The 15 Principles of Training

The 15 Principles of Training

While any final year P.E. student could recount some of the principles of training, understanding how these principles realistically affect performance, efficiency and sustainability is key to becoming a better athlete or coach. These principles are the foundation for all training, not just strength based, and some principles may be considered more important than others in the strength building aspect, but I believe it is worth reviewing the whole picture before forming those opinions.

Fitness

This principle alludes to the components of fitness that contribute to being an effective athlete in a given sporting context. These components of fitness range from the broad, such as musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems, to the niche, such as reaction time and passive ranges of motion. The components of fitness are all encompassing and should make you think “how does this [insert thing relating to human body] affect my ability in [insert activity]?”. The relative influence of each component of fitness is dependent on several factors, such as;

  • What sport am I playing?

Obviously, how efficient your running economy is becomes far more important when your chosen activity is long-distance running whereas the words “running economy” could be seen as blasphemous in a powerlifting gym. That is a fairly cut and dry example, however some components of fitness are greyer. To whom does producing lower-limb force matter more? A prop in rugby union, or a defensive lineman in American football?

  • The current attributes of the athlete

Using the previous example, if a prop wanted to become a defensive lineman there would be less need for a focus on gaining size than if a tennis player wanted to become a defensive lineman. However, a tennis player would probably not need to work as much on their lateral agility when compared to the prop. This goes to highlight that depending on the current attributes of the athlete, and their targeted goals, the importance of training certain components of fitness varies.

  • Many other factors…

Performance

This principle describes the interrelatedness of every factor influencing performance, and how those factors enhance or reduce your effectiveness. The factors can come from intrinsic or extrinsic sources. An example of an intrinsic source is an individuals willingness to succeed or their motivation to train, while an extrinsic source could be the environment of the competition or the specific requirements of their sport.

Overload

If our goal is to improve our body or its systems, we must overload those systems beyond their typical requirements. A simple example is if your wish to increase your ability to hold your breath underwater, you must perform holding your breath for longer and longer each time to get better. This overload causes the body to adapt in order to survive these new demands. The issue with the progressive overload idea is that many people now think of it as just increasing the load on the barbell every week. While that is considered overload, there are many other training variables we can alter to stimulate an overload adaptation, such as frequency, volume, duration, even decreasing rest between sets or sessions.

Individualisation

A simple principle that indicates an individual will respond differently to the same training/stimulus as another individual. The simplest factors that cause this effect include age, gender, training history, health status, current physical ability, mental ability, and anything else that sets people apart from one another.

Progression

Leading on from the overload principle, this principle describes how once we have adapted to our overload variable, that stress must be increased again to continue achieving improvements. This principle plus the overload principle combine to formulate the idea of progressive overload, which again, does not solely include increasing load. Depending on components of fitness (and of course factoring in individualisation) this progression takes place every 1-4 weeks and is something strength coaches focus heavily on in our periodisation (more on that later).

Detraining

Another simple principle often referred to as reversibility, that suggests if we reduce the stress below what is normally occurring i.e., if we reduce our training load, frequency, or any other training variable the body will again adapt. However, this time the adaptation is negative and results in reduced work capacity, strength, or any other component of fitness depending on the training variable we detrained. For example, if we reduce the weight on the barbell during training for long enough, we adapt and lose strength in those movements. This often happens during time of sickness, extra stress from work or when we go on holiday and take prolonged breaks from training. It goes without saying that we want to mitigate the circumstances that lead to detraining as it sets us back from achieving our performance goals.

Specificity

This is one of the take home principles of training. The training effect, or response, to an overload is specific to the method of overload. In other words, only the components of fitness that are overloaded will develop, and the systems involved in that overload will adapt. An important note is that the adaptation experienced will be specific to the training variables that were altered. For example, during a bench press if we use larger weights, lower repetitions, and take longer rest between sets, one of the adaptations experienced will be an increase in strength specific to that movement. However, sticking with a bench press, if we use moderate weight, more repetitions, moderate rest and spend longer amounts of time during each repetition, the primary adaptation experienced will be a hypertrophic response to the increase in time under tension. Remember, in both examples the strength or hypertrophic response will be specific to the muscles involved in the movement.

Stimulus

The stimulus is a fancy way of referring to the training variables that have already been mentioned. These training variables are the aspects of training that we manipulate to achieve a given stimulus. The stimulus is what determines the adaptation. Training variables include;

  • Intensity – Depending on the exercise this could mean weight, speed, resistance etc
  • Duration – The length of time of not only the session, but also the length of time of the exercise or the repetition.
  • Reps & Sets – The number of times you perform a given movement. This also encompasses how many sets in a session or a week.
  • Frequency – How often you train, how often you rest.
  • Rest – An integral component of adaptation and achieving the desired training effect. Rest can be manipulated to encourage different stimulus.
  • Tempo – Critical for hypertrophy training and some strength training principles. Managing time-under-tension or time spent in an eccentric motion can be required.

Variation

This principle describes exactly what it sounds like. Including variation in training is critical to ensure the greatest benefit from adaptation. This variation can come in the form of small magnitude changes such as grip, load, and body position changes during typical movements. However, this variation can come in large magnitude changes too such as changing movements entirely (which is the basis for conjugate periodisation discussed later), altering the frequency of training, or performing cross-training. Cross-training is the incorporation of movements and training from other disciplines to aid particularly with aerobic training but can be useful when breaking plateaus or beating boredom. Variation is the only tangible way to deal with the tediousness of long training programmes, particularly with strength training.

Interference

The interference effect is the principle that if training for two conflicting adaptations on the same day, there will likely be reduced improvement than if only one adaptation was trained for. This is common sense as the build up of fatigue from one training stimulus negatively impacts the other, and the recovery period where we adapt to the stimulus from training is also negatively impacted. The most commonly discussed form of interference is the effect aerobic training has on strength gains. This interference also happens to be the greatest interference effect we know of.

Load and Deload

It is necessary to take regular periods of reduced load to assist with the recovery process. Ensuring sufficient recovery, and time for adaptations, deloading also greatly reduces the risk of overtraining. Overtraining is the concept that when too much stress is placed on the body, we lose the ability to adapt and recover adequately thus leading to a distinct loss of performance. The process of loading and deloading is cyclic and is prescribed ahead of time. However, in some circumstances deloading may be necessary outside of the prescribed times. In this instance, the periodisation must be re-evaluated and altered to put the loading and deloading phases back into an effective cycle. Deloading is typically prescribed every 3-4 weeks, but in some cases may be more or less often.

Maintenance

This principle states that components of fitness can be maintained even if the frequency of training is dropped to just 1/3. However, the intensity and duration of the training must remain the same. Adaptations are fleeting and by removing the stimulus, we become detrained and thus lose our progress. Thankfully, maintenance of those adaptations is much easier than generating them and this is an important factor to note when our other responsibilities or circumstances get in the way of regular training.

Recovery

This principle suggests that in order for adaptation to occur, the body (or at least the trained components) must rest. For low intensity exercise such as continuous running or cycling, this rest period can be as low as 12-24 hours. However, when the intensity is high such as in hard strength training sessions, that rest period must increase to around 48-72 hours. This rest period highlights the importance of planning our strength training and focusing our attention on specific components of strength in each training session so we can achieve sufficient rest afterwards. Proper recovery should also include acute strategies post-training such as rehydration and ergogenics, massage for soft-tissue therapy, analgesics for inflammation and pain, and sometimes static stretching for relaxation (in the right circumstances).

Assessment

We plan our trainings to reach certain goals or objectives, whether that be to just get stronger or to hit certain numbers. Therefore, our training programs are inherently goal-oriented. To track our progress towards those goals, we must evaluate and assess that progress throughout the program. This is the only tangible, objective way to know whether our programs are effective or not. These assessments vary greatly depending on the goal, for long-distance running we would track progress by timing a certain distance. In strength training, we re-evaluate our repetition maximum lifts to see whether we have gotten stronger. The tests we choose also depend on how precise we wish to be, often the more precise the test, the more difficult the test is. The most important factor in assessment is specificity, making sure that the test we administer is going to assess the relevant performance of the individual.

Periodisation (Taper)

This principle addresses the need for a long-term training plan that guides us through achieving the goals of the program. These goals are numerous and varied however, including when we assess ourselves, how long a loading block is and where our deload weeks are placed, inserting our competition dates and planning backwards to ensure adequate tapering. Our training begins with this long-term plan and this plan is key to our success. This is where all other principles and factors are brought together to create a long-term, laser focused plan for an individual to experience success.

Leave a comment