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Notice those people in your gym that still look the same after months and even years of working out? It could only be one of two reasons:

1. They are satisfied with just stepping in the gym and doing something instead of sitting at home.
2. They don’t really care much to improve. They don't set goals. They don’t keep a log of their workouts.

Why you should stop lifting sissy weights and start lifting like a big boy?

In order to see any results with your physique, you must do better in every workout than you did the last. Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat, you won’t progress if you don’t make any improvements in your workouts.

This is what we call the “law” of progressive overload. If you fail to do "progressive overload", you will hit a plateau and won't see results.

What is progressive overload?

To simplify it for you, the “law” of progressive overload simply means that you must increase the weight you are lifting or number of reps every workout to stimulate muscle growth.

Example of progressive overload:

If you bench pressed 60kg last week for 6 reps, you should aim to do 8 reps this week or add on 5kg of weight. When you are increasing the weights, you don’t necessarily have to do it for every single set of every single exercise. Just make sure that you are progressing on the working sets.

I don’t recommend that you increase the weights though unless you can normally do 8 reps of a certain weight. If you are benching 60kg for only 6 reps, don’t increase the weight until you can bench 60kg for 8 reps. If you can do that on a regular basis, that’s when you start to put more weight.

Why progressive overload will accelerate your results fast?

Muscles grow "Only" if you apply load of stress greater than what your muscles had previously adapted to. Simply put, our muscles adapt to everything we do. If you want to improve your physique, you must not let your body adapt. You must consistently improve your workouts in some way every week to stimulate the muscle fibers to grow.

The science behind progressive overload:

During workout, you are actually causing tiny tears (known as “micro-tears”) in the muscle fibers by lifting weights. After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands. This is the process by which muscles grow (scientifically termed hypertrophy).

If you lift light weights (and do more repetitions), your workout causes “only few” micro tears in the fibers. If a workout causes “only few” micro-tears in the fibers, then little muscle growth will occur as a result because the body figures it doesn’t need to grow to deal again with such a minor stimulus.

Why "low reps with heavy weights" doesn’t equal bigger muscles?

If you lift heavy weights for only fewer reps (1-5) in an effort to put on muscle, it wont help you build bigger muscles. If you do fewer reps (1-5) with heavier weights, it will increase your strength but it won’t primarily focus on gaining big muscles.

Let's see what the "Strength Continuum" says to understand this point. (Strength Continuum is a framework where strength and endurance exist on a continuum that defines the relationship between weight, reps, and training outcome). It says:

1. If you want to increase strength, do 1-5 reps per set at 80-90% of 1 RM.
2. If you want to build bigger muscles (Hypertrophy), do 6-12 reps per set at 60-80% 1 RM.
3. If you want to increase endurance, do 15+ reps per set at 40% of 1RM.

So if your primary goal is to increase your muscle mass, you should perform 60% of your exercises with 3-5 sets of 6-12 repetitions of each exercise with a shorter rest period (30 to 90 seconds) between sets.

Why muscle pumps don't actually build muscles?

"Pump" actually don't help muscles grow. Muscles grow from progressive over load. Muscle pump is worthless in terms of muscle growth. The pump you feel when training is a result of blood being “trapped” in the muscles. It is a good psychological boost and isn’t a bad thing but it is just NOT an indicator of muscle growth. High-repetition workouts fail to sufficiently overload muscles to trigger growth, even though they deliver quite a pump.

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Written by Sapna Vyas Patel , PhD in Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Sapna writes simple, easy to understand articles that are based on pure scientific evidence. She is one of the most popular fitness professionals in India and is followed on social media by fitness enthusiasts, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, trainers, and professionals.

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