then improvising in the gym based on how you feel shouldn’t be crazy. Yet we’re constantly hearing and preaching the “gospel” of progressive overload without thinking twice about it.

So feel free to tell me how wrong I am. But also, feel free to see if your workouts are really improving your life, or if you’re striving toward something sort of arbitrary.

Look how terrible my body is without focusing on progressive overload. Yuck!


Just a short note so I can be first…
I’d argue there’s two points here:

  1. What is progressive overload? You’re certainly progressing by increasing your challenge, and you listed myriad methods.
  2. Maintenance is a valid goal. As you mentioned, staying fit is actually beating the aging game.
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Great question, and I’m glad you see progress as more than just plates on the bar. However, I’d say that there’s virtually no measurable progress because my workouts are what coaches warn against: randomness.

Sure, it’s mostly the same exercises, but sometimes in a different order, or with different set and rep schemes, different tempos, and different loading much of the time. So the challenge is there regardless, but there are times when I can say for sure that I hit far more reps on something last month, or that I used far more weight on something last year.

I know that coaches are super smart, but I’m just not seeing the drawbacks in doing what they say not to do.

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If I’m being honest there’s a range in body composition and a range in strength. These things fluctuate during the year, but not to the point that I feel the need to revamp everything.

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I actually have a post in the works on this. Instead of “progressive overload”, I focus on “progressive overCOME”

My training is looney tunes. I come up with a lot of my workouts while putting on my shoes TO workout. Often, things change in the middle of a workout. ALL I focus on it making sure that, IN that work, I am struggling and straining as hard as I possibly can.

I know that, if I do THAT, I will grow. And in that growth, my ability to overcome will improve, which will give me an ability to exert an even greater effort the next time,and the cycle perpetuates.


I think we are on the same page! YOU GET ME! :joy:


Most of the people I see in the gym are lifting the same weight as they did last year. But they work out regularly, look great, and are healthy and happy. Overall, I fully support your opinion on these matters. Lately I’ve been getting bored with this constant repeat: eat and gain weight. And by the time a man realizes his ass is so big he can’t even jump over the fence.
The majority of ladies would certainly envy your vision, which is why the progressive overload obviously did not affect the case.
Whoever wants to become very big and very strong, let him pursue it and constantly overload himself progressively. I mean specifically to pursue more and more weight. Still others will bet on another type of progressive overload.

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That’s interesting! I’ve been surprised to find that the standouts at the gym are people who don’t keep up with the latest research, they often don’t know the names of the exercises they’re doing, and they aren’t following a super strict plan. They kind of just experiment.

Ha! Well, getting bored with something is the first step in changing it. For the record, I love and appreciate strong men whether they’ve got a little extra padding or not.

We have lifting belts so people know we are powerlifters, not just regular fat guys.


You could never look like a regular fat guy! (Or fat for that matter.) :joy::muscle:

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Regular fat guys don’t carry gummy bears around with them :+1:

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I’ve definitely been fat in the pursuit of strength haha. I guess that isn’t as important to me anymore.

I spend more time doing LISS and a bit less time lifting, because as you said in the first post, there is a big benefit to being / staying in shape. It might mean I don’t lift quite as much, but the tradeoff of looking fit, and not being winded tying my shoes is worth it lol.

My gym it seems to be sour patch kids that are eaten in between sets of 1-3 reps haha.


Well that’s pretty funny. Especially if they pull them out of a fanny pack.


Hoho Dani. I’m one of those people too, I just do exercises for years with almost the same weights and feel good. In the eyes of the majority, I must look lazy and frivolous, even though for the last 6 years I have, at most, at least three visits to the gym a week. Sometimes I’ll decrease the rest, other times I’ll increase the sets or reps, then change the intensity. For me, the main thing is to exercise regularly. This makes me feel good and I haven’t had any problems during training. And to those whose desire is to constantly become stronger /which is great if it makes them happy/ I wish them success.

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This is a really good point about tradeoffs and it’s something I think about a lot. No matter what goal we start going after, there’s always some form of sacrifice. To me, meticulously tracking numbers every week is a sacrifice I’m too lazy to make. But I truly admire those who do!

On the topic of sacrifices, I notice a lot of super fit people get mad when a new lifter says something like, “I’m not trying to be a bodybuilder, I just want to get fit.”

And then they get mocked with some kind of statement like, “Don’t worry, you never will be… blah blah blah.” And I think we all first heard of an interaction like this happening with Arnold Schwarzenegger. There might even be a meme on it somewhere.

But what the person was really trying to say was, I know you sacrificed a lot to get where you are, but I’m not prepared to make those tradeoffs. But I AM prepared to make whatever tradeoffs are necessary for me to be a little better than I am right now.

That miscommunication has always bugged me and I see it sometimes on social media.

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You are my kind of people. I’m impressed by those who keep showing up and getting to work.

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I don’t know how things are in the US, I’m not American, but I guess it’s like that all over the world. Although here in the forum and the internet we see many people around 40-50-60 years of age who do sports with weights, in practice they are a very small % of the population. I personally don’t have a single friend or office colleague or neighbor who is around my age and does weight training.

That’s wild! Many of the friends I’ve made in the gym are in their late 70s.

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I’ve always said it’s not our business to tell anyone what his/ her goals should be. If you really have a goal, though, you don’t often get there by doing what you want. That’s where I think your point about knowing what sacrifices you’re willing to make is huge.

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For this reason, I have not entered the main forum visited by my country for more than half a year. There, if you do not train for strength and you have not achieved acceptable /for acceptable read below/ achievements, it is clear that you are not training at all. Which is why you don’t have any serious authority over others. It doesn’t matter at all if you really make an effort and regularly visit the gym. And it doesn’t matter what you look like. They laugh at you if you look like a bodybuilder /and you are a younger man/, weigh about 200 pounds, and call yourself a workout guy, but still can’t Deadlift over 400-420 or Squat at least 380-400.

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