‘Progressive Overload’ Is Strength Training’s Best-Kept Secret for Spicing Things up at the Gym

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While spicing things up in the bedroom is a (kind of cringe-worthy) turn of phrase you might hear every so often, people rarely talk about spicing things up at the gym. When your business as usual circuit of burpees, bird-dogs, and deadlifts becomes as tired as your weeknight dinner, a spark of sweaty creativity is all you need to save yourself from exercise fatigue. Friends, allow me to introduce you to progressive overload.

Increasing weight isn't the sole way to get swole with your workouts. Instead, you can continue to exercise your musculoskeletal system with near-infinite means of resistance.

"I'm a fan of progressive overload, which goes beyond just, 'Hey, let me add weight.' It can take the form of shortening the rest [between sets], adding more volume, or adding more reps," says Maillard Howell, owner of Dean CrossFit and founder of The Beta Way. He calls making these subtle tweaks "changing the stimulus" of your exercise regimens, and once you get the knack for it, you'll be game-ifying the weight room like it's your job.

First thing's first: Make sure you lay a solid foundation. "Stick with one version for at least three to four weeks then start changing the stimulus," says Howell. "Start with sets of 10 and then when that gets easy, start throwing in more and more changes." Then, as the age-old sweat gains mantra goes, make sure you're confusing your body whenever you get a chance.

3 ways to use progressive overload to spice things up at the gym

1. Slowly raise the height on of your box jump. Or, if you're performing something like a pistol squat, Howell recommends boxes or a benches at various heights to shorten or lengthen your range of motion. The shorter the box, the more challenging the exercise.

2. While trainers agree that you should seldom repeat the same workout twice in a row, you can double-down on a single muscle group as a form of overload. Honing in on one group without taking much rest can help you build up a particular muscle group more quickly, according to trainer Chris Goulet. Just make sure you’re only using this is a short-term strategy.

3. Take shorter breaks between sets. Goulet explains that your body is forced to become more metabolically efficient when you cut down your pauses between, say, push-ups and rows. So if you're normally in the 30-second camp, try working your way down to 20, 15, 10, and so on.

Now let's talk cardio. Here's how to make your run a 5-4-3-2-1, and the bras that will support DD+ boobs at pilates, CrossFit, HIIT, and more. 

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