Progressive overload, if you are unaware, is one of the most important components of a successful training programme. In short, progressive overload just means that training has to get incrementally harder over time. For more detail on this principle, watch this video I made.
Now, while progressive overload is a very simple concept, how you apply it to your training can become slightly more complex. What follows is a few ideas you can use to continue stimulating your body to get bigger and stronger with progressive overload.
1. ADD WEIGHT
This is the most obvious strategy that most people will jump to. This works fine for a beginner, but as you get more advanced it becomes harder and harder to just add weight, particularly for upper body exercises like benches and rows.
The key with adding weight is to follow the principle: add small amounts slowly. Use the minimum effective dose to get stronger. The smart way to go about this is to add a 1.25kg plate each side for a 2.5kg total increase. Though this may seem like a tiny addition in weight, if you could keep that rate of progress up for 14 sessions (8 weeks if training twice per week), that'd be 35kg added to to your lift. That is AMAZING progress for anyone. If that doesn't sound like enough progress, then you should find a different hobby!
Wk 1: 100kg 3x5
Wk 2: 102.5kg 3x5
Wk 3: 105kg 3x5
Wk 4: 107.5kg 3x5
Wk 5: 110kg 3x5
2. ADD REPS
This is a great approach and one that I like to use with many of my PT clients. A classic example would be to train in a rep range of 8-12 reps. When you are able to perform 12 reps or more with perfect form, then weight is added to the bar. This method ensures that weight is being added at pace with your actual ability and that technique is not sacrificed for load. At minimum you should be able to perform 2 extra reps before adding weight (i.e. 7 reps with a weight that used to be challenging for 5).
This strategy is actually one of the first formal resistance training programmes ever devised. It is called the APRE programme, and was first used in the early 20th century for rehabilitating injured soldiers. It's effectiveness has stood the test of time.
Wk 1: 100kg 3x5
Wk 2: 100kg 3x8
Wk 3: 102.5kg 3x5
Wk 4: 102.5kg 3x8
Wk 5: 105kg 3x5
3. ADD SETS
This approach is generally one of my least preferred options but it is still a viable option nonetheless. My main reasoning for not being a big fan of this strategy is that adding sets tends to also add quite a bit of fatigue. However there will be times when you don't feel like you can add weight or reps, and then this approach can be effective, so long as it's used conservatively.
One way you can make this approach work is by starting a training block with a low number sets (2 or 3), and then add a set each week. When you reach your target number of sets then add weight and reset the number of sets. This can be a good approach for hypertrophy (muscle gain) training, as volume increase is a key factor in hypertrophy.
Wk 1: 100kg 3x10
Wk 2: 100kg 4x10
Wk 3: 100kg 5x10
Wk 4: 102.5kg 3x10
Wk 5: 102.5kg 4x10
4. REDUCE REST PERIODS
Purposely limiting your rest periods between sets will induce fatigue due to an accumulation of metabolites in your muscles. These metabolites signal muscle growth, and this type of training will often give you that 'pump', or swollen feeling in your muscles.
However in the weight room, it's vital to understand that it is a bad idea to use this approach with heavy compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, benches. The reason why is because fatigue leads to technical breakdown, which leads to injury. The only people who need to be performing movements like these under fatigue are CrossFitters, as it's a part of their sport. If you want to use this strategy, keep it to machine or isolation exercises like leg presses, curls, tricep extensions etc. where there is less technical points to think about.