Article Overview: 811 words on building a training philosophy for for the non-athlete.
My speciality is designing workouts for individuals with specific sport performance goals and helping athletes come back from injury. I also get lots of requests to design programs for people who are looking to stay fit and lean while minimizing additional wear and tear on their body.
I understand this battle. On the one hand high intensity training brings results. On the other hand, half a lifetime of competitive sport or the normal routine of spending 5-8 hours sitting at a desk takes its toll. Keeping your body healthy eventually becomes more important than hitting a personal best in the gym.
The pendulum in the fitness industry has shifted towards high intensity training of all modalities and types. The long-term sustainability of this approach is extremely low especially in the absence of high levels of regeneration/recovery – something to which most individuals are unable/unwilling to commit.
It is important to build a training method and a philosophy that minimizes negative or maladaptive stress, and promotes positive training stress.
The key to a training program’s success is creating a meaningful energy flux (i.e. creating a disturbance in energy balance) and stimulating the body’s adaptive response. The more frequently we cause an energy flux, the better the results. The better our timing of changing the training stimulus in light of the body’s non-linear change in its adaptive response, the better the results.
Here are some recommendations for building your training philosophy, and striking a balance between positive training stress and negative/maladaptive stress:
- Start your workout by prioritizing three areas of MSK deficiency. This could be mobility-related, motor control-related, or synergist-strength related. It is beneficial to get a set of eyes on you in a formal movement evaluation to pinpoint these areas.
- Use a combination of whole-body multi-joint movements in each workout. These comprise your indicator or primary lifts. Multi-joint movements are known for providing the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to hypertrophy and strength development.
- Even though you may not be a high performance athlete, periodize your training. A good method is to alternate between a mesocycle (i.e. 3-4 weeks) in which you load by volume (extensification or accumulation where time under tension > 30s – reps 8-15) and then a mesocycle in which you load by intensity (intensification – time under tension < 20s – reps < 8)
- Start each each mesocycle with an introductory microcycle (a microcycle = 4-7 days). This can be followed by two building or overreaching mesocycles. In the first of the two building microcycles, it is best to increase the number of sets slightly (e.g. add 1-2 sets onto the primary or indicator lifts), and lower the rep bracket by 1-2 reps (e.g. go from 10-12 reps to 9-11 reps). In the second overreaching mesocycle, continue to increase intensity by lowering the repetition scheme and slightly reduce the number of sets. The final microcycle should be an unloading phase in which both the number of sets and the intensity are reduced.
- Manipulate rest intervals and tempo to achieve your training effect while reducing the external load requirement. These may be two of the most overlooked training parameters. For example, by reducing the speed of movement in the eccentric phase from 1 second to 4 seconds, there is an increased time under tension and the reduction in speed reduces mechanical advantage necessitating the use of a lower external load. Remember, time under tension and building tension are two keys for eliciting muscle hypertrophy. Conversely, the conscious acceleration and maximal neuromuscular activation while concentrically lifting a submaximal load can elicit substantial gains in muscle strength and power.
- Carefully plan the number of sets taken to technical failure. I say technical failure as I don’t mean passing that point of technical breakdown. Poor mechanics are a huge culprit for accelerating MSK dysfunction. Instead, you should plan in advance the number of sets in any given workout that are going to be taken to technical failure. Emerging research suggests that equal or superior gains in explosive strength, maximal strength and hypertrophy may be achieved by keeping a couple of reps in the bank.
- Intersperse higher intensity training sessions with some lower intensity sessions. This is not popular in the fitness world but sub-aerobic threshold training volume and restorative sessions (e.g. mobility/flexibility) will go a long way to increase your tissues structural tolerance and your overall work capacity.
- Nutrition and sleep are your two biggest assets for optimizing recovery from training and become increasingly important with age.
- Lastly, don’t get stuck doing the same program for months on end. While too much variation (think of chaos training – something I do not support) is problematic, too little variation leads to stagnation and is a real killer for overall gains.
These are just a few principles I find effective for establishing a training philosophy when the goals have moved beyond high performance sport although many of the principles apply here too.
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