Progressive Resistance for Strength Training

Building Muscle and Strength While Avoiding Weight Loss Plateaus

Young woman flexing bicep in gym, close-up, side view
Peter Cade / Getty Images

Progressive resistance is a strength training method in which the overload is constantly increased to facilitate adaptation. Progressive resistance is essential for building muscle, losing weight, and getting stronger.

Why Is Progressive Resistance Needed?

Your body adapts to exercise and needs to be constantly challenged in order to continue to see muscle growth and improved levels of fitness. Doing the same thing day after day may maintain the muscle and strength you have already built, but you may stop seeing improvements. If your goal is to lose weight, it puts you at risk for a weight loss plateau, that frustrating time when your weight loss starts to stall.

Methods of Progressive Resistance

There are many ways to achieve progressive resistance:

  • Increase the weight you're lifting. Do the same number of reps and sets each week, but increase the weights. You should only increase the weights by 2 percent to 10 percent of your RM load at a time. The RM load is the maximum amount of weight you can lift one time. For example, if you can lift 50 pounds once, you should only increase the weight you lift with each rep by 2 to 5 pounds each week. You don't want to overdo the increase in the load.
  • Increase the number of reps. Use the same weight for each workout, but increase the reps each week.
  • Decrease the number of reps. Intermediate to advanced trainers can lift heavier weights for fewer reps, known as heavy loading. When doing heavy loading, you increased the rest time between sets to three to five minutes.
  • Increase the number of sets. A typical weight training workout for people with the goal to lose weight will involve about two to four sets of each exercise. If you're a beginner, one set may be enough to build strength and endurance but, as you get stronger, you'll want to eventually work your way up to two to four sets, resting about 20 seconds to 60 seconds, depending on how heavy you're lifting.
  • Shorten the rest between the sets. If you're doing straight sets, e.g. three sets of squats or three sets of pushups, you'll typically have a rest of about 10 seconds to 60 seconds between sets. One way to challenge your body and increase intensity is to shorten the rest between sets. If your form starts to suffer, increase the rest period or drop a little weight.
  • Lengthen the time under tension. This is how long your muscle fibers are under stress. Use the same weight and reps, but slow down the exercise. For example, one count to lift the weight, three counts to lower the weight.

Number of Workouts

If you have been doing strength workouts two to three days per week for six months, you have reached the intermediate level. You may want to add another day per week to your workout schedule to challenge your body more.

Was this page helpful?
0 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3181915670.