What is overload? No overload, no muscle growth

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Overload is perhaps the most important principle of hypertrophy training: no overload, no muscle growth. But what exactly is it and how do you apply it?


To achieve muscle growth, your training must be tough and get heavier over time. If both conditions are sufficiently satisfied, overload occurs. Supercompensation then causes muscles to grow.

Just because you go to the gym and do resistance exercises doesn’t automatically mean that your muscles will grow – you need to have some understanding of training theory to create overload.

Only absolute beginners can grow by going to the gym without a plan, simply because of their high sensitivity to training stimuli. As a result, almost every stimulus of any significance is overload.


Technically, your overload training protocol must meet at least two conditions:

Let’s take a closer look at these terms.


Stimulating (or effective) reps are the reps that cause (the most) muscle growth. In a set, it’s the closest reps to technical muscle failure, when you can’t do a decent rep anymore.

You create stimulating repetitions by:

  • training your sets* close to muscle failure (1-3 RIR) – this is the effort, or relative intensity;
  • doing enough sets (10-20 sets per muscle group per week, depending on your training status) – this is the volume .

* Preferably sets in the range of 6-20 reps, as this is the most efficient for muscle growth in practice .


That means your training should be heavier than it has been recently. That certainly doesn’t have to be the case for every training, but there should be progress over a period of weeks and months. We therefore also speak of progressive overload. The fact that you can make progress is due to adaptation.

Overload treshold
The figure below illustrates these principles: the overload occurs when you train above the blue line, the overload threshold. Over time, that threshold rises, depending on how fast your adaptation takes place. It may well be that the threshold remains at more or less the same level for some training sessions and that you therefore create overload with the same number of repetitions and weight as in your previous training.

If the overload threshold gets higher, you have to increase your training load in some way to get above that. This can be done in various ways – possibly a combination of them. The most efficient are:

  • use more weight ;
  • do more reps ;
  • do more sets **.

** Basically you only add sets if you stop making progress while your recovery is in order .


You can only know how hard you have to train to create overload if you know what you’ve been doing in recent workouts. After all, you will have to set the bar a bit higher than before. That’s why it is very important to keep training logs of your exercises, weights, number of repetitions and possibly RIR. This can be done by means of an app, but pen and paper are also effective means.

Not keeping track of progress is perhaps the biggest mistake you can make as a (natural) bodybuilder. We therefore wholeheartedly agree with what coach Sean Nalewanyj says about this:

No matter how much you insist that you “keep it all in your head”, nothing compares to actually writing down your training sessions in a logbook or app. This will allow you to progress in muscle size and strength much more efficiently by giving you a crystal clear target during every muscle building workout.

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