Key principles of lifting
03-07-2006 08:18 PM
Key principles of lifting
I wont take credit for this article that I found on IA but its got a lot of good info so I brought it over. If your relatively new to the bb scene and looking to build a new workout split I suggest you give it a read:
Understanding How the Body Responds to Stress
Resistance training is simply a form of stress from the body's
perspective. In fact, in East-bloc sports science jargon, training was
often referred to as an "irritant," due to its ability to disrupt the
body's strong preference to remain unchanged (called homeostasis). It's
ironic when people claim to be "natural" bodybuilders- although of
course we all know what they mean, by definition, training is unnatural.
Life always looks for the easiest way to exist, not the hardest. So,
whenever you're debating about whether or not you should train, notions
such as "I think I'll just do it later" are natural. On the other hand,
it's not natural to think "I'm going to torch my quads today- I'm
psyched to train!"
But I digress! The short course on training goes like this: If your
training (as a form of stress) is consistently and correctly applied,
the body will adapt (or adjust) in a positive way. If the stress is
applied improperly, inconsistently, or both, the body will either not
adapt at all, or it will adapt in a negative way (meaning you may become
injured or overtrained).
Understanding Training Principles
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, there is no such thing as a
"perfect" program, for at least two reasons: first, everyone is
different, and will respond differently to the same program. Second,
even if you could design the perfect program, the body will adjust to it
after a period of time, meaning that you would experience diminishing
results, until eventually, you would hit a complete plateau. Anyone who
tells you that he or she has developed the perfect or "best" training
program is either stupid, ignorant, or someone with something to sell.
Virtually any program will work temporarily (as long as you're not
injured), because the vast majority of people do not implement enough
variation in their workout programs. So as long as a program is in some
way different from what a person is accustomed to, they will make
progress for a while, but again, after a period of time, the body will
adapt, and stagnation sets in.
The process of adaptation is much like trying to ride an uncooperative
horse by dangling a carrot from the end of a fishing pole- as long as he
struggles to get the carrot, you're in business. If he manages to catch
the carrot however, you come to a screeching halt.
The Principle of Progressive Overload
Let's start off with an analogy: If you went from a sedentary desk job
to working as a lumberjack, your body would undergo some interesting
adaptations as it struggled to cope with the unfamiliar environmental
stressors inherent in that profession. You would most certainly develop
caluoses on your hands as a result of grasping axes, saws, and other
implements for hours each day. These callouses, however, would be
exactly the same size one year after getting your new job, three years
after, six years after, ad infinitum. Why? Because the stress to your
hands never increased over that period of time. Bodybuilding is no
different. Many athletes make great progress for the first year or two,
but then never look any different from that point on.
The Training Load
In sports science jargon, the training load is defined as the sum total
of all training activities for a given unit of time. The training load
has two important components, both of which can be used to provide
overload- volume, or the amount of work done, and intensity, or the
difficulty of work done.
However, before you can plan a certain level of progression, it becomes
necessary to have a way of measuring each of these components. Volume
usually calculated as the amount of weight lifted multiplied by the
repetitions performed with that weight. However, this traditional
calculation is being called into question by some latter day thinkers.
International strength coach Charles Poliquin advises that the actual
time that a muscle is under tension must be considered as well. If this
seems like a matter of semantics, let me ask you a question: If you
perform a set of ten reps with 135 pounds, and your lifting speed (or
tempo) is 6 seconds per repetition, and your training partner used the
same weight and reps, but executed each rep at three seconds per
repetition, did you each perform an identical amount of work? Clearly,
no. This scenario illustrates the fact that the training load can be
increased simply by gradually slowing down your lifting tempos over
successive workouts. Reducing rest between sets also increases volume
and training density, since more work will be performed in the same
period of time. So, to use another example, if you and your partner both
perform three sets of ten reps with 135 pounds using identical tempos,
but you rest one minute per set while your partner rests two minutes
between sets, you achieved the greater volume and density.
Intensity is the second component of the training load, and it is
normally expressed as a percentage of your 1RM (one repetition maximum),
or the greatest amount of weight you can lift for one repetition in
proper form. But here's the catch with 1RM's: they're always changing.
This means you never quite know for sure what your 1RM is for any given
lift. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't test for 1RM's every 8 weeks or
so you should. Doing so gives you a guideline to work with. It's just
important to realize that 1RM's are a dynamic measurement.
When considering intensity, it's important to realize that any change in
your exercise technique- no matter how slight- changes the equation
altogether. For instance, if you normally use a three second tempo
(meaning, you complete each repetition in exactly three seconds) when
testing for your 1RM, and the next time you test you're able to add five
pound to your 1RM but it took you an extra second to complete the lift,
it's not an accurate 1RM. The moral is, establish your testing
parameters, and then stick to them so that you have a consistent
protocol when testing.
Incidentally many people use the phrase "high intensity" to describe
workout that are actually high volume or high density (which refers to
the work/rest ratio). So just to be clear about our terms, remember that
intensity has nothing to do with how much pain you're in, or the fact
that you frequently experience reverse peristolisis after your leg
training- it simply refers to how much weight is on the bar relative to
your current maximal ability.
The Volume/Intensity Relationship
A final point worth understanding about the training load is that volume
and intensity are mutually exclusive concepts- you can't have high
intensity and high volume simultaneously. If this was possible, a track
athlete would be able to run a marathon at 100 meter sprint pace. Yet
both volume and intensity are necessary to achieve results- high volume
loads create more lasting adaptations, while intense load create
stronger adaptations which are more fleeting. This apparent paradox is
one of the primary reasons for periodizing (or cycling) your training.
Although you can implement the principle of progressive overload by
increasing volume or intensity, it's important to realize that increases
in volume are more sustainable than increases in intensity. Most people
know this intuitively, but never learn how to apply it to their
Methods of Progressive Overload
In his excellent text Science of Sports Training (available through
Stadion Publishing at 800-873-7117)Thomas Kurz identified three
methods which can be used to increase the training load over time:
1) Rectilinear method: Loads are continuously and uniformly increased.
An example of rectilinear progression is to attempt to add five pounds
to the bar every time you perform squats.
2) Stepped Method: Load are sharply increased, then held at that level
for a period of time, before being sharply increased again. An example
would be using the same weight, say 185 pounds for five sets of five
reps, for a period of four weeks, and then increasing to 225 pounds for
four weeks, and so on.
3) Wavy method: Loads are gradually increased for several sessions, and
then decreased for one or more sessions, and so on. A classic example of
this loading scheme is as follows:
Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 185 190 195
Week 2 190 195 200
Week 3 195 200 205
While increases in load are slower than the previous two methods, this
technique lends itself to more sustainable progress, and as a result
more satisfaction from training.
Rate of Progress
Should an athlete progress as fast as possible? Or perhaps as fast as is
comfortable? Or, should you just choose some arbitrary unit- say five
pounds per week? There is a way to make some sense of this. The key is
to determine the amount of progression that you can sustain over a
prolonged period of time. Let's take the five pounds per week scenario,
which incidentally, is commonly used by people who make great progress
initially, but who hit a wall after a year or two. While this seems like
a very gradual progression, if you take the time to extend this level of
progression over the long term, you'll find that it equates to an
increase of 260 pounds per year! In such a scenario, the athlete would
be a world class powerlifter within two years!
The previous scenario violates what I call "The Law of Sustainable
Progression." Huge increases in training loads soothe the ego and make
for fairly impressive short term gains, but they can't be sustained. A
slower progression over a longer period of time leads to better and more
lasting results than a faster progression which can only be sustained
for a short period of time. Further, large, sudden increases in training
loads are associated with hitting an early plateau, which can lead to
injury, as the athlete resorts to more and more extreme methods in an
attempt to break out of this plateau.
Equipment companies are responding to the concept of "micro-progression"
by providing more variable weight stacks which allow for smaller jumps.
One company, Benoit Built, makes specialized magnets (called Plate
Mate) weighing between 1 &1/4 and 5/8 of a pound which can be attached
to plates, dumbbells, and weight stacks. The beauty of Plate Mates
(besides portability) is that they allow you to make minute, yet
sustainable progressions from workout to workout. Putting this concept
in terms you can relate to, let's assume you're a 250 pound bencher.
Using a progression of 2.5 pounds per week, you'll be a 380 pound
bencher in one year.
The Principle of Specificity
When a novice artist puts brush to canvas, he can only guess as to what
the result will be. A skilled artist knows beforehand. The difference
between these two artists is mastery of the specificity principle. Your
body is the canvas. Your medium is resistance training. Applications of
this principle range from the obvious to the sublime. For example, it's
obvious that you need a quad exercise to develop your quads, and it's
also clear that a muscle's ratio of fast versus slow motor units must be
considered when selecting appropriate repetition ranges. Less obvious
applications of specificity include:
Muscles have different recovery rates (large muscles take longer to
Pennation (fiber alignment) affects selection of intensity ranges
(long fusiform muscles are best suited for speed, while short fusiform
muscles are better adapted to contractile strength. Penniform muscles,
whos fibers are oriented diagonal to the origin and insertion points of
the muscle, seem better suited to strength than speed of contraction.
Multi-joint muscles require more varied stimulation compared to single
joint muscles Hamstrings, for example, should be trained as knee flexors
(leg curl), hip extensors (reverse hyperextensions), and both functions
simultaneously (glute-ham-gastroc raises).The latter two exercises are
performed on specialized equipment available from Simmons Performance
Muscles which work through a short range of motion need more sets for
Muscles which are rarely stimulated in everyday life (neck
musculature, tibealis anterior) require less sets
Muscles which normally act as stabilizers should be trained as such
(through prolonged, static contractions)
The Principle of Variability
Paradoxically, specificity must be balanced against variability in
training programs (please see sidebar entitled "A Paradox: the
Specificity/variability Continuum"), for the following three reasons:
1) The effectiveness of any program is a function of the degree to which
it challenges your body. The problem is that familiar programs are less
challenging, because your body has had time to figure them out. Every
time you repeat a training program, it becomes less and less effective.
2) All programs have both negative and positive features, no matter how
well-designed or specific they are. Too much time on one program, and
you tend to adapt to the positive aspects and accumulate the negative
3) Unchanging training routines lead to overuse injuries. According to
Dr. Sal Arria, Sports Medicine Director for the International Sports
Sciences Association, "Adopting long-term training habits of any kind is
very often a precursor to degenerative changes in the joints- advanced
athletes are particularly vulnerable, since their training tends to
become more and more specific over time."
Deane Juhan, in his insightful text Job's Body (© 1987, Station Hill
Press, Barrytown, NY), observes: "Let us be on our guard against
adopting any particular posture, mode of exercise, or repetitive
discipline as being perfect, or ideal, or best. Only constant variation
calls the full alertness of the system into being. It is, after all,
constant variation that we are called upon to cope with throughout our
lives, a condition from which we can only partially insulate ourselves
no matter how hard we may try to cling to models, and no matter how
'right' those models appear to be from a particular theoretical point of
For these three reasons, it's crucial to regularly (every 2-4 weeks)
change acute program variables (such as frequency, exercise selection,
number of exercises, order of exercises, length of training session,
number of repetitions, number of sets, length of rest periods, and tempo
(the speed of muscle contraction during an exercise).
The Principle of Individual Response
If the previously discussed principles are the road map, individuality
is the steering wheel. It allows for constant, minute to minute
adjustments, so that the training program can be "fitted" the
individual, rather than vice versa. Commonly, athletes make the
incorrect assumption that training = results, without factoring in the
The importance of individual response is often misunderstood. Even
science can be misleading. For example, imagine a research study
evaluating the effectiveness of incline bench versus flat bench presses
for the clavicular portion of the pectoralis major. The majority of test
subjects made identical gains with both exercises But for a few of
those test subjects, the incline bench press was more effective. So the
lesson is, not all people (in fact, very few) fall in the middle of the
so called bell curve.
Tailoring Your Program
Take an inventory of your own situation. You might start by assessing
your somatype. Are you an ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph? Do you
have any postural problems that need to be concerned with? Do you have a
high percentage of fast twitch, or slow twitch fibers? (My colleague
Charles Poliquin suggests that you can get an estimate by seeing how
many reps you can perform with 80% of your one rep maximum for any
exercise. If you can only do three or four reps, you're a "fast
twitcher." If you can get twelve or more reps, you're probably a "slow
Once you've created a profile for yourself, you can then begin to create
a training program which takes your unique characteristics into account.
Start with your objectives, and consider the constraining factors you're
operating under. These two variables will narrow your options
considerably. Next, consider the most significant characteristics that
make you unique. Age and training experience, for example. Younger
people with more experience generally have more options than older
people with less experience. Finally, examine your health status,
including any postural problems you may have.
After you've spent some time analyzing your situation, you should be
able to home-in on a basic program that will best suit your needs.
Later, you can make minute adjustments as the need presents itself.
The moment you come to a conclusion, you cease to learn. "How to"
articles give you security, but not understanding. Clearly, this is not
a "how to" article. Remember, though- in order to gain understanding,
you need to give up a certain level of security. In time, your enhanced
understanding of training principles will serve you well, allowing you
to design your methods with ease and efficiency.
A Paradox: The Specificity/Variability Continuum
Interestingly, both specificity and variability must be respected in the
course of training, even though both principles are antithetical. Since
a program obviously cannot be both specific and varied simultaneously,
each must be represented sequentially over a mesocycle. This observation
is one of the key justifications for the concept of periodization.
When Variability takes Precedence:
At the beginning of a training cycle
Following post-rehab for an injury
Anyone at the beginning of their athletic career, regardless of age
When Specificity should Dominate:
For advanced or experienced athletes
Whenever an athlete is trying to "peak." For bodybuilders, this means
dropping bodyfat and subcutaneous water, while simultaneously
to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
Practical Guidelines for Individualizing Your Training Program
A. Use "default," or standard, well accepted methods first. Use less
standard methods only when you reach a point in your training where
progress is no longer forthcoming.
B. Become familiar with anatomy and kinesiology, in order to better
understand your body's unique characteristics. Start with the excellent
text Anatomy of Movement by Rene Callais-Germaine.
C. If conventional programs just aren't cutting it for you, start
experimenting. Try different exercises, different intensity ranges, a
different number of exercises and/or sets, etc. Give the new program at
least two weeks before you make judgments about it's effectiveness
D. You can find shortcuts in the experimentation process by modeling
yourself after a successful person who shares your unique
characteristics. For instance, if you're exceedingly tall, find other
tall bodybuilders who have been successful, and find out how they
altered their training programs to fit their individual needs, Chances
are, it'll work for you too.
E. Use your common sense! Often, athletes with many years of experience
resort to foolish and extreme practices to make further gains. Remember-
if you've been training properly for more than ten years, you're near
your "ceiling of potential." If we all could make improvements endlessly
for decades, everyone could squat 1000 pounds, or become Mr. Olympia, or
whatever else their goal is! Your goal now is to stay patient, keep
healthy, while still seeking further improvements.
F. Consider hiring a certified sports conditioning specialist.
Experienced strength coaches have adapted training programs to a wide
variety of athletes, and can usually show you ways to save time and
energy. In the field of strength training, the people who feel they know
everything usually know the least, and those who know the most are
normally very open-minded and.
G. Have a clear, objective vision of what you expect to gain from your
program. If you don't, you'll have no way to evaluate the effectiveness
of your training.
03-07-2006 09:27 PM
Good read. Thanks for sharing
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