William Liao

March 17, 2022

progressive overload & growth

Progressive overload is a term used in athletic training that refers to gradually increasing the amount of intensity in your strength routine to grow stronger. The key to progressive overload is not to increase the intensity by too little or too much as both cases result in your body failing to grow and, in the case of increasing the intensity by too much, getting injured.

This is one of my favorite concepts because it applies to so many other areas of life — particularly your relationships and your goals. 

If you want to foster progress, here’s a way to think about it from the lens of progressive overload: 

  1. Set a target. E.g., reading ten books in the next year. 
  2. Identify a measurable unit of progress and cadence that you can comfortably fulfill at first. E.g., reading ten pages once a week. 
  3. Identify a rate of workload increase that you think will push you outside your comfort zone but not so far out that you immediately want to quit. E.g., Increasing your frequency and intensity every two weeks —reading twice a week and 15 pages after week two, three times a week, and 20 pages at week four, etc. 

That’s it in a nutshell. 

Consistency and a gradually increasing intensity have a nice compounding effect resulting in a surprising amount of progress. Still, the risk is always that you commit too much at once and quit — I’ve certainly been there. 

If you find yourself taking on too much too quickly and quitting, forgive yourself and decide what you want to do next. 

No method or principle will work if you’re not honest and kind with yourself.