Overload training – what, why and how

You’ve heard the phrase no pain no gain – and when it comes to training it’s important to push our bodies outside of their comfort zone if we want to see an improvement. It’s what’s known as ‘overload training’.

Firstly – the name isn’t brilliant as it makes it sound like you’re doing too much and it’s important to find the right level.

Do you need overload training?

Humans are really quite good at storing energy – as many of us find out to our detriment over Christmas! We store fat to keep us alive until the next available meal, using as little as possible just in case the wait was longer than normal.

Making improvements to our strength and fitness requires energy, which our body is reluctant to use unless we really need to. This means that we need to really push ourselves in order to stimulate changes in fitness or strength – once we get above this minimum level of strain our body realises it needs to adapt and get stronger ready for the next time.

Finding a balance

Overload shouldn’t be confused with ‘overstrain’ – overload is doing enough to stimulate change without risking injury, overstrain is pushing beyond that overload point and it’s here that you risk injury.

Overload diagram


This diagram shows the right zone to aim for – it’s something that after a while you’ll get a much better ‘feel’ for.

Up to cross number 2 is still in the comfort zone – it will feel like you’re working hard but not quite enough.

Cross number 4 is too much and you’re running the risk of injury – so it’s around the level of number 3 that you need to aim for to really see the benefits.

How to tell if you’re in the right zone

When it comes to strength training, a good way to tell you’re in the overload zone is to find the maximum weight you can lift for a full set (e.g 10 repetitions) whilst still maintaining the perfect technique for every lift. When you start losing the technique you’ve gone too far.

For cardio it’s important to find a healthy level – particularly if you’re just starting out. Firstly find out your ‘heart rate zones, once you have these you can accurately track your activity levels.

If you’ve been pushing yourself in strength or cardio training it tends to take a few days to fully recover – so it’s important to factor in these rest and recovery sessions as well.

For more on finding your ‘overload’ level just get in touch.


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