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Progressive Overload Exercise Choices?


When it comes to progressive overload is it best to use this method with just a main compound exercise and then do accessory work with Hypertrophy rep ranges and sets? And how would one know when it time to rotate compound lifts and begin using that exercise for progressive overload. Thanks.


Yes and no… I mean that you don’t HAVE to use progressive overload. It’s ONE way to stimulate growth and strength gains. But YES it lends itself better to compound movements. But it doesn’t have to be ONE lift per workout. If you have 3 compound lifts per session, you can use it on 3 exercises.

The bigger the exercise (the more weight you can use on a lift) the more effective progressive overload is. Simply from a realistic progression standpoint: it’s much easier to add 5-10lbs to a squat on which you can lift 405 x 5 then on DB curls where you can lift 35lbs dumbbells (so 70lbs) for 5 reps. 10lbs on 405lbs is 2.5%, 10lbs on 70lbs is 14%… which one is a more sustainable rate of progression?

With smaller exercises if you want to use the progressive overload approach, a double progression model is more appropriate. Of you can simply do to failure for 6-12 reps.


It depends on your psychological/neurological profile. Some people spend their whole life doing the same exercises over and over and reach a very high level (Ed Coan in powerlifitng, the Russian and Norweggian powerlifters, most olympic lifters, Dorian Yates in bodybuilding for example). These guys stick to the same lifts year round but will modulate how hard they go at it, how much volume they do, how heavy they go.

While others will rotate exercises every 1-2 weeks (Westside barbell guys for example).

So there is not a clear sign that you need to rotate the exercises, because it is not a necessity.

Some people rotate as soon as rapid progress stops… this normally occurs after 4 weeks. But that is simply because the body is done with the rapid neural adaptations. These are the main driver of strength “gains” on a new exercise during the first 2-3 weeks of training on that movement. Gains are thus rapid because progressing with neural adaptation is quick, as oposed to progressing via adding muscle mass which is a lot longer.

Those who switch too often might have the illusion of constant progression but in realty a large part of their “gains” is from becoming more efficient at the new lift, not because they are building a lot of muscle mass.

That is the “easy” way to do it, because you never reach a plateau and never need to think hard to build a strategy to overcome that plateau.

Those who stick to the same lifts for longer will use more sets, reps, load and effort (effort is how hard you go at your sets… do you leave 3 reps in the tank on each set? 2? 1? None?). This requires more thoughtful planning (think of 5/3/1 by Wendler , all those program based on percentages of your max, etc.) and for some people it might be demotivating because it includes a lot of “easier” days where you don’t push to the max. 5/3/1 for example uses a 3 steps up 1 step down approach. That is a planned intensity cycling. But you can also do it more freely: when your progression is stuck cycle down the intensity and work your way back up.