Do you apply progressive overload to accessory exercises? That’s one of the questions we’ll be answering this post.

Progressive overload is a technique that many people use to increase their strength and muscle. The concept of progressive overload is simple: you gradually increase the weight, number of reps, or time spent on an exercise over the course of a few weeks so your body can adapt and get stronger.

This blog post will discuss how to implement this type of training for both main exercises and accessories. We’ll also talk about when you should start implementing it, what accessory exercises are, why they’re important to include in your routine and the benefits they provide.

Finally we’ll cover how often you should increase weights with progressive overload as well as ways you can do so at home!

Let’s jump right in!

Apply Progressive Overload To Accessory Exercises

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is a training technique that involves gradually increasing the weight, number of reps or time spent on an exercise over the course of a few weeks. This allows your body to adapt and gets stronger so you can eventually handle more challenging workout sessions! It is also important for muscle growth since more challenging exercises force your muscles to grow.

How do I implement progressive overload?

There are 9 main ways you can implement progressive overload:

Incorporate a variety of exercises into your routine

This will ensure that your body does not get used to the exercises and is useful when you have reached a plateau in your strength gains. Progressive overload is not linear which means sometimes you will plateau.

When you reach a plateau, you may not be able to increase the weight for an exercise which makes exercise variation important because you’ll be able to challenge your muscles in a different way.

Increase the weight you use for each exercise

Increasing the weight you use for each exercise is a good way to get stronger and build muscle. I  recommend that you increase the weight in increments of about five pounds so that you do not overexert yourself.

It is also important to maintain proper form when performing exercises. If your form is suffering, reduce the weight and try one of the other methods of progressive overload.

Do you apply progressive overload to accessory exercises

Increase the amount of sets you do for each exercise

Adding in one more set to an exercise is a good way to add additional stress to your muscles. It is important to listen to your body and make sure that you do not add too many sets as it can lead to overuse injuries.

Adding repetitions to your sets.

You can also achieve progressive overload by adding more reps to your sets. For example, if you were doing 3 sets of 12 reps of Barbell Squats, you can add 2 to 4 more reps to each set.

Perform your sets past failure.

Lifting until you reach failure means that you stop before your form starts suffering and you can’t push out anymore reps. This is fairly easy to determine because you will notice that you are too fatigued to carry on or your form is poor. To lift past failure, you can include forced reps or negatives.

Forced reps are where you ask a partner to help you out and they will push the weight up for you or pull it down while you do one more rep, giving your muscles an additional overload that is past failure. Negative reps means that you slow down the eccentric portion of the rep which creates added stress for your muscles.

Increase the total volume of your workouts

You can increase the total volume of your workouts by adding more sets, reps and weight. Workout volume is calculated by multiplying sets, repetitions, and weight.

Increase training frequency

You can implement a higher training frequency by adding more workout sessions to your current routine. Make sure to include rest days in between to prevent overtraining and injuries.

Decrease your rest periods

Rest periods are crucial for recovery between sets however, if you are trying to implement progressive overload, you can decrease the amount of time you rest between each set. This will increase the intensity of your workouts which will challenge your body even more.

Increase time under tension

To implement progressive overload , you can increase the time under tension by adding isometric contractions in between sets. This means pausing during the rep such as at the bottom of a squat. This adds increased intensity since you are spending more time in the most taxing part of the rep.

Alternatively, you can complete the rep at a slower pace.

Goblet squat

When to start implementing progressive overload?

You can start implementing progressive overload once you have learned how to perform the exercise with proper form. Adding additional weight when you have not learned how to lift with the proper form can lead to injury. Therefore, it is important to not prioritize progressive overload over good form.

What are accessory exercises?

These are exercises that help you perform compound or primary exercises more efficiently and with improved form.  

Accessory exercises are moves that target your smaller muscles which help increase the strength of these muscles and improve muscular balance by building opposing muscles.

They’re an essential part of any training program since they help you build up the strength to perform your compound lifts more effectively. They can also help you add more weight to your compound lifts especially when you have plateaued.

Should you apply progressive overload to accessory exercises?

It is important to apply progressive overload with accessory exercises because these movements target smaller muscle groups that can be difficult or time-consuming to work on their own, and without a proper workout routine your body may start growing imbalanced over time which could lead to injury.

When you apply progressive overload to your accessory exercises it helps to increase your strength and muscle size of the muscles targeted with these exercises. This then translates to greater performance with your compound lifts.

How do you apply progressive overload to accessory exercises?

The methods listed earlier can also be applied to accessory exercises. However, since these exercises target smaller muscles you will not be able to lift as heavy as you do with compound exercises.

Progressive Overload

What are some benefits of implementing progressive overload in your routine?

The benefits of implementing progressive overload range from improved strength and muscle size to increased neuromuscular activity and a healthier nervous system.

When you follow a routine that gradually increases the amount of work you do, for example increasing the weight you use by about five pounds every week or two weeks, it means more work is being done in less time which will help increase your rate of progress.

Let’s say for example that you’re doing heavy overhead presses. If the weight is increased by five pounds every two weeks, then when you go from 100 to 105lbs . Repeat this process over a few months and your muscles will have adapted to lifting heavier weights. This progressive overload may result in an increase of muscle size or more strength with the same amount of time spent in the gym on any given exercise.

Progressive overload also results in fat loss and better performance since you are continuously challenging your body.

Why is progressive overload especially important for hypertrophy?

The answer is pretty straightforward: progressive overload is the key to muscle growth and without it, you’re not going to make any significant progress.

There’s a misconception that if your goal is just getting stronger or building more muscle, then only lifting heavier weights will get you there quicker rather than increasing reps for example. However, it is not always possible to increase the amount of weight you are lifting which means increasing reps, sets and using techniques like negative or forced reps are also required.

How often should you increase the weight?

To figure out when you should increase the weight for each exercise, follow the two by two rule. If you can perform two extra reps for a particular exercise for two weeks in a row, it is time to increase the weight. Remember, incremental increases are the best since you won’t overexert or injure yourself.

Barbell squat

How can I implement progressive overload at home?

You can still implement progressive overload without a wide array of weights at your disposal.

To include progressive overload in your home workouts you can:

  • Progress to harder variations of the same exercise. For example, you can move from knee push ups to regular push ups. Or you can move from regular push ups to pike push ups.
  • Add extra reps to each set.
  • Train to failure or past failure.
  • You can add supersets or tri-sets with no rest periods in between.
Progressive overload accessory exercises

Practical tips for implementing overload into your training routine

Here are some practical tips you can use to implement progressive overload into your training routine effectively and safely:

Learn proper form first

If you are brand new to lifting, start with bodyweight exercises first until you know how to perform each exercise with the proper form. Once you know how to lift with the correct form, you can add weights to your exercises and gradually increase the weights as you become stronger and fitter.

Track your workouts

Find an app that will help keep track of your workouts such as Jefit which can track the sets, reps and weights used for each exercise. This will help you keep track of what you did in previous workouts so you can add more sets, reps, or weights.

Adjust your expectations

Progress almost never occurs linearly which means you can expect plateaus in your lifting journey. You can plateau with the amount of weight you can lift or with the number of sets or reps you can do. That’s why it is important to not only focus on one method of progressive overload.

Also bear in mind that you will see the most amount of progress in the first few months of lifting if you are a beginner. Those are newbie gains and you will not see that kind of progress when you become an intermediate or advanced lifter.

Nutrition is important

Progressive overload is only as good as the quality of your diet. You need to be eating enough calories and protein to be able to increase the intensity of your workouts consistently. This means that progressive overload may not be easy or even possible when you are in a calorie deficit.

If you have plateaued with your strength or muscle gains, you may need to revaluate your goals to see if you would rather focus on weight loss or if you want to continue building strength and size. It isn’t impossible to build muscle when you are in a calorie deficit, but it is harder since your body needs the calories to build muscle and to sustain itself.

Listen to your body

It is crucial to listen to your body when exercising. If you are in severe pain or absolutely exhausted don’t try to soldier on and push through the workout. Rest is equally as important, and overtraining can lead to injuries.


Progressive overload is a great way to continue building muscle and strength in your workouts and it is equally as important to implement with your accessory lifts since these exercises help you perform your compound lifts.

Remember to track your workouts, take care of your nutrition and to listen to your body at all times.

Happy lifting!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.