So here we are. Part 2 of Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training & Nutrition.
I have to admit. Writing these articles aren’t easy because there’s so much detail that goes into all of this strength training stuff.
Luckily for me, I like to stick to the basics and the basics only when it comes to strength training.
The basics morph into more complex concepts in strength training as you combine them to form different permutations.
But, for the sake of this article, we are going to keep it pretty basic. Only the fundamentals of strength training
I want to note that this article is written with the average lifter in mind. This is not for you science people who want to analyze every detail of every detail of strength training and then go into more detail.
I have nothing against scientists.
I just want to write something that everyone can read and turn into actionable plans.
So real quick, I’m going to review what we are going to discuss today in this strength training article:
These are just some of the fundamentals of strength training that make up the process of training, the nuts and bolts if you will.
I will be discussing these points in order of greatest to least importance. Each point has it’s rightful place in strength training but we want to be sure that we focus on the most impactful points.
But before that…
Adherence Is Important In Strength Training
Now I want to emphasize, as I do in all my articles, that adherence is important.
Adherence is your ability to do the strength training program, to commit.
You want to maximize your ability to adhere to your programming.
How do you do that?
You want your programming to coincide with your personality, your schedule and you want to actually LIKE the program you’re engaging. No masochism over here…unless you’re into that.
You also want your programming to be flexible during times of stress. Meaning you want to be able to adjust according to how you are feeling not only physically, but mentally and emotional as well.
“S.M.A.R.T” goals For Strength Training
You also want your program to map to “S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Now what are S.M.A.R.T goals?
S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Time-bound.
Let’s start with “S.” You want your goals to be specific in your strength training pursuits. This dictates how you are going to train in regards to the exercises you choose(more on this later), the volume and even the tempo you train at.
I’ll cover more of the above later on being specific with your training goals means that your training has to align with “specificity.”
For example, if you are planning to do a swim meet, you will train like a swimmer. You would get in the pool so you can work on your backstroke or something.
If you are planning to race in a bike marathon, you would train your legs as well as hop your ass on a bike.
Your training has to be similar to the event you’re training for.
Let’s move on to “M.” You want your strength training goals to be measurable. If you can quantify how to get to your goals, you can break it down into smaller goals.
This is where “block periodization” comes in. When you periodize your strength training, you set small goals within a big goal.
For example, you’re training for a powerlifting meet. This competition is predicated on moving the most amount of weight possible. You would break your training program up into “blocks.”
You’re going to start with a hypertrophy block, move onto a strength block then probably hit up a peaking phase.
Within each block you want to meet a certain goal. The hypertrophy block is dedicated to building muscle and work capacity.
The strength block is for taking that muscle and using it to move massive amounts of weight.
The peaking phase is where you realize all of the previous blocks training while getting more specific so that you can rest, recover and do your best on the platform during meet time.
All of these blocks are measurable and quant based. You do the right amount of volume for hypertrophy, strength and peaking so that you can hit your targets come meet day.
This is why your goals have to be measurable, so that they can be attainable as well. If you can’t measure your goals, they are probably not attainable which means it’s bad for your morale.
Whatever goal you set, make sure you can reach them. I’m not saying to think small or don’t dream big. I mean to make sure that if you shoot for the stars and miss, you’ll land on the moon.
Relevant. Relevance in this context is similar to exercise selection in the sense that you pick a powerlifting program to train for a powerlifting meet.
The exercises you encounter will be similar if not the same as the ones you will be performing on meet day.
Time bound. In a nut shell, as Seth Godin refers to it, you have to “ship.” If your meet or competition is in 8 months, plan your training out to meet that time frame.
When you put all of the above components in their rightful places, you get cohesiveness.
You can enjoy your programming when all of the above is met.
You’ll start to get the results and it will boost morale ten fold.
When you get the results you’re looking for, you also want to adhere, the commitment is really solidified.
Ideally, you should commit to your training plan because, well, it’s what you want to do. But if a coach slaps a program down in front of you that you don’t enjoy, you’re not going to commit to it. No matter how “optimal” or “pro” the coach is.
You’ll just end up half assing the program, bombing the meet and your self esteem is gone.
Or for the average person who just wants to get in shape, you’re already not the most motivated trainee there is.
Essentially, you want to make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing so that you can drop those pounds.
Wow, so I just wrote a ton of words and I’m not even nowhere near the meat and potatoes of this article.
What do you say we get into it?
Strength Training Volume & Overload
If your body is a canvas, training volume is the paint and paint brushes.
Training volume is made up of sets, reps, load and frequency.
Simply put, sets are how many times you perform a series of repetitions.
This is how many times you perform a movement, 1, 2, 3, 4 , 5 and so one reps in a given set.
This is how much weight you are moving for any given rep during any given set
This is how many times you’re training any give muscle group per week.
How you choose to put the above together is dictated by the specific iron genre, powerlifting, bodybuilding, you chose to training within.
The body only understands one thing when it comes to getting stronger, total volume. There are many ways to get bigger and stronger, i’ll talk about four that I personally use in regards to volume.
They are simple and basic strength training concepts that can be applied to developing any routine without running the risk of developing a short attention span due to the sporadic switching of movements that people covet.
Four Ways to Overload
We can overload by increasing:
- The amount of load
- Frequency of training
These are just four ways to overload the neuromuscular system and stimulate growth via volume. Notice I didn’t include changing the movements.
Maybe changing the movements will have some sort of overloading effect, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but I do know for sure the aforementioned ways work, especially when built around The Big Four.
Before we go into these four ways, lets get a deeper insight to what volume is.
When it comes to strength training, volume is calculated by multiplying the number of sets done, by the number of reps done in the set(s) by the weight(or load).
Volume is the accrued amount of pressure the body feels from the stimulus of strength training.
For a particular movement:
4 sets of 8 reps @ 225lbs/102kg = 7,200lbs/3266kg, 7200lbs/ 3266kg
is the total volume done for a particular movement that day.
If we wanted to get meticulous, we can do total volume for the session which would be the sum of the volume for all of the movements completed that session. Changing each of the components that constitute how to calculate volume influences the volume.
Increasing the number of reps
Lets use one of the greatest mass builders in history as an example to demonstrate the power and logic behind progressive overload, the squat.
Say we have a beginner, his name is Joe and he is able to squat 135lbs/61kg for 3 sets of 6 reps on his first leg session.
He pushes through, grinding his way through this intense squat session barely hitting these numbers. The next squat session he bangs out 3 sets of 7 reps. Did he progressively overload? Lets do some math.
On his first session Joe hit 3 set of 6 reps @ 135lbs/61kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
On his second session he hit 3 sets of 7 reps @135lbs/61kg = 2,835lbs/1286kg
Controlling for amount of sets, weight and maybe even the color of his pants on both of those sessions, the only thing he changed was the amount reps he did. He most certainly overloaded, therefore has gotten stronger from one session to the next just by increasing the amount of reps he did on each set.
Increasing the number of sets
Now, our friend Joe could have went about it another way by increasing the number of sets he performed. From session to session he could have went from:
3 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/61kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
4 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/61kg = 3240lbs/1450kg
In this case, he moved more volume from session to session therefore he progressively overloaded and stimulated growth.
Increasing the amount of weight
This probably the most popular way to progressive overload because of the amount of ego involved.
People love to brag about how much weight they can move. If our friend Joe is like any of these people, he would want to increase the amount of weight he does each session.
It also depends on what Joe is training for, if he is training for a powerlifting meet or a sport involving moving the most amount of weight at one time then this is the appropriate method to use combined with the other methods for accessories but that’s for another topic. In this article we are going to stick with dealing with progressive overload in regards to showing how we can stimulate growth.
From session to session it would look something like this:
3 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/1102kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
3 sets of 6 reps @140lbs/64kg = 2,520/1143kg
In this case, he moved more volume via adding more weight from session to session.
In these above examples so far, there were some apparent degrees in how the numbers changed from one method to the next. The most stressful on the body would be to increase the amount of sets done each week but then again these are theoretical examples and the numbers reflect that.
Increase frequency of training
I do not know many people who train this way but I can imagine this would be a method that is tailored to the long game when it comes to strength training, someone who has been training for five years or more.
Increasing the frequency of training or even just one lift is a way to overload. We can imagine that someone who squats once a week, every week for a year at specific numbers can then start to squat two times a week every week for the next six months to a year or so and then increase from there to squatting 3 times a week for 6 months to a year.
Again, I do not know anyone who really trains like this unless they are doing some sort of full body routine.
Volume is the most important aspect when it comes to the basics of strength training. Knowing the basics of how to assemble volume is akin to knowing a computer programming language, input-output.
Recovery & Genetics For Strength Training
The gym is the stimulus, the bed is where you grow.
Many people think doing more is better. More is actually less.
The idea is to stimulate the muscle and keep it moving. You do not want to destroy your body in the gym.
Review the last section on volume. The name of the game is to complete sufficient volume in order to grow.
How do you do this? Start at an arbitrary point. Pick a weight you can handle for a certain amount of sets, reps, load and frequency and add to it via set, reps, load and frequency.
After you have gotten into a grove where you are training consistently and making progress, you want to do a simple thing called “deload.”
What is a deload?
This is a much beaten topic which is also, as it happens, to be one of my favorites because I am a lazy bastard.
My focus in life is to get the most amount of work done with the least amount of necessary effort. Sort of like the whole Pareto Principle thing which states 80% of results comes from 20% of the effort or something like that.
The deload is just that.
It’s part of that 20% that influences the results we get from 80% of our training program.
The deload is a prescribed period of time, usually a week or so when we divert from our usual training volume to less volume.
In other words we intentionally undertrain. We reduce our volume in order to give our bodies a break, to recover.
We can reduce our volume down to 0% for a week which means it’s a full week of doing nothing but stretching, rehab work, meditation, etc.
This is the week or however long the duration is to give our bodies a quality rest in order to align ourselves with proper programming essentials, namely, the “recovery” and “adaptation” portions.
Why Do I need to Deload?
Well, you don’t necesarily have to deload because you have free will.
You have the free will to make the choice of letting your body fall apart.
Yes, your body will definitely fall apart if you do not chose to deload.
Alright, maybe your arms won’t fall off or anything crazy like that but deloading allows for the body to repair itself.
When we train, we are causing micro tears in our muscles, tendons and even our ligaments which supercompensates by building itself back up stronger than before.
Genetics and recovery
When it comes to our rate of recovery, it is dictated by, but not limited to our age and genetics.
Typically the older we are, the longer it takes for us to recover.
Since lifting weights taxes our nervous system, our refractory period, or the time it takes for our nervous system to recover, seems to get longer.
Genetics plays a role as well. There are some people who are just born to be athletes. This means that they can train longer and more intensely without taking long breaks.
The basic keys to recovery is this: understand your body. If you need 8 hours of sleep every night in order to recover properly, sleep for 8 hours.
If your favorite strength athlete only needs 6 hours of sleep, do not follow in their footsteps. There are so many different factors that goes into an individual’s rate of recover including their genetic tolerance to external stress. Theirs might be completely different from yours.
If you’re an older fellow, do not try to keep up with these 18 years olds who’s bodies can take a beating day in and day out.
You have to know your own limitations. Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you and cause you permanent injuries…and embarrassment.
Exercise Selection For Strength Training Goals
When it comes to the types of exercise we choose to use, we have to follow the principle of specificity.
Some powerlifting coaches suggest we use lift variations as close to our competition lifts as possible because of the possibility of pattern overloading a specific lift. I tend to agree with this.
Overusing a specific lift can result in poor tissue quality if we hammer the same lifts over and over again while preparing for a meet. To solve this problem with the squat, bench and deadlift, we can use different variations.
Squat: If we are going to use the low bar squat during a meet, we can train the high bar squat for most of the prep.
Bench Press: If we are going to use flat bench(only bench we can use anyway) we can train the floor press, incline bench or close grip bench as variations for most of the prep.
Deadlift: If we choose to conventional deadlift for our meet, we can use block pulls and sumo deadlifts during our prep phase.
This results in better tissue quality by training the movements without overloading the pattern before the meet.
We can probably get away with training our competition lifts during our peaking phase. I’m not to sure, I’m not a powerlifting coach but this makes sense to me.
I had to learn this the hard way. I use to train the high bar squat ALL THE TIME until I started suffering from some intense low back pain.
By squatting low bar in Olympic lifting shoes with a raised heel I was able to correct this issue.
What I found was that I was more powerful in the low bar position. Not sure if it was because I was using a different arrangement of muscles or a pattern that wasn’t abused over the years but it felt good.
Like I said, I haven’t studied this in depth, I just let my experiences teach me the lessons and I share them with you guys.
The above illustrates the power of specificity. You want your training to match your competition as much as reasonably possible while getting your timing during your peaking phase right.
As for bodybuilders, since you are training the muscles and not necessarily skill and patterns like a power lifter, you can get away with playing around with much more variation.
For example, you don’t even have to squat in order to train the legs. You can split the legs up into different muscles like: quads, hamstrings, calves and have separate days for each.
This allows for doing exercises that zero in on each muscle like: close stance leg press(quads), prone hamstring curls(hamstrings), and calf raises(calves).
I’m sure you pretty much get the point when it comes to exercise selection.
The name of the game is to pick the right tools in the way of exercise selection to accomplish the proper strength training effect to reach your goals.
Tempo In Strength Training Programs
Now when it comes to tempo you could probably include it in the category of progressive overload. Moving the bar faster this session than last session is a form of progressing.
But I am covering these topics in order of priority.
Tempo should be the last thing you are worrying about when strengt training.
Nothing should possess a trainee to say:
“Hey, you know what would be cool? Let’s move the bar faster and not increase the volume over a long period of time to gain muscle strength and size.”
That would be kind of ridiculous.
Tempo should be reserved for people who are more advanced and can afford to add more nuance to their training. These people need to squeeze as much as they can out of their genetic potential.
Bar speed would aide them in getting a heavy weight up off them in competition. As I said before, that would be another dimension to progressive overload but concerning oneself with that in the early stages is not necessary.
If you’re a body builder, movement speed is built into the philosophy of strength training. You want to keep the eccentric portions of the movements as low as possible to stimulate growth through “time under tension,” although some people believe that growth or hypertrophy is dictated more so through volume. So again, we are back to my point stating that tempo should be far from a beginner trainees mind.
So this was the strength training portion of Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training & Nutrition. Remember that these are only the basics of strength training.
But the strength training basics are to be respected and taken seriously. I see way too many people on social media putting the cart before the horse.
Many beginners get the wrong idea about what they should be focussing on it is my hope that this article has helped guide you in the right direction.
Until next time, people!
– Anthony Boyd