Subjective Success and the Importance of Progressive Overload

by Dylan Falduto

subjective_success_and_the_importance_of_progressive_overloadLife is about fulfillment. While personal goals, interests, and experiences are going to vary from individual to individual, it is safe to say that we all want to be the best at whatever it is we are doing. While perfection is unattainable in life, as human beings we do have the ability to constantly improve, and this onward progression is imperative to a higher quality of life. In terms of athletics, the philosophy of progressive overload can ensure that we are constantly progressing and improving as athletes and as individuals.

The term progressive overload was first coined by Thomas Delorme, M.D. Delorme used the term to describe a program he implemented for rehabilitating soldiers returning home from the second World War. Delorme set up his system by determining the ten-repetition maximum lifts of soldiers for given muscles, and from there he established three progressively heavier sets for them to work up to performing—allowing the injured men to gradually progress their strength every session. The soldiers were not only able to rehab their battle-scarred bodies, but they came out with new levels of physical strength and endurance as well. Delorme’s system of progressive overload would revolutionize the world of physical therapy, and leave an indelible influence in the developing field of resistance training.

Simply put, progressive overload is the measured improvement of any athletic quality from one training session to the next. Strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, mental focus, and technical skills are all qualities that can and should be improved upon each and every training session

Even if your goal is simply to maintain your current level of health, it is still very important to not merely “go through the motions” of your workout. The mind is the most important muscle in the body, and it should be engaged every time we exercise. No training session should be without a purpose, and it is important to regularly set short and long term goals in order to progress in and out of the gym.

Subjective Success

improve_flexibility_and_strength_imageWhile it is important to look at the success of others for inspiration, we only have one life to live and that is our own. I commonly see people becoming discouraged with their fitness goals because they are not in as good of shape as someone they are emulating, or they are not seeing results fast enough. This negativity is never going to help these individuals reach their goals. Rather than getting hung up on other people’s success, we need to learn to gauge our own success on personal progression. By monitoring our own progress from workout to workout we can accurately assess where we are improving athletically and were we need to pick up the slack; we are always capable of progressing so long as we push ourselves beyond our previous limits.

Whether you are looking to become faster, stronger, more flexible, improve upon technical skills, or simply exercise to feel good, it is important to assess your physical and mental abilities and improve them from week to week. The human body is constantly looking for a homeostasis. It will adjust accordingly to what is demanded of it. It is only by progressively demanding more of ourselves that we can reach greater physical heights and improve our overall quality of life. Whether this means being able to stretch further, punch harder, or think more clearly (or all three!), it is important to increase this output constantly.

A good means of assessing this progress is by logging workouts, and looking to improve upon a given quality week to week. After each training session, log the specifics of every facet of training. This will vary depending on the type of training you are performing, but some good variables to keep in mind for recording are mental focus, repetitions performed, the amount of rest between sets of exercises or rounds, how you are feeling overall physically, and how you are recovering.

Regularly setting goals is very important. Every few weeks assess your numbers in the gym, and look for an area, or several areas you wish to improve. This could mean adding a few pounds to a compound weight lifting exercise every week, improving your stamina, or beating your previous best run.

athletic_capacities_can_improve_simultaneously_imageIf you are putting in the work, multiple athletic capacities will often improve simultaneously. For example, if a boxer is able to throw forty-five punches in a minute during a training session, and the next week she is able to throw forty-seven, she has increased her level of speed—accomplishing progressive overload. The next week she may still only be able to throw forty seven punches, but has since improved upon her pacing, and is now only resting for forty five seconds between rounds instead of a full minute—improving her cardiovascular conditioning, another form of progressive overload.

As you move forward with your fitness goals this summer continuously engage your mind. Believing is seeing, and it is only by putting yourself in the mindset of success that you can work through your previous limitations and overload yourself to greater heights. But don’t take it from me. It’s all about you.


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