A Basic Primer on Effective Training

Discussion in 'Beginner Training & Nutrition' started by Erik, Dec 29, 2007.

  1. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    I'm just going to cut and paste from a few blog posts I made ...

    My next few posts are going to be all about what I think covers the basics of ‘effective training’. It’s amazing how paying a little attention to some basic principles (actually applying some basic principles) can dramatically change the effectiveness of your time in the gym.

    How many of us have spent a lot of time in the gym, training, putting in lots of effort, thinking we were doing what was necessary to achieve results, and yet, dissatisfied with the outcome? I think we’ve all been there at one point.

    And then we start training ’smarter’ and just like that - more muscle, more strength, better muscle retention while dieting for fat loss, even recomposition.

    So, the first point is you need to get strong and focus on training in the lower rep ranges.

    It’s really quite simple - if you’re not throwing around more weight at this time next year than you are now, there’s a very high probability that you’re not going to be much more muscular either. You need to add weight to the bar over time. Period.

    Look at people in your gym who are strong; they’re generally muscular people as well. (of course there are exceptions).

    One of the biggest triggers for muscle growth is mechanical load/tension - that is, heavy weights. Overall mechanical loading is vital to muscle growth. So, in short, you need to ensure there is a strength emphasis to your training. This means spending a good portion of your training in the low rep ranges. (ie. 1-6).

    There are two types of muscle growth - the first, myofibrillar, and the second, sarcoplasmic. Each is primarily triggered by a different training stimulus.

    Myofibrillar hypertrophy is actual growth of the muscle fibers themselves, that is, through an actual increase in the density or thickness of the contractile proteins. This is typically referred to as ‘functional muscle’.

    The primary triggers for muscle growth are mechanical load/tension (as already mentioned), density and total time under tension. Load and tension is simply the amount of weight lifted. The more you lift, the greater the level of intramuscular tension; the greater the intramuscular tension, the great the amount of protein degradation and hopefully positive structural adaptations.
     
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  2. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    The Need for Heavy, Low Rep Training

    Continuing on with the idea that there needs to be heavy component (ie. low reps) to your training …

    Training with heavy weights improves something called myogenic tone through growth of the contractile proteins – the aforementioned myofibrillar hypertrophy. Myogenic tone is basically a measure of a muscle’s density. When your body is nice and lean, muscle density and hardness go a long way to enhancing the look of your body. In addition, the greater the loads used, the greater the recruitment of the fast twitch motor units – those with the greatest potential for size and strength.

    The problem is that most people don’t spend enough time lifting in the low-rep ranges because they think this kind of training is just for strength development. While low-rep training does obviously promote strength gains, with the right training parameters and program design, it’ll also contribute to significant muscular gains … as anyone who’s trained in these rep brackets will attest to.

    Heavy, low-rep training is also associated with neurological adaptations that facilitate strength production. The result is generally a more efficient nervous system which means increased firing rates, an increased rate of force production per motor unit, as well as an increased ability to recruit more high threshold motor units.

    This has the potential for great carry over to more traditional ‘pump/typical bodybuilding style’ training. The increased strength and neural efficiency developed with lower rep training will carry over and allow you to use more weight, and therefore subject your muscles to more tension, when training in the more ‘traditional’ hypertrophy ranges.

    So … to recap, focus on strength development by ensuring you’re doing enough work in the heavy, low rep ranges.
     
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  3. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Compound over Isolation

    Continuing on with the basics of effective training is the need to have a strong emphasis on the use of compound exercises. I know this one tends to be a ‘no brainer’ but it’s worth mentioning again anyway.

    Yes, isolation exercises and even machines may have their place, but the major portion of your training should be focused on compound, multi-joint exercises.

    Compound exercises use more energy, recruit more muscles, result in a greater acute increase in anabolic hormones, and allow you the opportunity to use maximal weights which will go along way to size and strength development.

    Contrast a push press with a lateral raise. Both exercises are typically used for shoulder development, but which one do you think will result in the greatest improvements? A single-joint exercise that you’ll never be impressively strong, on or a compound, strength exercise like the push press?

    This all ties into the previous point about needing to get strong. You just can’t get very strong on single joint exercises, at least not relative to the big, compound movements. Yes, laterals might ‘burn’ more, but so what? So do sets of 100 reps.

    In fact, for the large majority of trainees, they’d likely be able to build quite a respectable physique with just compound movements - deadlifts and their variations, squats and their variations, rows, overhead pressing, and bench pressing. If you get strong on these movements, ther’s no doubt it’s going to show in your physique.

    Save the isolation until you’ve got something to isolate.
     
  4. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Periodization

    Periodization, which is basically defined as the planned variation of training variables in an exercise program, is a key component to most effective training programs. An even more simple explanation is simply to say it means you have a plan to your training.

    There are a number of different ways to periodize your training, but suffice to say it involves the manipulation of loading parameters – sets, reps, tempo, rest intervals, etc. – as well as a finely tuned management of training volume. Research on periodization versus no periodization has shown that periodized training has a greater effect on strength/power, local muscular endurance, fat-free mass (muscle) and motor performance.

    There are a number of coined terms for the various periodization models – linear, alternating, undulating, conjugate, concurrent, etc., but again, they’re all a form of planned manipulation of your training. I’ll touch on the first three.

    The classic or traditional model of periodization is the linear model – one popularized in the western world for the last 20 years – in which the reps (volume) are decreased with a simultaneous increase in load (intensity) with each successive mesocycle, which generally last three to four weeks each. It has a number of different drawbacks as it relates to hypertrophy and strength. It becomes very difficult to maintain the gains in an earlier phase once you’re in a later phase of the plan. For most it’s simply far from optimal.

    There’s also a model called alternating periodization where higher and lower reps are alternated with each successive phase. The two phases would be characterized by high loads/low volume (intensification phase) and low loads/high volume (accumulation phase) respectively. This model addresses a number of the linear model shortcomings. The primary goals of the intensity phase are improved neuromuscular recruitment of the involved muscle fibers which increases strength. Remember, that the type of hypertrophy associated with maximal strength training is often referred to as myofibrillar hypertrophy. On the other hand, the primary goal of the volume phase is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which again is associated with an increase in the fluid volume of the non-contractile elements within the muscle. Think of an intensity phase as more powerlifter/strength training oriented training and an accumulation or volume phase as more of a traditional bodybuilding style of training. You alternate back and forth between each phase, often every 3-4 weeks.

    Another non-linear model of periodization known as undulating periodization. In this model you’re actually adjusting the loading parameters every workout instead of say adjusting in longer term phases as you would in the previously mentioned systems.

    And finally, a very popular and very effective (particularly for strength development) method of periodization is known as conjugate periodization, in which you’re training multiple strength qualities during the same microcycle.

    All that said, there’s really no best way.

    We all know we can’t do the same training program forever, and most of us know that we adapt to a given workout after a number of times through it. However, we tend to adapt to the number of reps performed first, and the actual exercise itself last. So it stands to reason that we need to change the rep range more often than we change the exercises. Basically, the big movements, or variations of the big movements, should always be the cornerstone of your training program.

    And at the same time, while it’s great to have a ‘plan’ drawn up, you can’t get stuck in the rigidity of the plan either. Some days, you might just not ‘have it’. Some days you might really have it.

    Programs often need to be adjusted and modified based on the potential differences between desired outcome and the actual outcome. That is, sometimes you just have to stop and listen to your body and make some adjustments on the fly. You can have the best laid out plan on paper, but sometimes it simply needs some tinkering with. Cybernetic periodization – listen to your body (something you tend to learn to do better the more advanced you become).
     
  5. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Training Frequency

    The “laws of bodybuilding” seem to say you have to train a muscle once per week on a split routine.

    For example:

    Monday: Chest/Biceps (this is International Chest & Biceps day around the entire world)

    Tuesday: Quads/Hamstrings

    Wednesday: Off

    Thursday: Back/Rear Delts/Traps

    Friday: Shoulders/Triceps

    Saturday: Off

    Sunday: Off

    Unless you’re part of the genetically elite – those who can pretty much do anything they want and turn into freaks – hitting a muscle group this infrequently is going to result in less than optimal results. Yes, this goes against the grain, but be open minded. Training muscle groups more frequently can have a very significant impact on your overall development. Provided you’re training fresh and are hitting your muscles with varying stimuli, the more often you stimulate a muscle to grow, the more it will grow … up to a point of course. Most people will simply grow better with higher frequency. In addition protein synthesis peaks and returns to baseline within 48-72 hours after exercise so if you’re only training muscle groups once every seven days you’re reducing the amount of time you could be growing. In fact, you’re likely detraining between workouts for the same muscle group. It could definitely be argued that frequency is one of the most importants factor in your rate of development.

    Maybe you’re thinking, “what about overtraining?” The skeletal muscle system as a whole is a very adaptable system. It will adapt to the stresses placed on it. You want faster recovery? Force your body to recover faster. How? Train your muscle groups more often. What about soreness? A number of studies have shown that complete metabolic recovery can occur in as little as 48 hours. There might be a little lingering DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) when you first adopt a greater training frequency, but you’ll adapt. The key though is training the same muscles with a different training stimulus later in the week and managing the volume per session. In addition, there is plenty of research that has shown that training a muscle while it’s still a little sore does not negatively affect recovery. In fact, the increased blood flow that results from training again (with a different set/rep scheme) may help with recovery. Training in a different rep range will stimulate different muscle fibers and will result in a different overall physiological response.

    So how do we split it up? Upper/lower splits are one great option. For example:

    Monday: Upper Body

    Tuesday: Lower Body/Abs

    Wednesday: Off

    Thursday: Upper Body

    Friday: Off

    Saturday: Lower Body/Abs

    Sunday: Off

    You might be thinking that you can’t do enough for each muscle group if you have to train your whole upper body in one session. Sure you can. Remember that you want to focus on compound exercises; exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass. You’re training movements more than you’re training muscle groups. As well, you also want to manage your overall volume per session; not just the volume per muscle group. So, with these types of splits, you’ll want to do less volume per muscle group, but remember, you’re also training the muscles twice per week instead of once, so at the end of the week the volume is still going to be significant. For example, you might do 100 reps in one workout if you were training a muscle group once every seven days, but you could also have done the same weekly volume by doing 50 reps in two workouts. Those in the once-per-week camp tend to do more volume per session but regardless, protein synthesis is still going to return to baseline at it’s predetermined time. Training with greater frequency (on an upper/lower or even a full body split) keeps protein synthesis elevated more often which can have a significant impact on overall progress.
     
  6. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Overload Principle

    The Overload Principle as at the root of all training progress. It states that a greater than normal stress on the body is required for a training adaptation to take place. The body will in turn adapt to this increased stress. In the context of getting stronger, you must subject your body to stresses greater than it is used to in order to force your body to adapt. This is basically how all training adaptations occur. There are multiple ways in which you can increase the workload and stress your body is subjected to and interestingly enough they all relate back to the three primary triggers for muscle growth – mechanical load, density and total time under tension.

    First, you can increase the amount of force generated during the workout. Quite simply, this means using more weight or even moving the same weight faster. This ties into the earlier point on the need to get strong. Remember, that explosive concentric contractions have the ability to recruit the high threshold motor units – the big, powerful ones. Secondly, you can also decrease the amount of time it takes to complete the workout. In this case you’re doing the same amount of work (or perhaps even more) in less time, which increases training density. And finally, you can increase the amount of total workload or volume in a given workout, which positively affects the total time under tension that you subject your muscles to. Not paying attention to this training principle means that you’re doing the same thing day in and day out, and that pretty much guarantees no progress.
     
  7. Andy

    Andy Member

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    Awesome stuff, Erik...
     
  8. fitmonkey

    fitmonkey Well-Known Member

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    This is all very good info, but I gotta say if you laid this on me as a "beginner" I'd probably not understand half of it.

    Thanks for all the awesome info, and laying it out like that Erik!
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2007
  9. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Too complex still? Not appropriate for this part of the board you think?
     
  10. fitmonkey

    fitmonkey Well-Known Member

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    Appropriate enough I think. I think its great stuff for a newbie to know, but I guess it depends if we're talking a newbie to training right or someone who's never lifted a weight before.
     
  11. Andy

    Andy Member

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    I'm not a beginner, been training over a year...may not be the most knowledgable but I think it makes sense for me based on me being a sponge in the realm of weight loss, weight training, etc.
     
  12. Andy

    Andy Member

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    Nice!

    My exercises are mostly geared towards the metabolic aspect where supersetting is the theme...

    So in essence, Erik...if I do standing single arm DB presses in my TT workout -let's say with a weight of 45 lbs maybe even a 30 lb DB (lighter than usual at my strength capacity...I'm around the 50-55 lbs at this point. Sitting shoulder presses I can go as high as 80 lbs) or maybe a barbell squat of 35 + 35 + 45 bar for example (115 lbs. I've done up to 225 lb in this workout) - but be more explosive in movement - you can still trigger enough muscle fiber stimulation for growth with lesser weight than what I would do lets say on a "heavy day", correct?
     
  13. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Not sure I'd go that far, as you still need sufficient loading. The principle is intact. Think of the old F=ma equation. Force increases both with an increase in mass and an increase in acceleration.

    It would come down to how much more are you accelerating a lighter weight? Enough to offset the drop in weight? Probably not.

    We should always be striving to accelerate the weight as much as possible. That is, fast concentrics.

    And often in terms of recruitment simply the conscious effort to try to accelerate and push fast, even though with a heavy weight, it doesn't move fast, it all that's needed to enhance recruitment.
     
  14. Andy

    Andy Member

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    :yeahthat: Awesome.

    You're the man, Erik. Your inputs are golden. I was setting up pretty good PRs on my 12 week transformation workout and of late I was kinda bummed as I was more obsessed with the scale than the body fat. I've noticed I was getting incredibly strong each week (incredible strength gains) but one day on the squat rack for example, I was leaning towards the side of caution thinking going lighter would be best (I was a former Smith machine guy) and did not want to sacrifice form - BUT I wanted to go heavy as I could on the traditional squat rack as I think this is the best way i think to do squats because it involves alot of leg muscles (quads and glutes) and hits core stregthening than any other type of squat exercise I have ever done. Craig actually thought I was struggling with form (he politely suggested doing DB squats as a sub exercise - but I don't think that was the case really.)

    Since Day 1, and I'm sure Craig can attestfrom my daily journal (I regularly post my daily journal at TT), I think I was putting enough resistance to make me work hard for each rep without sacrificing good form but I was a bit confused because I felt like I was gaining mass, improving on muscle strength but my weight was almost the same? I felt BF wise I wasn't making significant progress but just a few days of reading some invaluable stuff about proper nutrition in conjunction with workouts. I was quickly putting 2 and 2 together and realizing nutrition does in fact make or break me from being successful or just down right failing. Anyway, I went down .5% in 19 days and a 3.4 lbs weight loss I guess is pretty good.

    I understand by Week 6 or so - and if I do everything accordingly - significant changes in body composition just seem to follow. I'm feeling it now no doubt about it - just gradually at this point but I know by Week 6 - I will see a huge difference from today.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
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  15. Alicrmt

    Alicrmt Something's gotta give!

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    Wow Andy :clap: Nice progress :thumb:
     
  16. Andy

    Andy Member

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    Thank you, Alicrmt!
     
  17. Alicrmt

    Alicrmt Something's gotta give!

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    :girly: just Ali is fine :wink:
     
  18. Andy

    Andy Member

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    Ok, Ali!
     
  19. Gary

    Gary Well-Known Member

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    Great stuff!

    I have to say though that most of it is still flying well over my head. :huh:
     
  20. Erik

    Erik Admin

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    Anything that I can try to clear up?
     

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