6 easy ways to apply progressive overload in CrossFit

Gepubliceerd op 14 april 2020 om 21:18



Progressive overload is a subject that does not get a lot of attention inside CrossFit. The reason probably being that their initial training philosophy was about constant varience in training. They want everybody to be good in everything and to ¨prepare for the unknown¨. Although this sounds really entertaining there is a catch to it. You do miss out on maybe one of the biggest training principles known; ¨progressive overload¨.


Progressive overload basically means that you make an exercise or activity slightly more difficult overtime.  The idea of progressive overload is to keep the body being challenged in order to keep making desired adaptations. Why is it difficult for a (OG) CrossFitter to endeavor Progressive overload? Because they keep changing up stuff, making it very difficult to make slight adjustments in exercises programs. 


A program that integrated progressive overload would look like:



push ups






push ups



With the OG crossfit mindset it would look something like:



push ups









You can see these last to workouts do not adjust to one another. Hopping from exercise to exercise after every week limits growth due to the fact that there is always a neurological limitting factor when you do an exercise that you have not done in a long time. Your body is limited in expressing it´s true capabilities due to motor control always being in the way. Apart from that, your body needs to be challenged in order to grow and unless you know everything about your workout: rest times, rep schemes, tempo/time under tension, exact weights, speed/power output, distance travelled. And act on this data by making an adjustment somewhere, you are missing out on progressive overload. To realise Progressive overload one needs to stay under a certain individual threshold of tolerance and safety.


So, what are some ways to utilize progressive overload inside CrossFit?


1.Increase weights

This is one of the most common ways to make an exercise or activity more difficult. 



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs

week 2: 4x8 squat @205 lbs

week 3: 4x8 squat @210 lbs



Although this looks easy, one has to assure all the variables are alike as it would hinder progressive overload. Think of:



-rest times

-range of motion



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, tempo 2201

week 2: 4x8 squat @205 lbs, tempo 2204 


*don´t know how to read tempo?*


It looks like he got stronger but progressive overload got comprimised by compensating in a longer rest period at the top of his squat, making the reps easier. 


2. Increase volume 

This is also a common way to increase difficulty in training.



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs

week 2: 5x8 squat @200 lbs

week 3: 4x10 squat @200 lbs

week 4: 5x10 squat @200 lbs


As you can see, you can increase the reps or the sets, don´t do both as it could be a jump that is to big making you fail your reps or teaching compensatory movement patterns. Off course there is a certain limit to this where you would quite likely want to increase in weights and then increase the volume with that weight overtime. With the gymnastics movements, This would be the moment where you could start implementing weightvests. You can also try out some of the ways below in combination with increased reps.


3. Increase time under tension

Time under tension can be a deadly way of making exercises more difficult but one needs to accurately track tempo in order to get succes with this way (in case you missed the video about tempo reading). One way you can easily implement this (not with all exercises) is actually by decreasing the tempo but only the easy phase of the tempo. 



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, tempo 2201

week 2: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, tempo 2200


The regular way of implementing progressive overload via time under tension looks like this:


week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, tempo 2201

week 2: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, tempo 3301


Although it does not look that much of a deal you did just increase the overall time under tension from 160 to 224, that is a HUGE step.


4. Decrease resting times between sets


This could lead in to more of an metabolic respons, but this is a legit way of implementing progressive overload. I am not sure if there are apps that track rest times, but just look at the times everytime you finish your set and you´ll be fine, 



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, 3 min rest

week 2: 4x8 squat @200 lbs 2:30 min rest

week 3: 4x8 squat @200 lbs @2:00 min rest

week 4: 4x8 squat @200 lbs @1:30 min rest


5. Increase velocity

For this way you´ll quite likely need a velocity tracker. We will distribute the ´trainwithpush´ in the netherlands pretty soon so if you are looking for one and live in the same (best country) as us please make sure to email us. That being said, increasing the speed of the lift can be used in different ways. 


1.Keep the weights the same and try to lift it faster over time. 



week 1: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, 0.7 m/s

week 2: 4x8 squat @200 lbs, 0.8 m/s


2.Lower the weights allowing for a faster contraction.



week 1: 4x8 squat @135 lbs, 1.5 m/s

week 2: 4x8 squat @115 lbs, 1.9 m/s


6. Increase range of motion

This one can be implemented in various ways. 


1. Adding deficits 



week 1: 4x8 handstand push ups

week 2: 4x8 handstand push ups on 25 lbs plates

week 3 4x8 handstand push ups on 45 lbs plates


2. Start with partial reps and a big weight, then slowly go lower with the same weight



week 1: 5x5 Block pulls from above the knees @400 lbs

week 2: 5x5 Block pulls from below the knees @400 lbs

week 3: 5x5 Block pulls from 1/2 of the shins @400 lbs

week 4: 5x5 Deadlifts @400 lbs




All of these ways have different benefits to them. One thing is for sure though: if you do not have weights there are still plenty of ways do make your exercises more difficult. You can even mix them up with eachother if you want. Are you still looking for a bit of guidance in your training? Contact us about our programming, we have a lot to offer.

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