Follow these six principles of strength training to plan your workouts for maximal effectiveness and make continuous progress towards your fitness goals.
Athletes involve in strength training to see the physical adaptations carry over as a boost to their athletic performance.
The principles discussed below are critical to understanding how strength training works. With a grasp of these concepts you will be able to modify your training to meet your particular goals and change it to continue making adaptations as you progress.
Before getting into the principles, it is important to understand the term strength training itself.
The terms strength training, weight training, and resistance training are often used interchangeably. There are definite similarities between the three, but there are also some differences.
The broadest of the three terms is resistance training. Resistance training describes any movement of the body in a direction against some type of force that resists that movement. A number of activities can fall under this category be it lifting weights, or running up stairs.
Strength training is a type of resistance training, but not all types of resistance training fall under strength training. Strength training refers to any type of training that involves the body moving in some direction against a force that specifically induces changes in muscle strength or muscle growth. This could include lifting weights, body weight training, but not running up stairs.
Weight training refers to any type of training in which the body moves in some direction against a force that resists that movement being supplied by some type of weight. This could include free weights and weight machines but not body weight training.
Definitions of Different Types Strength
In its broadest sense, strength is defined as the maximal amount of force a muscle or muscle group can generate in a specified movement pattern at a particular speed.
When looked at more closely, however, the term is not that simple because strength has many manifestations.
Absolute strength: This is the maximal amount of force a muscle can produce when all inhibitory and protective mechanisms are removed. This type of strength is very rare to demonstrate. It can take place only during extreme situations such an emergency or hypnosis.
Maximal strength: This is the maximal amount of force a muscle or muscle group can produce in a specific exercise for one repetition. This is also referred to as the 1 rep maximum or 1RM. Some estimates claim that the 1RM amounts to only 80 percent of absolute strength.
Relative strength: This is the ratio between a person’s maximal strength and his or her body weight. This factor is important when comparing the strength of athletes who are different in body size. Relative strength is determined by dividing the 1RM by the body weight of the person. For example a 200 pound athlete who can bench 400 pounds has the same relative strength as a 100 pound athlete who can bench 200 pounds.
Speed strength: This term is more commonly known as power and it is the ability to move the body or object quickly. This type of strength is important in most sports but is most critical in track and field events such as the shot put, javelin, and long jump.
Starting strength: This is the ability to generate a sharp rise in power during the initial phase of a movement. Starting strength plays a major role in Olympic weight lifting, boxing, martial arts, and offensive line positions in football. In all these activities strength must be generated immediately.
Acceleration strength: This is the ability to maintain starting strength throughout most of the movement. This type of strength takes over after starting strength and is important for sports such as judo, wrestling, and sprinting.
Endurance strength: This is the ability to maintain force production for a longer period of time or through multiple repetitions of an exercise. This type of strength is important in sports such as cycling, swimming, and boxing.
Given the number of different types of strength that a person can train for, you can understand the different angles from which strength training can be approached.
The Six Immutable Principles of Strength Training
A simple Google search will reveal a number of different strength training principles. The validity of many of these principles is argued over. The following six principles, however, are accepted amongst all strength training professionals and are immutable, i.e. they will never change over time.
1. Principle of Specificity
This principle is often referred to as SAID, which stands for “specific adaptation to imposed demands.”
In the most basic sense, it means to train in a specific manner to produce a specific outcome.
If your current goal is to increase your 1RM for bench press, then you should train in the lower rep range, with longer rest periods to optimize strength gains.
If your current goal is to boost athletic performance, then your focus should be on functional movements that are actually performed in the sport at a similar speed and pace.
This is the most important principle of strength training. By neglecting this, all the other principles are void.
2. Principle of Progressive Overload
This principle involves continually increasing the intensity of a workout as the muscle becomes accustomed to a particular intensity level.
Intensity can be increased in a number of ways, e.g. by increasing the amount of weight lifted, increasing the reps performed, increasing the total number of sets, or decreasing the rest periods between sets.
The practice of continually increasing the stress placed on a muscle allows the muscle to increase strength and prevents plateaus.
The principle of progressive overload is one of the most critical principles of strength training. Without it, continual adaptations in muscle strength and growth would stagnate.
Let’s say that at the start of your strength training program you perform 3 sets of 10 reps on the bench press with 100 pounds. At first this is a challenge. After several weeks, however, the 3 sets of 10 reps with 100 pounds will become easier. At this stage, you should increase intensity by increasing the amount of weight, doing more reps or sets, or decreasing the rest period between sets. This is necessary in order to see continual muscle adaptations.
3. Principle of Individuality
This principle states that in order for a training program to be effective, it must take into account the specific needs, goals, and abilities of the person for whom it is designed.
For example, a beginner who has the goal of putting on 15 pounds of muscle mass will have a very different program than the advanced bodybuilder who has the same goal.
The difference in their training program is not determined by their goal, since that is the same, but by their relative training experience.
The advanced lifter would require more volume and high-intensity training techniques to reach the same goal as the beginner.
On the other hand, an advanced lifter with the goal of putting on muscle mass will train very differently from the advanced lifter who has the goal of gaining muscle strength.
In general, the advanced lifter with the goal of gaining strength would train in the lower rep range with heavier weight and lower volume than the advanced lifter who has the goal of gaining muscle mass.
4. Principle of Variation
This principle explains that the effectiveness of a program will ware off after a short period. Once a person has experienced the specific adaptations of a particular training program, a new stimulus must be imposed on the muscles in order to prevent stagnation.
5. Principle of Maintenance
As you begin to achieve your goals, it will take less work to maintain that level of strength and mass. If you are satisfied with your current level, you can reduce the number of days that you hit the gym.
6. Principle of Reversibility
This principle explains that if you discontinue strength training all together or do not maintain it to the minimal level of frequency and intensity, your strength and muscle gains will not only stop forward progression but will also begin to revert back to the starting level.
Putting It All Together
At this point, it should be clear to you that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to fitness.
Everyone starts of at a different level and everyone has different goals.
That being said, the above six principles apply to everyone.
The intention with this post was to give you a starting point to be able to design your own fitness program that will maximize the effectiveness of your efforts and help you achieve your goals faster.
The next post will be focused on the fundamental training variables. Taking these variables into account will ensure that you design your fitness program to best suit your goals.
Take into account the principles of strength training and get a clear vision of the steps you need to take in order to ensure you achieve your fitness goals in the most efficient way.
- Stoppani, Jim. “Core Concepts.” Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength.