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Overload Principle

Understanding and Properly Applying the Principle
     The Overload Principle is an important concept of sports fitness training. However athletes frequently misunderstand how this principle of physical training should be applied.

     Our bodies are in a constant process of adapting to physical stresses we place on our gross and fine muscles. When there is an extreme overload, we can seriously damage the muscles and ligaments.  The goal is cause stress the body to push your body without causing failure.  The natural response of the body is to physiologically adapt handle that stress the next time it occurs.

     There are different types of stress. To increase strength of your muscles, it is necessary to target specific muscles to get stronger without the muscle definition that body builders desire.

     To improve, athletes must develop of traaining plan to gradually incease their upper limits followed by a recovery period to allow their bodies adjust to the workouts. Attempt to push your limits can be overdone and result in injuries requiring a long period to rehab the affected muscles.

Note: Over learning occurs by repeatedly practicing a skill beyond what is required to perform it. The idea is to repeatedly practice to obtain consistent quality without errors. Learning a new skill should occur when the athlete is not experiencing fatigue. Overloading requires pushing the body while experiencing fatigue and still have the ability to correctly perform the movements without any errors.

Applying the Overload Principle in Practical Terms
      The following are commonly accepted and practical ideas about overload implementation:

  • Increase loads gradually and progressively. Training loads should gradually become more intense over a period of time and never increased abruptly or with excessive intensity.
  • Test maximums. Competitive training loads progressive build to maximize efforts (peaking).
  • The intention is NOT to achieve muscular failure. 
  • Design ample recovery time. Too little recovery time results in overtraining. Too much recovery time causes an effect known as "detraining".
  • Plan and monitor training loads. Athletes need to participate in a long-range, periodized training plan.  An evaluation of progress must be incorporated into the seasonal training to determine training decisions are approaching a point of exceeding the overload and risking overtraining.
  • Each athlete should be responsible for tracking their individual progress. It is esseential to dermine where there are deficits in the training. If athletes "run out of gas", for example, training can be overloaded to improve skilled performances when fatigued.
  • Alternate activities. Organize workouts to allow recovery on some aspects of training while increasing intensity on others. Use periodized planning to link into weekly and daily activities.
  • Coordinate all training activities and schedules. Fitness training loads should be adjusted for technical and tactical activities, travel, competitions, and other factors that could influence how overloading should occur.
  • Focus on skill work first. Practice skills that require greater coordination prior to intense fitness training if both are performed in the same workout session. For example, complete Olympic lifting before weight training activities of lesser complexity.

The Overload Principle must work in concert with other Sports Training Principles:

The Balanced Principle

The Individualization Principle

The Transfer Principle
The Recovery Principle

The Reversibility Principle

The Variation Principle

Overload in Fitness Training
    The overloading concept is designed to affect the body's mechanisms that cause the desired changes to occur. Improving cardiovascular fitness involves being able to sustain submaximal activities for extended periods of time. Increasing strength requires lifing progressively heavier weight loads. The principle applies to both duration and volume of training.

    For example, if an athlete's goal is to improve his/her upper body strength, it would be necesssary to continue increasing the weight loads until the goal iss achieved.

   There would be little improvement if the training load is not increased to push the athlete to higher strength levels. The increase in upper body strength must be incorporated into the fitness training program.

Overload plays a role in Skill Learning
    Motor skills are learned through a variety of different techniques and concepts. It is the quality of practice that in more important than the quantity and intensity.

    It is extremely important to learn motor skills correctly the first time. However, too many learners acquire their skills with substantial technical problems. When this happens, overlearning helps in the retraining.

    Overlearning means repeatedly practicing a skill beyond what is required to just acquire and master the skill. The method of overloading learning is where quality and quantity are used to overcome errors. Normally, skills are best learned or retrained when fatigue does not affect the athlete's ability to correctly perform the tasks.

Tips on Applying the Overload Principle
    The following suggestions are commonly accepted and widely used by coaches involved in team and individual sports training:

  • Increase exercise loads gradually. Training loads should gradually become progressively more intense over a period of time. Never  increase levels abruptly or up the intensity suddenly.
  • Avoid muscular failure. Training should never reach a stage where the muscles fail or the athlete collapses.
  • Recovery time must be sufficient. Limiting recovery sessions, if allowed to occur over an extend period of time, can cause an overtraining effect. Conversly, allowing too much recovery time can result in a detraining effect.
  • Plan and monitor training loads. Design long-range, periodized training with schduled performance tests to evaluate the athlete's progress to prevent a training overload.
  • Alternate training activities. A training schedule can allow recovery on some types of training while increasing intensity on others. Use periodized planning to schedule  daily activities of a weekly cycle.
  • Coordinate training activities and competition schedules. Factor into your Fitness training schedule  activities such as travel, competitions, and other factors that influence how exercise loads should be adjusted to prevent an athlete from overloading.
  • Focus on skill work first. Practice skills that require greater concentration and coordination before starting an intense fitness training session when both exercises are performed in the same workout session. 

   To be effective, the Overload Principle must not conflict with established Training Principles.

Recommended Reading:

The Overload Principle for Sports Training The Overload Principle guides how to increase training loads for best results in fitness training. Overlearning sport skills has a parallel meaning.

Overload (Principles of Weight Training) | Fitness & Exercise March 30, 2008  One of the four principles of weight training, overload states that a greater than normal amount of stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to occur.

Progressive overload - Wikipedia Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during ... as a fundamental principle for success in various forms of strength training.

Principles of Training Theory A. Principles. 1. Progressive Loading (“Overload”). Biological systems can adapt to loads that are higher than the demands of normal daily activity.


BBC - GCSE Bitesize: Principles of training Getting the best out of your training requires a little planning. The best training programmes are built on principles of specificity, overload, progression and reversibility.

Exercise Science Principles of Conditioning The exercise science principle of overload states that a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place.

The All-Important Overload Principle - Men's Health
The most basic of all strength-training principles is the overload principle. Simply stated, this principle tells us that our bodies will adapt to whatever rigors we place on them.

Principles of Sports Training:

Principles of Athletic Training:

Mental Training for Athletes:

Training Principles:


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:


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