Progression & Regression Applied - part 2


Progressive overload is key. It’s about how much you should practice to get results, and how much (or little) you can practice without increasing the risk of getting injured. I rarely come across this topic in the yoga community. I believe it’s time for us yogis to take load into account when teaching and practicing.


Progressive Overload defined

Kreamer (2009) defines progressive overload as “the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. Tolerance of increased stress-related overload is a vital concern for the practitioner and clinician monitoring program progression.”  In this context stress can be defined as load or force in Newtons.

Hamill (2015) writes “the muscle adapts to increased demands placed on it, and a systematic increase through progressive overload can lead to positive improvements in strength, power, and local muscle endurance.” The physical laws that we are constantly under affects the body and it adapts to the stress it’s being put under. Our tissues like bones adapts (Wolf’s law) and so does also our soft tissues (Davis’ law). The body can adapt in both directions, both progressively and reversibly (Kenney et al., 2012).


Not too much, not too little

A common belief seems to be that the higher training loads are, the higher injury rates. Rarely it's mentioned how training load also have a protective effect. There seems to be a “sweet spot” in amount of load, where there’s an ideal training stimulus. The dose-response varies between individuals, so training should always be prescribed on an individual level. To minimize the risk of injury the increase in load (acute) should be <10% on a weekly basis (Gabbett, 2016). Drew & Finch (2016) found that acute spikes of training loads should be avoided to lower the risk of injury. Gabbett (2016) also found that both over-training and under-training may increase the risk of injury. Sport athletes that performed greater than 18 weeks before an initial injury were at reduced risk of a subsequent injury. High chronic training loads have a protective effect against injuries.

injury risk.jpg

Figure1. “Relationship between physical qualities, training load, and injury risk in team sport athletes.” (Gabbett, 2016)

This research is based on athletes and team sport athletes. What this means in yoga asana and other body-weight movement practices is something that the future will reveal. Still, we can start to take these factors and variables into account and explore them in our bodies and practices.


Progress over time

Everett (2010) writes “if the training is simply repeated then the degree of change will reduce with each session”. For continual neural and tissue adaption it’s suggested that the training volume at least has to increase with 2.5-5%, but it has to be further investigated (Kreamer, 2009). This means that if you do the same thing over and over again during a long period of time, your body will not get stronger. It will be maintaining its strength at best, or even reverse. The principle of reversibility basically means: use it, or you’ll lose it (Kenney et al., 2012).

As I wrote in Part 1, there are many trainable variables where you can increase the load. In yoga asana, mostly the body is used as the only resistance. Therefore we have gravity and internal muscular activity to play with together with the different variables. If you progressively change your relationship to gravity and change how much voluntary muscle activity you use - it’s a simple task. Do a plank on your toes instead of your knees, increase or decrease the speed in the transition between and in the yoga asanas. Maybe take your Virabhadrasana III and do it with the standing leg on a wall and your hands on the floor (L-pose), same shape but a different relationship to gravity.

If you are untrained as your initial training status, the overall training volume isn’t critical during the first 6-12 weeks in the aspect of tissue adaption. This is because the early phase of training is characterised by improvements in neural adaption, muscle activation and coordination (Kreamer et al., 2009).

If you do have a regular movement or yoga asana practice the second task I’d like to give you is to plan how to increase the load from your current one.

  • In what variable will you increase the load first? Speed, relationship to gravity, or maybe more co-contraction?

  • How much in 2,5-10% increase of that? Add that to your weekly practice.


What does this mean?

The body adapts to the loads it’s being put under, both progressively and reversibly. To strengthen your body's structures you have to change and increase the load in one or several variables, preferably between 2,5-10% every week. So training both smarter and harder is a good idea to lower the risk of injury. Also not to forget, training should be prescribed on an individual level.



Drew M K. & Finch C F. (2016). The Relationship Between Training Load and Injury, Illness and Soreness: A Systematic and Literature Review. Sports Med. 2016 Jun;46(6):861-83. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-015-0459-8.

Everett T., Kell, C. (2010). Human movement: an introductory text. 6th ed.: Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier

Gabbett, T J. (2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Mar;50(5):273-80. DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788.

Hamill J., Knutzen K., Derrick T R. (2015). Biomechanical basis of human movement. 4. ed., North American Ed: Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health, cop.

Kenney, W L., Wilmore, J H. & Costill, D L. (2012). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 5th edition.

Kraemer et al. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):687-708. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670.

ResearchSara Ström