You know that in order to achieve a better physique and optimize testosterone levels you need to start lifting weights – hopefully you’ve already started to do so.
Many people though choose to run before they can walk and add advanced lifting techniques or follow their favourite bodybuilder’s program before they’ve mastered the basics. And whilst that might be okay in the short-term, for real progress you need to follow the fundamentals.
Progressive overload is the first step to a successful weight lifting plan. By following this principle you’ll gain muscle, lose fat and improve muscular fitness. Not only that, research suggests you’ll also boost testosterone levels too.
So if you want to know how to use overload to boost hormones and improve your body composition then you need to give this article a read.
What is Progressive Overload?
Progressive overload (PrO) is a weight lifting principle where the body is challenged more than it is accustomed to in order to force it to adapt. For example, you could increase the number of reps of an exercise by just a little bit each week or nstead add more reps – both challenge the body.
Conversely, if you never change anything with your workout – if you never lift heavier, run faster or row for longer, your body never never sees it as being necessary to change.
As an important training principle, PrO forms part of the clinical guidelines for exercise training set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It is used frequently by knowledgeable trainers to stimulate progression in either muscular endurance or muscular strength but should be used by beginners too .
PrO in overall muscular fitness can be achieved in a number of different ways. Decreasing rest times, increasing range of motion, lifting the same load at a lighter body weight, increased frequency and volume are all examples. However, the best gains in overall muscular fitness seem to be elicited by increasing the weight gradually on a weekly basis. Even small incremental increases will add up over time.
Progressive overload will never be linear – some weeks you’ll find that you feel stronger and can tolerate more reps and other weeks you might feel week and have to lower your weights.
When progression is done correctly i.e. consistent and gradual – you’ll find that you adapt, but in waves. Sometimes you might be stuck on the same weight for a few weeks and other weeks your ability goes up and you’re able to make big jumps.
As part of the guidelines for achieving PrO with muscular fitness, it is recommended that as a beginner you participate in weight training a minimum of 2-3 times per week, and progress to 4-5 sessions per week as you become more advanced. Initially, overload should be achieved within 8-12 reps, however as you become more accustomed to this rep range you can begin to explore 1-12 rep ranges, as well as different loads, rest times and rep speeds .
It has been claimed that high load and repetition resistance exercise protocols not only improve muscle mass and athleticism for the improvement of strength endurance, but also seems to be a sufficient stimulus that increases testosterone too .
And this is the important point here – progressive overload increases testosterone when done right.
Progressive Overload and Testosterone?
Studies show that not only does progressive weight training improve body composition and muscular fitness, it’ll also enhance your hormone profile too.
Traditionally, studies have shown that heavy weight training elicits a greater testosterone response to training  and that ties in with the notion of progressive overload through increasing the weight you can lift. By aiming to challenge the body within a low rep range, you’ll not only get stronger but will enhance androgen levels too.
And it’s not just healthy young men that can benefit from the hormonal changes with PrO but older men too.
A study published back in 1989 in Mechanisms of Ageing and Development  tested the notion that PrO would improve T levels regardless of age by recruiting two groups of volunteers – some at 23 years old and others at 63.
Both groups were asked to complete a 12-week program involving 45-60 minutes of major muscle group weight training. After the study, testosterone had increased in both groups – not quite to significant values, but elevated nonetheless. Both groups also reported an increase in growth hormone levels too, with the younger subjects finding an increase of 45% but the older group only having increases of 3%.
The study showed that regardless of age, progressive weight training can boost testosterone levels – although the difference was more marked in younger athletes.
The study design was replicated again 20 years later by A different research team. Published this time in the prestigious International Journal of Sports Medicine , a group of both young and elderly subjects were put through a workout – this time only one session as opposed to 12 weeks.
Each volunteer had their blood taken beforehand, then completed 3 sets of 15 reps on six different exercises with a weight set at 60% of 1-RM. To further standardize the test, rest times were set at 90 seconds. After the short training session had finished, blood was taken from each person again – immediately after the session and again at 15 minutes post-workout.
The results found that in both groups, T levels were higher 15 minutes after the workout but this time interestingly with no differences at all between the young and old subjects. However, again growth hormone levels were higher post-workout in the younger group.
Summary – Using Progressive Overload to Boost T
Progressive overload is an important principal in weight training that dictates that you must continually progress your training to that which you are unaccustomed too, in order to create a physiological adaptation. Built on solid evidence, not only does this technique build muscle and improve body composition, it also boosts testosterone and growth hormone levels too.
So in order to get the best from your training make sure employ this strategy. Whether it’s by upping the weights, increasing session density or maintaining strength during a cut, progressive overload is a great starting point for all lifters.
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- Pollock, ML et al. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. 1998: 500-511
- Kraemer, WJ et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002; 34(2): 364-80
- Smilios, I et al. Hormonal responses after a strength endurance resistance exercise protocol in young and elderly males. Int J Sports Med. 2007; 28(5): 401-6
- Ahtiainen, JP et al. Muscle hypertrophy, hormonal adaptations and strength development during strength training in strength-trained and untrained men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003; 89: 555–563
- Craig, BW et al. Effects of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels in young and elderly subjects. Mech Ageing Dev. 1989; 49(2): 159-69