Overload and Reversibility are two basic Strength and Conditioning Principles. I’ve lumped them into the same post here because they adhere to the same precept.
So how can you apply the overload principle to increase strength?
The overload principle states, in order for adaptation to occur, a greater than normal stress on the body is required. This may be accomplished by incrementally progressing ANY parameter of fitness over time to make the body work harder. Which parameter you decide to manipulate should be influenced by your goals. Any coach or athlete with the rudimentary understanding of physiology should be able to make a connection with which parameters you would progress to gain muscle size, versus those for strength, power, endurance, etc. In the case of improving strength, we would want to gradually increase the intensity, or the resistance applied, to the exercise.
The underlying tone here is that we can’t exactly expect change if we aren’t doing anything different. And yet there are many athletes who are “spinning their wheels” in the gym with the same workout design day in and day out.
I’ll give two examples where, despite hard and consistent work, progress is stifled by neglecting or violating this principle.
#1: Group classes come with a large list of pros and cons which can be the topic of a blog post in itself (perhaps down the line). Amongst the cons is the difficulty in accurately applying this principle. Whether you attend a group exercise class, orange theory, crossfit, bootcamp, what-have-you, it is almost impossible to individualize training parameters for everyone. That means, if you want to apply the overload principle to the intensity variable, you would have to add more resistance progressively over time. Unfortunately, as the attendee, you are not in control of the exercises or intensities prescribed.
Conversely, group exercise instructors are usually instructed to add more variability within the classes to combat repetition, boredom, and ultimately, attrition; this stifles our exposure to a repeat stimulus (which is needed for adaptation to occur).
#2: There is a large cohort of gym-goers that religiously bust their butts in the gym yet they do not log their training.
Some of them are hard workers, and they go to the gym regularly, but when you ask them how they are progressing, they use how they currently feel as a testament to their progress. Unfortunately, those who have specific goals are not chasing a feeling, they are chasing results. And results, like training intensity and volume, can be objectively measured and used as benchmarks moving forward. It is tough to know how to progress these variables when you don’t know what you’ve done in the past.
On the other hand, the reversibility principle states that training effects may be lost after a reprieve from training. Sounds pretty straight-forward right? Those training effects can be reversed when training is resumed, and oftentimes these effects come back quicker the second time around than they did the first.
So in conclusion, be consistent and log your training carefully so you know you are progressively handling more resistance than you are previously accustomed to. Or simply hire a coach! Many athletes hire a coach to circumvent any worry when it comes to their programming. A good coach can make sure you’re avoiding these pitfalls and making progress to the goals that are important to you!