There is an absolutely scientific way to guarantee muscle growth.
Imagine yourself getting closer to your dream body every single week and knowing with certainty that you are building more lean muscle all the time; sounds good right? It is possible if one concrete law of bodybuilding is observed. Without further ado, here it is:

Progressive Overload = Muscle Growth!

The Law of Progressive Overload

The reason I refer to it as a law is that without this, you will NOT add a pound of muscle to your frame. Certainly if you’re a beginner you can add lean muscle without it, but not for too long. Once you get past your first 3-4 months you can say bye-bye to your gains if you do not put this law into effect on a consistent basis.

The law of progressive overload simply says that you must increase the amount of reps or the weight lifted every single workout (or as close to this as humanly possible) in order to ignite muscle growth. Let’s say you are working your biceps today and last week your session looked like this:

Progressive Overload

You want to be increasing either the amount of reps or the weight lifted in at least one of these sets for there to be any progression. Looking at the log, you should probably increase the 3rd set (EZ bar curl) to 95 lbs or so. I don’t think it’s wise to start increasing weight until you can get at least 8 good reps in any given set. See here for more about the best rep range for muscle growth).

There is another way to increase progressive overload and that is through increasing the number of sets you perform for a particular body part. So you can consider an ninth set of bicep curls if you are currently at a stage where you’ve plateaued as far as reps and sets are concerned.

However, don’t overtrain for the sake of progressive overload; more than nine sets on any one body part is asking for catabolism (muscle breakdown). I never go over 9 sets per body part and if you want muscle growth week in week out, you shouldn’t either.

Going To Failure Vs Progressive Overload

Progressive OverloadI have heard it time and time again; the most important factor in bodybuilding is working to failure. This means performing every set until the muscle(s) involved fails and cannot complete another rep. There’s nothing wrong with ‘going to failure’ but if it means that you can’t achieve progressive overload the following week, it’s not such a good idea.
Allow me to explain.
I know from experience that I progress at a rate of 1 extra rep in 2 or 3 sets per body part trained per week – 90% of the time. However, sometimes I know that I can get an extra 2 reps in a particular set before I fail. In this situation, I actually leave it at one extra rep.
Why?
This assures me that I can definitely attain progressive overload the following week as well. If, however, I had have completed the 2 extra reps, progressive overload might not occur next week.
This method guarantees that I achieve progressive overload every single week. This takes priority over ‘going to failure.’

Why Muscle Responds To Progressive Overload?

Our bodies adapt themselves to what we do. Our bodies are adaptation machines. This principle certainly applies to the world of fitness and bodybuilding too. If you are seeking to gain muscle tissue, you must not allow your body to adapt.
Every week you must encourage muscle fibers to grow.
The way to do this is by placing an ever-increasing load on them. Ignore this principle and there simply is no reason for the body to grow, it will already have adapted to the amount of stress you are submitting it to.

Do you ever notice people at the gym who are lifting weights religiously but after years still don’t have any noticeable improvements? One of 2 things is happening here; either they are in it for general fitness reasons and have no desire for growth, or they are not implementing the law of progressive overload. Don’t be one of those guys!

Mark McManus

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