5 Ways to Program Progressive Overload for Clients without Adding Weight

The method of designing a shopper’s health program can really feel just a little like constructing with Legos.

Each brick you ultimately determine so as to add to the challenge must account on your shopper’s occupation, distinctive life-style points, present health degree, and even particular person preferences and tendencies when figuring out, amongst different elements.

That’s why each shopper’s “completed constructing challenge” (i.e., personalized coaching plan) is exclusive.

However regardless of how totally different a shopper could also be from the subsequent, you’d discover that there’s one constructing block you should use—no exceptions.

Are you aware what that’s?

It’s progressive overload. In different phrases, the power and conditioning precept that states we have to improve the calls for on the neuromuscular techniques over time to create and maintain physiological diversifications from resistance coaching. 

And opposite to widespread perception, progressive overload isn’t nearly including weights.

This text outlines 5 methods you possibly can preserve your shoppers progressing—with out resorting to heavier dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells. 


Have Your Consumer Carry out Extra Reps

Let’s say your shopper is deadlifting 235 kilos. Including 22 kilos to the barbell is only a 9% improve in weight—and, generally, your shopper would be capable of deal with the load.

Nonetheless, in relation to isolation workout routines (e.g., bicep curls, triceps pushdowns, lateral raises), implementing the identical diploma of improve is not possible. Having your shopper go from 10- to 15-pound dumbbells on these entails a whopping 50% bounce in load.

There’s no approach your shopper would be capable of carry out the train with correct type and method. If in any respect.

So, how do you get your shopper to progressive overload on this case?

Ask them to get one other rep (or two) with the identical load. For instance, say your shopper is performing the dumbbell lateral raises with 10 kilos for 10 reps. As an alternative of handing over a heavier dumbbell the next week, get them to carry out 12 reps with the 10-pound weights.

You will know it is time to (lastly) improve the load when your shopper can carry out anyplace between 15 to twenty reps—with nothing lower than good type—on all their working units. 

Program Shorter Relaxation Durations

Get your shopper to work tougher throughout their periods by slicing down on their inter-set relaxation durations.

This forces your shopper’s muscle groups to work “additional time,” considerably rising metabolic stress—certainly one of three key contributing elements to muscle hypertrophy (the opposite two being mechanical rigidity and muscle harm).

There’s an vital disclaimer right here, although.

Don’t be over-enthusiastic about lowering your shopper’s relaxation occasions. Doing so can harm their total coaching quantity—since they’d be battling a excessive degree of accrued fatigue throughout their working units—and make them concern turning up for his or her periods!

However this begs the query: Simply how a lot can you narrow your shopper’s relaxation occasions by?

That will depend on the kind of workout routines they’re doing. Right here’s a basic guideline that will help you determine:

  • Single-joint workout routines: 2 minutes
  • Compound workout routines: Not less than 3 minutes

Normally, you possibly can afford to be just a little extra “beneficiant” together with your shopper’s relaxation durations on compound actions. Whereas extreme fatigue and the ensuing form-breakdown are unlikely to trigger severe accidents on the lateral raises, the identical can’t be stated for deadlifts or squats.

Change Up Your Consumer’s Train Tempo

Get your shopper to carry to a set tempo.

That is notably helpful for shoppers who like to “cheat” and bounce out of the underside positions of their lifts (e.g., squats and bench press) as a result of tempo coaching is all about transferring slowly and underneath management—which will increase time underneath rigidity (TUT).

TUT refers back to the period of time a working muscle is held underneath rigidity throughout an train set.

In different phrases, rising your shopper’s TUT raises the calls for you’re putting on their muscle groups. And that’s primarily the crux of progressive overload. As soon as once more, although, don’t take this technique of progressive overload to the acute.

There’s sometimes no must have your shopper carry out any section of any motion for greater than 10 seconds.

Along with being an disagreeable expertise total, having your shopper decrease themselves for 12 seconds on a pull-up solely hurts their coaching quantity and reduces the effectiveness of their exercises (in the event that they’re even capable of do it within the first place).

Enhance Your Consumer’s Vary of Movement

Take note of how your shopper is performing every train. Are they struggling to hit a full vary of movement (ROM)?

If they’re, then enhancing your shopper’s ROM is likely one of the best methods to assist your shopper progressively overload with out including weight.

For example, let’s assume your shopper can’t go deep sufficient (i.e., greater than a 90-degree bend within the knees) on the leg press due to overly tight hip flexors and restricted ankle mobility.

They’re solely transferring the load, say, 40 cm on the leg press machine.

Now, think about that you simply then have your shopper stretch out their hip flexors (with one thing just like the lunge stretch) and work on their ankle mobility (with one thing just like the knee-to-wall drill or weighted ankle stretch). 

What occurs? Due to improved mobility, they’re capable of—on the very least—hit a 90-degree bend of their knees on the backside place.

So, as an alternative of solely transferring the load 40 cm, they’ve now elevated the “efficient working distance” to 50 cm on the machine. And that is primarily progressive overloading: getting your shopper’s muscle groups to work tougher over time.

Additionally, typically, all of your shopper wants is a cue to make use of a full vary of movement on their actions.

As an example, with an train like bicep curls, you possibly can say one thing like, “Be sure you decrease the dumbbells again to the beginning place earlier than beginning on one other rep.” 

Preserve Coaching Quantity Whilst Your Consumer Loses Weight

In case your shopper has been sticking to the weight reduction exercise plan you’ve created, likelihood is they’ve misplaced weight. Congratulations!

Right here’s one thing value remembering in regards to the course of: When your shopper loses weight, they’d inevitably lose a proportion of muscle mass together with fats—even when they’re nonetheless coaching exhausting and holding their protein consumption excessive.

Do you know that having your shopper carry out their exercises with the identical workout routines, together with units and rep ranges, now may also be thought of progressive overload?

Let’s assume that your shopper had a lean mass of 88 kilos once they began coaching with you. They have been capable of squat 220 kilos. After three months in your exercise plan, their lean mass now is available in at 77 kilos as an alternative. And guess what?

They’re nonetheless capable of squat 220 kilos for a similar variety of units and reps as earlier than.

However wait. How’s that progressive overload? It is all obtained to do with relativity. A easy approach to consider it might be with the “load lifted to lean mass ratio.” Let’s calculate the ratios collectively:

  •  Earlier than your shopper misplaced weight: 220/88 = 2.5
  • After your shopper misplaced weight: 220/77 = 2.86

There you’ve got it: As a result of there’s much less lean muscle mass to “shoulder the burden,” your shopper’s muscle groups should work tougher now!


As you possibly can see, there are a lot of methods to attain progressive overload with out rising weights.

That’s why it’s so vital to undertake a holistic view of your shopper’s coaching—doing so lets you determine on probably the most appropriate method that’ll get your shopper the outcomes they’re looking for.

Simply keep in mind this: Progressive overload (with or with out extra weights) ought to solely be executed on the muse of correct lifting type and good method.

There’s little level in putting extra calls for in your shopper’s muscle groups only for the sake of it. You’d be dishonest your self, shortchanging your shopper, and, worse, placing them at elevated threat of accidents.  


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