How to Force Muscle Growth – 5 Proven Progressive Overload Strategies You Need to Try

Want to pack on muscle and strength? The secret is progressive overload, but there’s more to it than just adding weight to the bar.

Recent research reveals surprising findings about the effectiveness of different strategies, and you might be surprised which methods work best for your goals.

This guide unlocks the science of progressive overload, providing five proven strategies to force your muscles to grow. Stop guessing and start gaining – your stronger, more muscular physique awaits.


Progressive overload is a fundamental principle in strength training and hypertrophy. It involves gradually increasing the demands placed on the muscles to stimulate growth and strength gains. 

A recent study by Chaves et al. has provided new insights into how different progressive overload strategies compare in their effectiveness. This article delves into their findings and explores when to use specific progressive overload strategies.

Key Findings

Chaves et al. conducted a study with 39 untrained men and women who performed unilateral leg extensions over 10 weeks. 

Participants increased the load lifted on one leg and the number of reps on the other leg. Both methods resulted in significant increases in leg extension 1RM and vastus lateralis cross-sectional area. 

There were no significant differences in strength and hypertrophy gains between the two methods.

Study Comparisons

The Chaves et al. study aligns with previous research, such as the study by Plotkin et al., which also compared load and rep progression. Both studies found that progressive overload, whether through increasing load or reps, led to similar improvements in muscle size and strength. However, subtle differences in methodology and subject training status could influence the outcomes.

Plotkin et al.’s study used trained individuals and tested strength using the Smith machine squat, while Chaves et al. focused on untrained individuals using leg extensions. The within-subject design of Chaves et al. allowed for a direct comparison of the two overload strategies within the same individuals, providing a more controlled analysis of their effectiveness.

Progressive Overload Strategies

Various progressive overload strategies can be employed depending on training goals:

Load Progression:

Increasing the weight lifted is crucial for strength gains. It involves gradually adding weight to maintain the desired intensity and continue challenging the muscles.

Rep Progression:

Increasing the number of repetitions performed can also drive muscle growth and endurance. This method is beneficial when heavier loads are not feasible or safe.

Set Progression:

Adding more sets can increase the overall volume, contributing to muscle hypertrophy and endurance. This strategy is particularly useful in periodized training programs.

Combination of Strategies:

Intertwining load, rep, and set progressions can be highly effective. For instance, a lifter can increase the load only after reaching a certain number of reps or sets, ensuring continuous progression without overtraining.

Practical Application

For strength-focused training, load progression is essential. Lifters should aim to increase the weight lifted as they approach competition or testing days. 

However, not every session needs to see an increase in load. Incorporating additional sets or reps when load progression stalls can be a practical approach.

In hypertrophy-focused training, lifters have more flexibility. Progressive overload can be achieved through various methods, including rep and set progression. 

Manipulating rest periods and training intensity can also contribute to muscle growth without the constant need to increase load.

Coach’s Corner

Progressive overload doesn’t need to happen every session or week. Lifters should focus on long-term progression rather than immediate increases. 

Choosing a progressive overload strategy and sticking with it consistently is crucial for seeing results. Coaches should help lifters avoid overcomplicating their training and emphasize the importance of adherence to a chosen method.

Future Research and Final Thoughts

Future research should aim to compare load and rep progression in trained individuals using free-weight exercises to address the limitations observed in current studies. Understanding the cross-education effect and its impact on strength gains can also provide valuable insights.

Chaves et al.’s study underscores that both load and rep progression are effective strategies for achieving progressive overload. Lifters and coaches should choose the strategy that best fits their goals and training context, knowing that flexibility and adherence are key to success.


Chaves TS, Scarpelli MC, Bergamasco JG, et al. Effects of resistance training overload progression protocols on strength and muscle mass. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2024 Jan 29.

Plotkin D, Coleman M, Van Every D, et al. Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ. 2022 Sep 30;10:e14142.


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