ASK A TRAINER: “Should I Progressively Overload?”

zzzzzzzz lift and bitch 033Dear Deanna,

I’ve been training with free weights for over a year and although I can definitely feel I’ve made strides in terms of strength and size, I still find it hard to know when I’m reaching a strength plateau and how to get past it when I do. For example, how do I know when I need go up, say, 2kg (I’m from the UK btw) on what I’m lifting? I’m trying generally to stick to the progressive overload idea but what’s confusing is that some days I feel I can lift heavier, and other days not. Should I just force myself to keep progressing, i.e. do a particular amount of weight for 3 weeks, and then go up, systematically? Would you recommend keeping a logbook? How do you do that?

On another note, I also would like to just say that as a self-identified male feminist trying to navigate and avoid hyper-masculinity in male fitness culture, yours and FFG’s work has been really refreshing, inspirational and encouraging to read. Thank you!


Over-thinking Lifter

Hello Over-thinking lifter!

I am so excited to know that FFG and I have inspired you from afar! I too am passionate about physical culture, and enjoy seeing my body get stronger and more muscular each year.

Congratulations on the work that you have put into your fitness goals thus far. As for progressive overload, the body will adapt to the demand you place on it. If you are not seeing changes in your strength there are various factors to consider, other than just increasing the weight you lift each week. I would start with evaluating your goals: Does your current training program reflect the goals you want to achieve? Are you following a mass protocol? Are you doing powerlifting, bodybuilding splits, full body workouts, or CrossFit? Each will require a completely different program designed to achieve those specific goals. Regardless of the program, you should keep a logbook. I still have training journals from 1995, which date back to when I was 17 years old. Talk about dedication! These records mean that I can return to all of the preparations made for my Figure competitions, and see exactly what I did to train, what I ate, and how I was feeling for each and every one of them. It has been quite a journey.

I would also recommend that you take a look at your diet and sleep schedule. I believe that there is no such thing as overtraining, but instead under-eating and under-resting. How is your nutrient timing? Are you training fasted? Ingesting carbs/protein pre-post workout? Do you train hard and heavy—doing lots of heavy compound exercises that focus on your legs and back? You should eat plenty of good, healthy, nutritious food, especially those that are high in quality protein. Aim for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. In other words, if you weigh150 pounds, you should eat 150 grams of protein (or more) per day. You will get stronger and bigger! Let your appetite be your guide. As a rule of thumb, the harder and heavier you train, the more you’ll eat. But remember that building strength and size takes time!

Here are some secrets from my favourite author Brooks Kubik:

  1. You don’t need to do very many different exercises.
  2. You don’t need to perform endless sets and reps.
  3. You don’t need to spend hours and hours in the gym.
  4. You don’t need to train every day.
  5. The important thing is QUALITY TRAINING, which means working hard and heavy on the important exercises and then stopping, going home, and getting rested for your next workout.
  6. Less is more. Do less but do it better.

I hope this helps and look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Chase the pump!


Deanna Harder: Fitness Leadership Diploma, CSEP-CPT (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology-Certified Personal Trainer), and Figure Competitor

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About fitbabe

Deanna Harder is a college-certified, highly knowledgeable personal trainer, with over 20 years of experience. In addition to running her own business in Edmonton, she has competed in 6 figure competitions, and is always ready for a new challenge. Fitness Leadership Diploma, CSEP-CPT (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology-Certified Personal Trainer)

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