Microloading – Necessary For Progressive Overload?

January 20, 2022 2 Comments


In this article I will explore the concept of microloading as it pertains to your training and whether it is necessary for applying the progressive overload principle. I will compare various exercises and look at the discrepancies in weight of different weight plates. In the end I will come to a conclusion as to whether microloading is necessary to make better and easier progress through progressive overload. 

What Is Microloading?

Before I begin I am going to explain what microloading is. In short this is making a very small incremental increase in the weight that you use on a given exercise. The idea behind it is you can make better progress by adding very small increments in weight over time. It gives you a longer runway to make progress before you stall. 

When you make bigger jumps you can experience plateau’s faster and it doesn’t allow for the best possible progression. However I will explore this idea further later in this article. 

Typically the smallest weight plate you will see in any commercial gym is 1.25kg. Only in more hardcore or specialised facilities will you see weights smaller than this. You can call these micro-plates. For the purposes of this article I am going to define microloading as adding weight plates lighter than 1.25kg to an exercise. It could be a barbell, dumbbell or machine movement.


Differences In Exercises

It has to be noted that different exercises have to be treated differently. The biggest exercise that utilise the most muscle mass like the deadlift and squat are easiest to progress on. You can make bigger jumps in weight. However for exercises like the bench press and even smaller exercises it is harder to progress with big jumps and it is more helpful to make smaller jumps.

Therefore, for exercises that are less taxing and use less overall total muscle mass microloading would be more beneficial and make more sense. For exercises like the deadlift and squat there is no need to microload. You can make progress using the smallest increment increases of 1.25kg and 2.5kg to both sides of the bar.


Errors In Different Size Weight Plates

An important point to consider is the fact that there is a larger percentage error in the actual weight of bigger plates like 20kg and 25kg plates compared to smaller weight plates of 15kg or less. This means that for exercises where you would typically use the bigger plates there is already a decent margin of error in weight which nullifies any impact of microloading.

Whereas for smaller plates like 5kg or 10kg the actual weight is a lot closer to what you would expect. Therefore microloading can have a positive effect to make small incremental increases. This also ties in to the concept of microloading being more beneficial for smaller exercises as opposed to bigger ones.

The only time when the weight plates are a lot more accurate is if you use calibrated kilo plates as you would find in a powerlifting meet. Commercial gyms in general do not have those plates and instead stock standard iron plates or bumper plates.

Finally, many gyms have different brands of plates so people are mixing and matching different brands of weight plates in their training. This can also cause discrepancies and errors in the total weight. The main takeaway is microloading is more beneficial for exercises where you are utilising less weight.

How I Use Microloading

Now I am going to discuss how I use microloading in my training. I train at two different gyms, one is a commercial gym and the other is a hardcore gym. I split my workouts so that half of them are in each of the two gyms. In the commercial gym I don’t have access to any microplates lower than 1.25kg. Therefore I bring two York 0.5kg plates that I bought many years ago, they are attached to a thick shoelace. I then add the 0.5kg plates to the bar or machines by the loop of the shoelace. You can find a picture of what this 0.5kg plate looks like below.

In the hardcore gym there any quite a few microplates – they have 0.5kg and 1kg plates which is very useful. I make use of those plates in my training. The exercises that I microload are exercises like the bench press, machine row, pushdowns, pulldowns, etc. 

In this way I am making use of microloading in both gyms and doing so on the smaller exercises in the main. 

0.5kg plate


To conclude, in this article I have delved deeper into microloading and where it is better suited. I will now explore how necessary microloading is for progressive overload. First of all it is clear that microloading is not necessary to make progress through progressive overload. 

You can make progress by increasing the reps with a certain weight and then increasing weights using the 1.25kg weight plates for the smallest increments. Microloading is just more convenient for being able to make slower progress for longer and reduce the number of plateau’s that you will hit in your training over time.

Also microloading is unnecessary on the bigger exercises and can be used on the smaller exercises for a more convenient way of making smaller jumps in weight. By using smaller weight increases you can go through a longer period of time without stalling at a certain weight.

However it is clear that microloading is not necessary, it is just a useful tool in your arsenal to use for smaller exercises to make slower progress over a long period of time that can add up to good gains. Instead of stalling at the same weight two or three times you can stall less often and increase your “runway” for making progress through adding weight.

If you have any questions about anything in this article please leave me a comment below. Let me know if you use microloading in your training – how do you do it and on which exercises?

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

2 thoughts on “Microloading – Necessary For Progressive Overload?”

  1. I love your post. I’m a female, 5’4 and very overweight. I’m on a low carb food plan to lose weight. Do you think microloading would help me to lose fat and build muscle? I don’t want to be a bodybuilder. I just want to be able to build muscle while losing fat.  I’m not sure if I should just do the circuit training at the gym. I believe I’ve been using microloading all along. I’ve been adding small weight increments, 5 pounds, every week or so whenever the weight gets too easy. But I do it with the circuit machines.  Does this principle apply to circuit training?

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. I would say for you the main focus would be nutrition. High protein clean diet and lower carbs, good vegetables and fats. If you want a great diet that would help you to lose weight and gain muscle you should check out the vertical diet by clicking here .

      Progressive overload applies to all forms of training including circuit. For you I wouldn’t be too concerned with microloading, just continue to train consistently and eat healthy. To lose weight you should be in a caloric deficit so that you are consuming under your maintenance calories every day. Keep the protein high. 

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