Progressive Overload: Harder than Last Time

Adam Plotkin
4 min readApr 20, 2021

This one will be quick as it is a fairly straightforward concept, yet I see so many people missing out!

The concept of progressive overload can be boiled down to four words: “Harder than last time.” It really is that simple. Whether it be in your workouts, your nutrition, your sleep, or just daily life.

Despite the simplicity of this concept, I see so many people not applying this phrase to their daily life. People just seem to go through the motions and walk around like zombies WITH NO INTENT.

Intent is critical. Everything you do should be done with 100% effort. If you cannot give 100% effort, you really need to take a step back and reevaluate things. Maybe you are burnt out from going too hard in weeks past. That’s fine, this is where we take a step back and cruise for a bit to recover mentally, physically, and emotionally. But if you just do not feel an internal passion for the task at hand…maybe it is time to switch tasks.

Now having intent and going harder than last time is easy. I mean how can you possible be bored if you are constantly trying to one-up your previous performance? That stuff just lights a fire underneath me.

The only problem is that in order to go harder than last time and be completely dialed in, you need to have some method to track your progress.

This does not just apply to fitness, but serves as a good example.

How the heck are you supposed to get stronger if you just waltz into the gym everyday and just do “whatever feels good.” In my 8 months in Maryland, I have only seen one other individual keep track of his workouts. In fact, there are several people who literally walk into the gym and do the same exact exercises at the same exact weight day in and day out. No joke. How do you expect to get to a place you have never been if you are not willing to do things you have never done?

I hate to break it to you, but sometimes to get progress, you will have to step out of your comfort zone. In terms of fitness, it is imperative that you meticulously track the weight used, reps completed, number of sets, and how you felt throughout the movement. That way, when you come back to the workout in a week, you can either use the same weight and beat the reps, use a heavier load and match the reps, add an extra set, or maybe not even beat the reps and load, but utilize a better mind-muscle connection to stimulate your muscle.

You repeat this process every week until your progress stalls out. You then take a deload week (lower reps and weight), rinse and repeat. You do not need any fancy tricks…you just have to suck it up and GO HARDER THAN LAST TIME. Sometimes I look at my log book and want to drop kick myself from last week for doing way too much. But, instead, I go to the gym, put a big grin on my face and beat the shit out of that logbook.

The same can be applied to nutrition and sleep. If you want to build muscle but are struggling to put on weight and I ask you “how much are you eating each day?” You better not reply “a lot.” What does that mean? 2K calories, 3K calories, 4K calories?

Of course the reply is always something like “I don’t know, a lot.” That just oozes laziness. If you want to grow muscle, not only do you need to progressively overload in the gym, but you need to do the same with nutrition. You need to be in a caloric surplus, and alter this surplus on a weekly basis based on your scale weight. Thus, you need to track both your bodyweight and the macros that you are guzzling down. It literally takes an extra two minutes each meal for me to plop my food on a scale and record everything. I not only know how many calories I am consuming each day, but I can tell you when I ate them, and the exact macro nutrient splits going back months and even years ago. This is how you progress.

Not sleeping enough? Did you track how much water you drank throughout the day, when you consumed caffeine, how much screen time you got before bed, the temperature in your room? If not, you better get on that.

BOTTOM LINE: I encourage everyone to keep a logbook. Not just for their workouts, but for everything in life. Maybe you had a crappy day. Well if you wrote down certain aspects of your day, you can fine tune things and be “Better than last time.

So the next time you find yourself stalled out in a certain aspect of your life, I want you to ask yourself “Am I performing better than last time?” The only way you can truthfully answer that question is if you are keeping track of your daily life.



Adam Plotkin

Post-Baccalaureate research assistant in the Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Lab at the National Institutes of Health