Weider´s training principles: The progressive overload principle

Training Plan

Table of Contents

Who´s Joe Weider?

Joe Weider (November 29, 1919 – March 23, 2013) was a Canadian bodybuilder and entrepreneur who co-founded the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) alongside his brother Ben. He was also the creator of Mr. Olympia, Ms. Olympia, and the Masters Olympia bodybuilding contests.
Joe Weider
 
Joe’s most indelible addition to the science and sport of bodybuilding is the Weider Principles. Over 30 theories and techniques that forever changed the means by which someone could build a strong, muscular body:
 
  1. Progressive Overload
  2. The Set System
  3. Isolation
  4. The muscle confusion principle
  5. Muscle Priority
  6. Pyramid Training
  7. Split-System
  8. Circulation
  9. Supersets
  10. Compound Sets
  11. Holistic Training
  12. Cycle Training
  13. Iso-Tension
  14. Cheating
  15. Tri-Sets
  16. Giant Sets
  17. Pre-Exhaustion
  18. The Rest-Pause Principle
  19. Peak Contraction
  20. Continuous Tension
  21. Retro-Gravity
  22. Intensive Reps
  23. Double-Split
  24. Triple-Split
  25. Partial Reps
  26. Burns Training
  27. Quality
  28. Descending Sets
  29. Instinctive
  30. Staggered Sets
  31. Superspeed
 
I think you will agree with me that trying to explain them all in a single post would be crazy, so we’ll start with the first one.
 
 

The progressive overload principle

Progressive overload is the idea that to increase any aspect of physical fitness (muscle mass, strength, stamina, etc.), your muscles need to be continually put under increased stress, you have to force your muscles to perform more work than they previously have. Simple, right?
 
Most beginners apply, knowingly or not, this principle. They start training by lifting little weight, progressively increasing it up to a point. Let’s say the typical skinny guy starts out lifting 40 pounds on the bench press. Week after week he adds 5-10 pounds until he lifts 80 pounds.
 
Sounds familiar? Can you relate to this example? Have you seen someone doing it? That´s the progressive overload principle, the core of all physical training, and forms a solid basis for successful training.
 
At a certain point, things get messy. This guy can´t lift more than 80 pounds. I reached my peak, he thinks. And start looking for other ways to progress like advanced training programs, revolutionary diet plans, magic pills… It´s ok, no judgment. We all have the right to explore whatever paths catch our attention.
 
The mistake here is to think that progress is exponential when it really is linear. The boy in our example soon manages to double the amount of weight he lifts (from 40 to 80 pounds) and hopes to double the weight he lifts again. But he gets frustrated because from 80 pounds onwards the progress is not as spectacular as at the beginning.
 
The green line represents exponential growth, the red line represents linear growth:
We usually expect spectacular, dramatic progress like the green line, but the truth is that physical progress works like the red line. With that said, be careful about over-complicating things.
 
So, how do we put this principle at work?

Applying the principle

We must change to the least one of the variables involved in the workout:

  1. Lifting more weight,
  2. performing more sets/reps, 
  3. increasing training frequency, and/or
  4. decrease your rest periods between sets.

Lifting more weight

Most pro bodybuilders speak wonders and encourage you to lift heavy, and so do I, but in due time. The word “heavy” means “difficult to lift or move” and this is a different weight to each person. Whatever is difficult to lift today for you, it will be easier to lift next month.

How do we lift heavier safely and effectively?

According to the Progressive Overload Principle, no matter what range of reps you work with, you should try to add some weight to the equation every week.

E.g. You perform 4 exercises on Mondays targeting a specific muscle group. The first day goes like this:

  1. Exercise #1: 50 pounds
  2. Exercise #2: 50 pounds
  3. Exercise #3: 50 pounds
  4. Exercise #4: 50 pounds

Next Monday you try:

  1. Exercise #1: 55 pounds
  2. Exercise #2: 50 pounds
  3. Exercise #3: 55 pounds
  4. Exercise #4: 50 pounds

The third Monday:

  1. Exercise #1: 55 pounds
  2. Exercise #2: 55 pounds
  3. Exercise #3: 55 pounds
  4. Exercise #4: 55 pounds

The fourth Monday:

  1. Exercise #1: 60 pounds
  2. Exercise #2: 55 pounds
  3. Exercise #3: 60 pounds
  4. Exercise #4: 55 pounds

As you see, you´re progressively adding more weight to each session, assuring continuous progress. Do not try to make big jumps, because you risk an injury. 

Performing more sets/reps

In the early years of bodybuilding, most experts believed that to increase muscle mass, we should only complete one set of each exercise.
 
Weider saw it differently. He was the first to recommend working out using several sets of one exercise (3-5 sets per exercise) to exhaust each muscle group and to stimulate maximum muscle growth.
 
My advice: start with three sets of each exercise and continue increasing the number of sets until you make five. This strategy will also help you increase your muscle strength gradually without obsessing with the weight you lift. 
 
You perform 3 sets, 12 reps with 50 pounds. That´s 50x12x3 = 1800
You perform 5 sets, 12 reps with 50 pounds. That´s 50x12x5 = 3000
Pretty nice progress, isn´t it? In a single exercise.
 
You can also go for more reps. If a set calls for 8 reps doesn’t mean you should stop at 8 if you are capable of doing more. In fact, with the same weight, it is normal that you can do more repetitions after a few workouts. On the other hand, If you can do more reps than prescribed, it may be time to increase the weight on that exercise.

Increasing training frequency

Manipulating frequency while regulating volume is another way of progress.

If you were to train, for example, your legs once per week, that´s 52 times per year. If you were to train your legs twice per week you would have 104 times per year. Don´t forget that it´s not only to double the frequency but to adjust the volume. How do we do that?

FrequencyMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridayTotal Sets
1 x per weekLeg (16 sets)    16
2 x per weekLeg (8 sets)  Leg (8 sets) 16

The total volume is the same at the end of the week but the number of stimuli per week is different. 

Several factors must be considered: available days per week, time available each day, personal stress levels, etc.

Decrease your rest periods between sets

This is the most tricky variable to play with. Rest time between sets. The best amount of rest between sets depends on what specific goal you’re training for. So, if you change your rest time drastically, you could totally miss your goal.

  1. To get stronger, the rest period is 3 to 5 minutes between sets.
  2. To get bigger, the rest period is 1 to 2 minutes between sets.
  3. To increase muscular endurance, the rest period is 45 seconds to 2 minutes between sets.

With these ranges in mind, you can vary rest periods between sets, as long as you keep your resting in the right range for your goal. Meaning, if your goal is to get stronger, you shouldn´t rest for less than 3 minutes. If your goal is to get bigger, don´t go for less than 2 minutes.

Conclusion

The Progressive Overload Principle is a basic, easy, yet effective way to constantly progress to a greater physique. It allows you to experiment with different training variables such as weight, set, reps, and rest time, and see which ones work best for you.

You will need some time (we are talking about several months) to be able to test everything that this principle has to offer you. For no means I say this to discourage you, on the contrary, I´m trying to tell you that this principle opens you to a universe of opportunities ahead.

It’s up to you to challenge yourself in each training session and go one step further, one repetition further, one set further … Well, you get the idea.

If you think that I have left something behind, or you want a further explanation, let me know in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Weider´s training principles: The progressive overload principle”

    1. Wow! You always surprise me, Jolie 😃 I’d bet you had to do a lot of sacrifices to help and support your ex back in the day. There should be prizes for bodybuilder’s family and friends, not just for the competitors, right? 😉
      Big hugs!

      1. Actually, he did that some time after we split up. He had been an alcoholic, teaching our girls how to pour a mug of beer without a head and up until then refused to acknowledge he had a problem. After the split, he realized he had to do something, so he redirected his focus. It’s too bad it took our split and that of his next marriage for him do do something. Now, he rides his bike all over the world as well. I’m happy he finally took care of himself.

      2. So sad he needed a divorce to realize he had to change. He lost a great woman!
        Now, if you´re happy, it´s all that matters ;)
        Big hugs!

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Lower Back

The Erector Spinae is not just one muscle, but a bundle of muscles and tendons. Paired, they run more or less vertically. It extends throughout the lumbar, thoracic and cervical regions, and lies in the groove to the side of the vertebral column.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi is the larger, flat, dorsolateral muscle on the trunk, posterior to the arm, and partly covered by the trapezius on its median dorsal region.

Deltoids

The Deltoid muscle is the muscle forming the rounded contour of the shoulder. It is divided into three portions, anterior, lateral and posterior, with the fibers having different roles due to their orientation.

Infraspinatus

The Infraspinatus muscle is one of the four rotator cuff muscles crossing the shoulder joint and is commonly injured. It is the main external rotator of the shoulder joint.

Biceps

The Biceps brachii is  actually two separate bundles of muscles (heads). The two heads of the Biceps vary in length and as a result, are called the Short and the Long Biceps heads.

Triceps

The Triceps Brachii muscles  have three muscle heads: Lateral, Medial and Long head. Primarily responsible for the extension of the elbow joint. The lateral head is used for movements requiring occasional high-intensity force, while the medial fascicle enables more precise, low-force movements.

Forearm
(Anterior muscles)

The Pronator teres pronates the forearm, turning the hand posteriorly. If the elbow is flexed to a right angle, then pronator teres will turn the hand so that the palm faces inferiorly. It is assisted in this action by pronator quadratus.

Forearm
(Posterior muscles)

The Extensor Digitorum muscle helps in the movements of the wrists and the elbows. It extends the phalanges, then the wrist, and finally the elbow. It acts principally on the proximal phalanges. It tends to separate the fingers as it extends them.

Pecs

The pectoralis major makes up the bulk of the chest muscles in the male and lies under the breast in the female.

The pectoralis minor is a thin, triangular muscle, situated at the upper part of the chest, beneath the pectoralis major. 

Abs

The Rectus Abdominis is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles. It is this muscle which forms the six-pack shape! It is a paired muscle running vertically on each side of the anterior wall of the abdomen. There are two parallel muscles, separated by a midline band of connective tissue called the linea alba.

Obliques

The External Oblique is situated on the lateral and anterior parts of the abdomen. It is broad, thin, and irregularly quadrilateral. It is the largest and the most superficial (outermost) of the three flat muscles of the lateral anterior abdomen. 

Glutes

The gluteal muscles are a group of three muscles which make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The three muscles originate from the ilium and sacrum and insert on the femur. The functions of the muscles include extension, abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation of the hip joint.

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Quadriceps

The Quadriceps Femoris is the knee extensor muscle.  As a group, the quadriceps femoris is crucial in walking, running, jumping and squatting. It´s subdivided into four separate “heads”.

Hamstrings

A hamstring is any one of the three posterior thigh muscles in between the hip and the knee (from medial to lateral: semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris). The hamstrings are quite susceptible to injury.

Lower Leg

The gastrocnemius and the soleus form what we know as calf. They are involved in activities such as walking, running, jumping… 

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Trapezius

The trapezius is a broad, flat and triangular muscle. The muscles on each side form a trapezoid shape. It is the most superficial of all the back muscles.

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