Workout of the Day vs. Progressive Overload


By O2X Resilience Specialist Benjamin Toderico MS, CSCS

As a tactical athlete you are responsible for the safety of others, be it your team members or citizens that you are protecting. In order to do your best you need to take care of yourself and make sure that you are operationally ready and the strongest that you can be. Resistance training using various methods such as weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight can be utilized to increase strength.

The method that you provide resistance for strength training is not as important as the plan that you employ to train. A quick internet search or scan of social media will provide you with countless workouts of the day. This can be a solution in a pinch but it fails to follow two main principles of strength training, progressive overload and specificity.

Progressive overload is the principle where you increase the stress applied to your body over time. As your body adapts to the training, you need to increase the stress applied to the muscles to cause further adaptation (increase in muscle strength or size). A properly designed training program utilizes progressive overload through increasing the amount of weight used in each workset, increasing the number of repetitions, increasing the number of sets per exercise, adding exercises, or a combination of the strategies.


The specificity principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands, states that the body responds to the exercise in a manner to improve the performance of the exercise. Specificity would also relate to performing exercises that closely match the sport or job that you are trying to perform. For example, as a tactical athlete you may need to carry heavy loads in the performance of your job, therefore your program may include exercises that target leg, core, shoulder girdle, and grip strength. Exercises that target those areas could be a squatting exercise, a carry such as farmer’s carries, shrugs and bar hangs.

Using workouts of the day or a workout from social media may be challenging and give you a good burn session but it won’t be the most effective way to train. As a tactical athlete, you need a workout program that utilizes progressive overload in order to increase the stress on your body to drive the adaptation that you seek. Additionally, your program needs to utilize specificity where the exercises are specific to adaptations you are trying to impose, be it job specific, task specific, strength or hypertrophy.

Social media and gym lore are replete with exercises that are “required” for you to be strong or say that you can’t get strong without including the exercises in your workouts. These mandates don’t take into account that each athlete may have different training experience, joint range of motion, limb lengths, or goals.

Two exercises that frequently get mentioned as must do’s and your program is incomplete without them are deadlifts and squats. While barbell squats and deadlifts are often touted as the must haves to get big and strong, the movements are critical to preserve but the methods are variable and not crucial. 


Not everyone is going to be able to perform a full range of motion deep barbell back squat. Does that mean that person won’t be able to get stronger or add muscle size? No, they might just need an alternative exercise. If barbell back squats are not for you, there are many alternatives. Here are just a few options:


  • Barbell front squats

  • Squats with front racked kettlebell

  • Bulgarian split squats

  • Box Step ups

Deadlifts can also be an uncomfortable or painful exercise for some people to perform. Again, it is not an indispensable exercise. Other exercises can provide a similar stimulus to increase the strength of the hinge movement or as a stimulus for hypertrophy. You can target the hinge movement with one of these alternatives:


  • Trap bar deadlifts

  • Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)

  • Single leg RDLs

  • Kettlebell or dumbbell deadlifts

There are no exercises that are critical to include in a comprehensive training program. Exercise options are nearly limitless and often only constrained by your imagination. Reframe your strength training philosophy into developing movements versus adhering to specific exercise choices and continue to build strength and muscle mass in a way that is compatible with your body abilities.

Tactical athletes don’t have the luxury of planning when they are going to perform, they need to be ready to perform their best on every call or mission. Developing or following a program that utilizes specificity and progressive overload enhances your mission through providing exercises that will address the needs of the job with appropriate increases in intensity. The program doesn’t have to be limited by dogmatic exercises that might not be compatible with your body. Train movements versus specific exercise and you will continue to be able to get stronger and accrue muscle mass.