Can You Progressive Overload While Cutting?

Can you progressive overload while cutting? Yes. 

Although effectively building muscle mass while also losing weight is a challenging feat, it is certainly possible.

Can You Progressive Overload While Cutting

What Is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is the process of incrementally increasing weight or repetitions over the course of a training program. It is a way of continuously challenging the muscles as the body adapts and grows stronger.


Progressive overload is the core idea behind most muscular-related progression, regardless of the goal.


Sarcoplasmic vs Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy is a term used to describe muscular growth or an increase in muscle mass. There are two types of hypertrophy; myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.


Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to an increase in myofibrils. Myofibrils are what allow for muscle contraction and are the building block of muscle fibers. An increase in myofibrils leads to stronger, denser, and larger muscles.


Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy represents an increase in the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid. Surrounding muscle fibers is sarcoplasmic fluid.


Sarcoplasmic fluid (sarcoplasm) contains ATP, creatine phosphate, glycogen, and water. It is an energy source for the muscle fibers. Increased sarcoplasm volume will result in a larger-looking muscle, but does not yield proven strength-related benefits.


The most effective way to build muscle (for size) is by training for both types of hypertrophy. Power-lifters tend to only focus on myofibrillar hypertrophy.


Studies indicate that training to failure/near-failure in the 6-8 rep range is most effective for stimulating both types of hypertrophy. Fewer than this will bias myofibrillar hypertrophy, and more will bias sarcoplasmic.

Sarcoplasmic vs Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

How To Progressive Overload?

How to progressive overload will be determined by your individual goals. Although, the idea of gradually adding weight and/or reps to movement is universal.

Pushing Yourself To Failure/Near-Failure

Pushing yourself to failure/near failure is the most effective way of stimulating hypertrophy and building muscle.

During a workout, there may be times you feel exhausted with nothing left to give. Suddenly, you get a burst of energy that powers you through 1 or 2 more reps. These final reps before failure can be the most beneficial for muscle growth.

Creatine can have significant benefits for training to failure. Since creatine plays a role in energy production and anaerobic stamina, creatine can give you an energy boost for those final reps.

Taking creatine as a supplement is something all weightlifters should strongly consider.

Although pushing yourself to near failure is beneficial, listening to your body is vital. Overdoing it significantly increases the risk of injury.

Having a spotter to work out with is a safe and effective way to help push each other to failure safely.

Listening to your body and responding accordingly is very important for progressive overload.

Can You Progressive Overload While Cutting
How To Program Progressive Overload?

When starting a new program, take things slow and figure out what weight you can handle for each movement. Focus on form and the eccentric portion of the exercises.


Take rest days as needed, and do not overlook sleep and nutrition.


To effectively progressive overload, refrain from changing your workout program too often. The simplest way to progressive overload is through incremental load increase while maintaining good form.


Although, that does not mean changing up your workout program is a bad thing. How frequently you change your program depends on your goals and what works best for you.


For optimal muscle growth, progressively overloading the same movement(s) for several weeks-months at a time will work best for most people trying to gain muscle mass.


A common way of training for hypertrophy is to design your program around heavy compound movements and complement those with isometric movements.


For example, on a chest and triceps day, you may use the incline dumbbell press as your primary compound movement. Each week you increase the weight of the dumbbells.


You have been including smaller isometric chest and triceps movements in your workouts.


This way, you can progressively increase the amount of weight you are using with your heavy-compound movements while also interchanging isometric movements that align with your workout.


A reason you may want to consider changing up your program is if you have noticed a plateau in muscle growth. Although, this can also be caused by other factors (sleep, nutrition, etc.)

Can You Progressive Overload While Cutting
How To Do It?

Assuming your goal is muscle growth, resistance training in the 6-8 rep range will be the most optimal. Although, rep ranges are guidelines, not strict rules.

Consider picking a weight you think you could get six reps with. Perform the exercise until failure.

If you are able to get seven reps, perfect. Ten reps? Great. 4 reps? Awesome.

The most important piece of progressive overload is pushing yourself to failure. Challenging your muscles stimulates muscle growth, not getting an exact amount of reps.

As your body adapts to the movements in your program, they will become easier. Once 6-8 feels easy with a given weight, add more.

If you cannot reach 6-8 reps, it is okay. Eventually, you will be able to.

Repeat this process, incrementally increasing weight and reps with each session. Over time, with proper nutrition, you will grow bigger, stronger, denser muscles.

Abs Progressive Overload

Can you use progressive overload for abs? Yes.

Although, increasing abdominal muscle mass is commonly confused with getting shredded.

If your goal is to have a smaller waist or to make abs more visible, then your focus should be on decreasing body-fat percentage.

Although, growing abdominal muscle mass can make your abs ‘pop’ and appear more visible.

If your goal is to increase abdominal muscle mass, you should treat it like any other muscle group. Progressive overload is the most effective method of training.

The same principles apply. Incrementally increase the amount of weight and reps. 6-8 reps should be your target rep range.

Not allowing spinal flexion is a common mistake when training abs.

No spinal flexion directs more focus to the hip flexors than the abs. Allow the spine to flex during ab exercises prioritizing form and control.

Many of the best ab exercises are bodyweight movements.

Bodyweight Progressive Overload

Can you bodyweight progressive overload? Yes.

Since increasing the load is more difficult during bodyweight exercises, there is a need for other methods of challenging the muscles.

Bodyweight exercises are adaptable and capable of increasing or decreasing difficulty, depending on the individual.

Modifying bodyweight exercises works well as a substitute for increased load.

As an example, someone may struggle with doing one standard pull-up.

To modify the exercise, they use a band to do assisted pull-ups. At first, they can only do three sets of 2-4 reps.

As they continue to get stronger with each training session, they eventually can do three sets of 8+ reps with ease.

At this point, they move on to standard pull-ups. Originally, they can only do three sets of 2-4 reps. Continuing their progress, they return to doing 6-8 reps.

That is just one example of bodyweight progressive overload, but the concept remains the same for all exercises.

Using one arm or leg, holding extra weight, or extending the eccentric are other ways of modifying bodyweight exercises.

The basic idea of continuously pushing yourself and finding new ways to challenge your muscles is universal with all types of progressive overload.

Time Under Tension vs Progressive Overload

What Is Time Under Tension?

Time under tension is a term used to describe the time a muscle is under resistance during a given set.

In simple terms, think of time under tension as how long each set takes.

Decreasing the tempo of your workout will increase your time under tension. Some workout methods use increased time under tension, hoping to promote optimal muscle gain.

Does Time Under Tension Benefit Hypertrophy?

Not necessarily.

Evidence found from a recent study supported the claim that increased time under tension positively affects hypertrophy.

At first, the study concluded that increased time under tension leads to increased muscle growth.

A further look into the data revealed a different reason for the increase in hypertrophy.

Even though data showed that participants performing exercises with increased time under tension had increased muscle growth, they were performing each set to failure.

The participants performing exercises at a regular tempo did not perform to failure but instead completed the same number of reps as the increased time under tension participants.

This actuality makes the original takeaway that increased time under tension leads to improved hypertrophy incorrect.

Pushing muscles to failure is the driving force behind stimulating hypertrophy. While increasing time under tension can be a way of challenging your muscles, there is no evidence that it is optimal for muscle growth.

While increasing time under tension may not directly optimize hypertrophy, it deems practical in many instances.

Time Under Tension vs Progressive Overload

Increasing time under tension is a different way of progressively overloading movements.

Instead of incrementally increasing resistance, incrementally increasing time under tension can be used as a tool to challenge your muscles.

Depending on your goal, time under tension training may or may not make sense for you.

Recent studies indicate this may be a slightly less efficient way to build muscle.

Increasing time under tension could be a practical way of progressively overloading bodyweight exercises.

How To Track Progressive Overload

Tracking progressive overload is straightforward.

Record each workout in a notebook or on your phone. Note the weight used and the number of reps for each set. Include any other details that you find relevant.

Before each workout, check your notebook to see what you were able to do last time and challenge yourself accordingly.

Keeping a workout notebook (or some variation) is a simple but often overlooked component of effective progressive overload.

What Is Cutting?

Cutting is a term used to describe an intentional caloric deficit. The goal of a caloric deficit is to lose fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible.

Achieve a successful cut by consuming x number of calories less than your caloric maintenance while still getting adequate amounts of protein to prevent muscle atrophy (muscle loss).

The opposite of a cut is a bulk. A bulk is when someone intentionally is eating over caloric maintenance. The goal of bulking is to gain weight. More specifically, to gain muscle.

Someone who is eating right around their caloric maintenance is maintaining. In other words, they are not looking to gain or lose weight while keeping their current muscle mass.

Food Label

Science Behind Cutting

Calories are a unit used to quantify energy.

Throughout the day, you consume amount of calories from the food and beverages you ingest. Also, you burn amount of calories from performing activities.

Read food labels and add all the calories to know how many calories you consume daily.

Many factors influence how many calories you burn. Your weight, sex, age, and activity level will affect caloric expenditure.

The more demanding activity is, the more calories it will burn. Activities ranging from lifting your arm to running a marathon burn a certain amount of calories.

Despite making up only 2% of body weight, the brain is responsible for burning an average of 20% of calories throughout the day. A highly active brain burns more calories.

Losing fat is not possible without burning more calories than you consume daily.

Someone considering cutting, bulking, or maintaining should identify their caloric maintenance.

How To Find Caloric Maintenance?

Caloric maintenance is the approximate number of calories a person burns daily.

Useful tools exist that calculate estimates of individual caloric maintenance. They consider factors such as height, weight, age, sex, and activity level.

Although these tools help figure out roughly how many calories you burn daily, it is just an estimation and not perfect.

That is why it is crucial to track your weight loss/gain consistently and adjust your calorie intake accordingly.

When Should I Start Cutting?

There is no set time when you should start a cut. It depends entirely on your individual goals.

Pertaining to body fat percentage, listen to your body. You can feel better or worse health-wise depending on your body fat percentage. Some people begin to feel lethargic or sickly as they gain or lose weight.

According to most research, losing one or fewer pounds each week is most effective for muscle retention during a cut.

Given that logic, expect cutting 10 pounds to take roughly ten weeks.

Depending on your desired timeframe, opting for a more mild cut may make sense. Cutting 10 pounds at half a pound per week would take roughly 20 weeks.

When Should I Start Cutting For Summer?

Cutting for summer to have a lower body fat percentage at the beach is a common practice.

Again, it does not matter when you start cutting but matters your goals.

For example, if you want to cut 20 pounds by July 1, at -1lb/week, you would start in early February. A 10-pound cut with the same weight loss rate would require a start in late April.

Your cut will depend on the timeframe, rate, and desired weight loss.

When Should I Stop Cutting?

Ideally, when you start the cutting process you will have a target body fat percentage and body weight in mind.

Once you hit your desired body fat, you can shift into a maintenance phase.

Should I Take Creatine When Cutting?


Creatine does not negatively affect the cutting process in any way.

There is a common misconception about creatine and weight gain.

While, yes, creatine can cause you to gain weight, it may not be for the reason you think. Creatine causes muscles to retain more water. The increased water volume increases body weight. Although, it does not increase body fat percentage.

Creatine is the most well-researched dietary supplement and offers tremendous muscle-building benefits.

During a cut, the goal is to lower body fat percentage while simultaneously keeping or building muscle. Creatine offers significant benefits to this process.

Can You Progressive Overload While Cutting?

Can you progressive overload while cutting?


A caloric deficit may slow the progressive overload process.

Building muscle and strength during an energy deficit is possible but a difficult task.

Honing in on all aspects of your health and nutrition is imperative in making this feat doable.

Getting adequate sleep, regulating stress, drinking enough water, and especially ingesting enough protein are necessary components of nutrition to progressive overload while cutting.

Multiple studies corroborate the claim that .7 – .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight is sufficient for conserving muscle mass.

Many people believe that to gain muscle and build strength (during a cut), more protein is needed (>1g/pound of bodyweight).


What Body Fat Percentage To See Veins?

Typically, at around 10% body fat percentage veins will show prominently.

Although, that is a very general statement.

The appearance of veins is heavily influenced by genetics so each person will be different.

Lowering your body fat percentage will make veins appear more prominently.

Weight training and growing muscles also make veins pop’ more.

What's The Lowest Body Fat Percentage Ever?

Bodybuilders can drop to as low as 3-4% body fat for competitions. Body fat percentages this low can have negative health effects and is not recommended.

What Body Fat Percentage Is Maintainable?

About 8% for most.

The body fat percentage that is maintainable for you is something you will have to figure out. You will feel healthier and more energetic at higher or lower body fats in the healthy range.

What Is The Healthiest Body Fat Percentage?

The healthiest body fat percentage for you depends on your age and sex.

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