Progressive strengthening—a.k.a progressive resistance exercise or overload principle—is a strengthening technique commonly used in physical therapy. It requires the use of specific strengthening exercises and equipment (like dumbbells, cuff weights, and elastic bands) or manual resistance exercise—direct force skillfully applied to the patient by the physical therapist.
Progressive strengthening helps improve muscle strength, tone, size, and function in patients experiencing muscle weakness, typically due to recovery from injury, disease, disorder, or surgery. Patients may also seek progressive strengthening as a treatment for muscle atrophy as a result of a sedentary lifestyle or prescribed bed rest.
After a physical examination and assessment of the patient’s range of motion, a physical therapist would create a customized exercise plan based on the patient’s needs and therapy goals. The plan allows for a gradual increase in weight and repetitions to make muscle improvements at a safe, healthy pace until the patient reaches his or her goals.
This physical therapy technique is effective in reducing impairment and improving mobility. Progressive strengthening may also have positive effects on patients with chronic neck and back pain, high blood pressure, arthritis, fracture, and stroke. After treatment, an active lifestyle can help patients maintain and improve upon the physical benefits of progressive strengthening.