By Robin Pritchard - Owner of Fortis Training (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Understand your body. Understand the demands of your environment. Train. Adapt. Progress.
Reading time: 2-4 mins
For: anyone training to get stronger/faster/fitter
Principle #1 – Specificity
Your training needs to be specific to you. That means you need to raise your overall fitness levels to meet the demands of your environment. If you are an elite athlete that means being faster, stronger, more powerful and more robust than your competition in order to succeed. Likewise, if you are looking to play sport recreationally, you want your body to be able to cope with rounds of golf, a game of tennis or any pursuit of your choice. Clearly, the programme design for these two individuals wouldn’t be the same as the environmental demands are very different.
Next, it is important to consider the type of training you perform and whether there is a positive transfer to your performance. As a coach, the first question I ask myself when programming an exercise is ‘how will this make my athlete better?’ – bear that in mind the next time you enter a gym/complete a training session!
An effective programme is one which doesn’t waste your time – making it specific to you is the first step!
Principle #2 – Progressive Overload
You could have the best S&C coach in the world put together the best session plan possible for you with every single set, rep and weight mapped out and that would be great, right? Well yes – initially. However, your body is an incredible machine that would quickly adapt to the load placed upon it. Therefore, you will need to progress the session to keep getting benefits from it. This is summed up nicely in the graphic below.
(adapted from IRB S&C)
Training is a stress on the body. Therefore, initially our body is fatigued and tired after a session (providing the stimulus is high enough to stress the body). However, as we adapt and recover, we ‘overshoot’ in order to prepare for any future exercise bout (i.e. we get stronger/more conditioned). Our aim is to train at the peak of the line in order to maximise our training benefit.
You may have heard of the ‘FITT’ principle which is effectively a way to increase the (good) stress on your body which adapts to meet the demands of your environment.
Frequency: how often you train will directly influence the response your body has to training. Understanding your current level of ability and recovery time is essential to working out the perfect plan for you. Inexperienced/novice trainers will be able to get some good training stimulus from a couple of sessions each week – provided a strong enough stimulus to prompt a positive adaptation in the first place!
A gap of around 3-4 days between sessions will be fine. Elite athletes, who have an incredible capacity for training and recovery will require more sessions (i.e. a greater stimulus) in order to fine-tune their athletic qualities.
Training frequency depends on the demands of your environment!
Key Point: training load = volume (reps) x intensity (weight used)
Understanding this formula and how to manipulate each variable is essential when it comes to progressing an exercise.
Intensity: speak to any S&C coach and they will give you fifty ways to progress an exercise, whether it’s a simple linear step progression, a wave-step, clusters or simple overcompensation strategies. Ultimately, their aim is to make you stronger and more explosive! The table below highlights a simple way to increase intensity from week 1-3:
Making small, controlled progressions from week to week, session to session or set to set is one of the easiest ways to manipulate your training stimulus.
Once this approach starts to become ineffective, you might find that one way to increase the intensity (weight/speed) of the movement is to reduce the number of reps per set.
See week 4 in the table above. The total number of reps is fairly similar to the previous three weeks – however by dropping the number of reps per set should (theoretically) allow you to lift slightly more weight thus producing a greater training load!
Time: as we’ve used a gym example so far, we will continue with this theme to keep things simple. However, any runners or endurance athletes can apply the same principles with their training in order to produce a stimulus to cause a positive adaptation.
Key Point: ‘Time’ in the gym refers to ‘time under tension’ i.e. how long the muscle is working each set
This can be manipulated in a number of ways, from completing a slower eccentric portion (lowering) of the lift, to completing more reps each set, or by completing more sets!
Type: Often an overlooked variable, but the type of exercise can also affect our rate of progress. Our body’s incredible ability to adapt means that performance can still plateau even if we manipulate our training load.
Varying exercises is often a good way to provide a different stimulus for your body to react to and will allow it to adapt. For instance, we can progress an exercise to make it more dynamic (e.g. dumbbell split squat to dumbbell lunge) or use a barbell instead of dumbbells on a bench press. Changing from a front squat to a back squat (or vice versa) or a deadlift to a sumo deadlift are just a couple of simple variations we can use and rotate from one block to the next.
To get fitter, think FITT.
Master Your Environment
This is just a very brief foray into (some of) the principles of training, but hopefully you have found it useful and been able to relate it to your environment. Whether you are training to compete, training to train or even looking to rehabilitate an injury following an injury, utilising these basic principles will help you accelerate your level of performance or rate of recovery!
There’s a reason that elite sports teams have a multi-disciplinary team of physical preparation specialists ranging from the club doctor to the physiotherapist to the strength & conditioning team. Each brings their own expertise. As an S&C coach, my role is to provide a stimulus to create an adaptation. In order to do this, we need to push the body in order to help it grow stronger.
Understand your body. Understand the demands of your environment. Train. Adapt. Progress. Like this guy… (n.b. raw eggs not recommended)