The Overload Principle

By on December 6, 2013
Overload Principle is mandatory for Building Muscle Mass

This is post is written specifically to address one of the biggest debates in the “Body Building” industry, but has relevant application to us all.

The primary job of the muscles is to hold our skeletal structure together but as we age and incur injuries, muscles shrink and wither (atrophy) and therefor can no longer do their job properly which in turn creates bulging/herniated discs, nerve impingements and pain. So these weak muscles must be rebuilt bigger and stronger (hypertrophy) so they can again do their job properly. This leads us to “how best” to “build a muscle” which is…you guessed it, the Overload Principle.

While we are here let’s understand that a toned muscle (ladies) is simply filling out a flaccid atrophied muscle to its NATURAL genetic potential or building it from the inside to “fill” it out enough to become firm or toned. Then for people who want to get even bigger, they have to lift really heavy weights to MAXIMIZE their genetic potential. Then when someone has maximized their genetic potential and is still not happy with the results, they have to use steroids or HGH to go beyond even that!

Back to the rest of us. The Overload Principle is equally important to: reversing the effects of Osteoporosis and Peri-Osteoporosis, the physical rehabilitation of patients from injuries and surgeries, toning muscles faster, and building muscle mass (bulking Body Builders!). Follow this link for another source about what I am saying

The Overload Principle, as related specifically to the toning and building of muscles withing the fitness industry, is the overarching principle behind good lifting techniques such as Static Contractions, Partial Ranges of Motion and Negative Resistance Training, as well as bad lifting techniques such as “swinging”, “throwing” and the dreaded “squirming” your entire body to lift a weight. (Most of you have a visual don’t you!?)

Improper application of good techniques(i.e. only stimulating a muscle once a week) and obvious abuses of bad lifting styles have given “heavy weights” a bad rap. So today you hear a lot of comments like “you don’t have to lift heavy to build…”, but nothing can discount the decades of positive bulking results nor the science behind the Overload Principle.

Muscle physiology studies gathered by the Military (I was a Master Fitness Trainer for the US Army) stated that as few as 3 reps count as a set while other studies suggest that 4 reps count as a set (validating low reps, allowing for heavier weights). These low rep heavy weight sets tell the brain so send more amino acid protein chain into the muscle to build thicker actin filaments attached to the walls of the smallest functioning unit of a muscle called a “Sarcomere”.

So there are many out there argue that you only need to do one set to make the muscle grow and they are technically right (but fall short in the logic of weight lifting and the “failure” department). Once the muscle feels the demand it couldn’t do 8, 10 or 12 times, the brain sends more amino acid proteins into the muscle cells to increase the thickness of the myosin protein chains attached to the cell walls, thickening the muscles themselves which also makes them stronger.

The reality is though, the more sets and consequently the more reps you do reinforces the demand signal to the brain for an increase in muscle size and therefor increases the protein sent which in-turn makes the muscle build faster! So you can tell a muscle to grow with one set, but you increase the speed within which it grows through 4, 5 and 6 sets of one given exercise.

Now to further increase muscle mass you can add “partial range of motion” in with the Overload principle. The maximal force generated is not at the “top” or lock out position of the lift, but through the midrange. The top of the lift is easier because the leverage of the joint is in a stronger position, not because the muscle is stronger there. The muscle can generate the most force at and above the midrange.

Partial Range 1

So the applied science of partial range of motion will actually be best when your “partial range” starts at the top, taking advantage of the joints best positioning and dropping to somewhere just below halfway.  Going just past mid-range (the farther down you go the more leverage and consequently strength you are losing) and then back up again. You can experiment with this yourself to “feel” what I am stating is true! Flit it around, with the same weight start at the bottom and try to bring it up…much more difficult, huh?

Partial Range 2

Again, some argue static contractions are better than partial range at building strength and they are partially right! The problem is that you build an inordinate amount of strength in that one position, but not throughout the dynamic ROM of the muscle! So again partial range wins the battle because of physics!



About TheFitnessAnswerMan

The Fitness Answer Man is the online personality founded by Kevin Forrest CPT, FMS Pro Trainer and Master Fitness Trainer for the US Military. He has worked in the fitness industry for 30 years and was one of the first trainers to incorporate the physio ball into people's workouts and helped pioneer in the field of "Core" training. He specializes in movement rehabilitation and uses his experience to help clarify the confusion about diet and exercise that still exists within the fitness industry today.

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