Progressive Overload: Training for Growth

    How to progressively OVERLOAD with minimal equipment 

    Progressive overload is one of the most important components of training. It is also most people’s biggest worry when they have to train from home. So, how can you progressively overload with minimal equipment? 

    First of all though, what does progressive overload actually mean?

    Bret Contreras, aka ‘the Glute Guy’, describes progressive overload as doing more over time. This can be done by adding weight to a lift, performing more reps and/or having more productive training sessions. 

    However there are more ways that you can do this at home. 


    If you’re just starting out with your fitness journey, progressive overload can be done through form. For example, you might need to start with box squats, where you’re only lowering about eight inches before your bum touches the box, but as you progress you can eventually take the box away until you’re doing a bodyweight squat with full depth. While to some this kind of change might not be enough, to others this kind of progressive overload is enough to add a lot of strength. 

    And, most importantly, good form is imperative inside and outside of the gym!


    Resistance bands are a great way to add more resistance to our lifts, which can be done in a variety of different ways. For example, in a hip thrust, you can add a long resistance band to each side of the barbell. While the actual weight on the bar will stay the same there will be more resistance for you to pull against. The same can be done in a bench press as well. 

    You can also add a short resistance band above your knees in a hip thrust. This will target your abductor muscles more at the top of the hip thrust because your knees will be pushing outwards against the force of the resistance band. 

    You can also gradually increase how heavy the band weight is, the same as what you would in the gym with weights. 


    This is one of the easiest ways to carry out progressive overload, and can be done in a variety of ways. Range of Motion (ROM) is simply the range you have when doing a movement. So, from going to a box squat to your bum being nearly on the floor in a squat. 

    For example, to progressively overload a Romanian Deadlift with ROM you could stand on a plate on a block. This added height will allow you to stretch further from your hamstrings and the greater stretch will make the movement harder. 


    Tempo is a great tool for home and gym based workouts. Tempo can mean slowing down your reps or speeding them up. By slowing down the reps you add more tension to the muscle so if your normal squat looks like: 1 second eccentric, 1 second pause at the bottom and then 1 second to explode back up, try a tempo of 3 second eccentric. 1 second pause and then 1 second to explode back up. As you progress you can add a longer pause or a longer eccentric movement. 

    As far as moving quicker, it takes more effort to move the same load quicker. So if you normally do a back squat of 40kg but you do it slowly, its going to be a lot harder to speed it up and keep the form good. 


    Changing your rest time is one of the easiest ways you can progressively overload. Say if you normally have a 3 minute rest period in between sets, drop it down to 2:30, and then then in a couple weeks down to 2 minutes. While this might not seem like a very big change, it’s something that makes a big difference to the intensity of your workout. 


    Adding more reps into your workout is also a great way to progressively overload. Even when you have the option to add more weight adding reps can be a great and safe way to progressively overload. 

    Setting a rep range goal is a really good way to do this as well. So you could set the goal of 8 to 12 reps, and each week try and squeeze one more rep at a time in. This is good as well because sometimes it’s the 9th or 11th rep that you start to fail on, rather than the 8th, 10th or 12th. 


    Changing your programme up to add in news exercises is also a great way to progressively overload. If you’re new to an exercise you’re going to need to take some time to learn the correct form and make sure the correct muscles are activated. 

    Here are a few good swaps: 

    Barbell Back Squat = Barbell Front Squat (add tempo to make this even harder)

    Romanian Deadlift = Good Morning 

    Hip Thrust = Barbell Glute Bridges 

    You could also add in newer exercises such as the American deadlift, which is a more glute focused deadlift variation that does not involve fully extending your hamstrings and is instead more of a hip extension movement rather than a hip hinge, like most deadlift variations. 


    Another great way to progress is adding unilateral movements in. While they can make your workout more time consuming they are a great way to add some extra stress to a muscle. Mastering the form of some of these exercises can be a challenge in itself as well. 

    Here are some great unilateral exercises to incorporate: 

    • B-stance hip thrust: Have your legs in a staggered stance, so one foot is parallel and the other is slighting more in front of you so that only your heel is on the ground. While this uses both sides of your glutes, one side will be recruited from more, making it more challenging. 
    • B-stance Roamnian Deadlifts: Similarly to the hip thrust variation, you want to keep a staggered stance, but make sure the leg with the flat foot is primarily being recruited from.
    • Bulgarian split squats: Easily one of the hardest movements, even as a bodyweight exercise. A great quad and glute developer, depending on your stance. 

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    About the Author

    Charlotte Wilson
    Charlotte Wilson
    My name is Charlotte Wilson and I am a writer specialising in fitness and nutrition. I am extremely passionate about both of these things due to personal experiences. I have had a significant weight loss journey which also helped me to build a healthy relationship with food and exercise, which is something I now aim to share through my writing. I want my articles to help others build a healthy relationship with food and exercise and step away from yoyo dieting, diet fads and unsustainable exercise. I am a big believer in eating food to fuel you that you enjoy, but making sure it is still nutritious, and doing exercise that makes you feel good physically and mentally.

    asante Wellbeing does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or on our branded channels is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. You should always consult a medical professional who can advise you on your own circumstances.


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