While it may be cliché, the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” is quite effective. It explains the idea that there is more than one way to get where you want to go in life. Whether it’s business, life, relationships, etc, many roads lead to the same destination. This goes for the concept of progressive overload as well. Simply put, progressive overload is the concept that as you get bigger and stronger, you require a greater stimulus and more work done to continue getting bigger and stronger. Makes sense, right? Most people think that you can only achieve progressive overload by increasing weight because that’s how you increase volume. It’s certainly one way; but as we mentioned above, it’s possible to find another way.
On some lifts, it’s difficult to add weight without sacrificing form. On others, your strength just may not be budging no matter how much weight you add, potentially leading to injury if you ignore the signs and try anyway. Here are some additional ways to progressively overload without increasing the weight.
Range of Motion
Are you a quarter-squatter? If so, you could seriously benefit from squatting deeper. While one may not think about it, increasing your range of motion can increase your training volume. You certainly will do more work (volume) if you squat deeper, bench down to your chest, calf raise with a long stretch at the bottom, etc. Increasing ROM can affect the weight you can lift safely and for the same number of reps, but the drop in weight isn’t as detrimental as the benefit of greater ROM.
Giving yourself an extra training day can open doors for training capacity. You only have so much in you at any given time before form starts to deteriorate and strength drops. If you spread out your volume, you can potentially perform those same sets with greater quality such as increased ROM as a result of less fatigue and trying to cut reps short (don’t lie, we all do it). In addition, you may be able to increase volume with more training days because you’re doing less work per day, lowering the degree of fatigue and thus allowing you to do more if desired.
Find time in your lifting days to reduce the amount of rest you take. I know for myself there are times when I sometimes look at my phone too long or stroll leisurely to the water fountain for a drink that I didn’t even need. Chances are you can save a couple of minutes if you monitor your rest periods closer, time yourself, or trim the fat like I mentioned. With those extra minutes, you could potentially knock out a few more sets of an exercise and progressively overload that way!
Super sets fall between rest period manipulation and special training methods (which is why I strategically placed it between the two sections). This is a great strategy to up the volume without adding weight to your workouts because it also saves you time. Instead of resting, pick an exercise that is unrelated to the current one you’re doing and perform them back to back with minimal rest. For example, you can superset calf raises with shoulder presses.
Doing supersets with single joint movements or cables and machines is preferable to compound lifts for the concern of safety. The potential cost of additional fatigue accumulated from another exercise while squatting is very high, while it’s very low for a leg press that is being done in tandem with a cable curl.
Special Training Methods
After you save time by lowering some of your rest periods, you can add a few more traditional sets of 10 or you can try some special protocols such as drop sets, cluster sets, negative repetitions, or partial reps aka “cheater” reps, etc. You can add some variety into those last few minutes and really push yourself with one of these techniques. Just remember that none of them are magic, they’re simply more volume.
Summing It Up
As mentioned above, there’s more than one way to get things done, including getting bigger and stronger! Sometimes increasing the weight just doesn’t make sense or isn’t feasible, so you must get creative. Fear not, because there are plenty of ways you can progressively overload without increasing weight even beyond these methods that I outlined! I hope this article has been informative and useful to you.