Previously I spoke about the most important part of building a training program, in case you missed it here is the link to part one.
The first and most important part of writing a program was and always will be Specificity because without this you’re literally training blind. Once you establish your specific goal and time frame you can move up the list to the second most important part of developing a good program, that my friends is OVERLOAD.
Overload put simply is the optimal degree of homeostatic disruption caused by training that you can recover from to allow adaptations to occur.
The stress caused in training must stimulate a response that says “If this happens again I want it to be easier.” if you do too much your body will more likely follow the route of “All I can hope to do is survive, let alone adapt.” we shall cover that more soon.
When it comes to achieving the desired result that will incur a positive adaptive response it can be achieved through manipulating any of the following variables – Volume, Intensity, Density, Frequency, Exercise Selection and Muscle Fiber Recruitment (How close to failure you push). Each of these offer there own pros and cons, we shall cover each today.
Overall the main thing to remember is that to progress you must do more than you did before, be that session by session or over the span of a traceable training block- 4 weeks for example.
Can you do too much volume?
How can you know where your maximum recoverable volume limit currently is?
Keep increasing and *tracking your overall volume until you start going backwards, once you go backwards you will know you’ve exceeded the volume you can currently recover from. I would suggest looking at your training notes and find where you still had good speed on the reps and decent from while still finding the workout challenging. There will be more talk on recovery another day.
*When tracking your lifts write down not only the number of reps achieved but also how it felt on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale of 1-10.
As you can no doubt tell, the way to progress is to increase the overall volume but make sure you can still recover, this is a simple concept and now we are going to go in to the ways you can increase your overload so that you incur the necessary stimulus to adapt and continue to make gains.
Here is each method:
*Volume, Intensity and Density Quick Guide below.
Volume – Total volume is established by using this equation: Sets x Reps x Weight = Total Training Volume (for that exercise, on that day). If your weights stay the same over the course of the training cycle then either adding more reps or more sets is required. You can keep those the same and increase the weight (intensity) but this can leave you feeling beaten up and unable to recover sufficiently enough or even result in less total volume because of the limited number of sets/reps you’d be able to successfully complete.
The most optimal way to stimulate overload with this variable is to increase either the sets or reps, thus increasing your overall work capacity.
Intensity – Closely linked with total volume in the equation to establish what yours currently is, however it means the difference between making progression and burning out. Think in terms of 3×10 at 70% 1RM vs 10×3 at 90% 1RM, while the overall reps are the same the intensity is very different. One will be repeatable within a few days, the other not so much. Increased weight on the bar is good for building and revealing new strength gains but in the long run it can be very demanding both physically (your nervous system) and mentally, sometimes less is more. Increasing intensity in terms of weight on the bar does have it’s place when peaking but for the most part sticking with 60-85% of 1RM for the majority of your loading is best advised.
Density – How much work you can get out in a certain space of time. You will find this falls int he realms of things like Rest-Pause training and extended sets. These techniques allow you to get in large amounts of reps with higher levels of intensity, thus leading to increased work capacity and doing more than you did before.
*The three methods above are all interlinked as you can see, the main take home is to track what you’re doing and make sure your total reps/set with the same weight are higher than it was before (volume) OR you did the same amount of reps with more weight (intensity) OR you did the same amount of work in less time (Density).
Frequency – How many times per week you’re training each muscle group. 1x p/w VS 2x p/w for example. The more frequently you expose a muscle to the stimulus it requires to adapt the more adaption that will occur – Provided you’ve not exceeded you’re natural recoverable limits. The majority of people will do well to train each muscle group every 3-5 days (72hours apart being optimal).
Exercise Selection – Assistance movements are great for providing extra overload to specific muscle groups and can provide that much needed extra stimulus for progression. However, you will need to make sure you choices are appropriate to your current stage of training and do not interfere with a previous days recovery: EG, leg day followed by heavy pulling day with lots of rows = fried lower back.
Muscle Fiber Recruitment – Slightly more appropriate for intermediate and advanced lifters as this will mean the sue of training methods such as drop sets, forced reps, negatives and other such training protocols of a similar ilk. The easiest way to think of muscle fiber recruitment is to see it as accumulated fatigue. The more fatigue you amass the more muscle fibers you recruit to continue to generate the required force to keep lifting the weight and overcome inertia.
If you take 5×5 at 70% as the example the first set of 5 will end feeling like 75% of 1RM, then the second st might feel like 80% of 1RM, are you getting the idea? By your last set of 5 you will feel like this is 95%+ of your 1RM because of the fatigue you’ve accumulated, but it’s also worth noting that you will have recruited pretty much all of the muscles fibers you have available to you currently (type 1//2-a/b etc). You don’t always need max weight to get the benefit of lifting max weights.
Now that you know several variables that can help you increase your overload that’s specific to your training goal and create a program that allows you to keep progressing. Always aim to do more than you did before, that’s how you progress. After all, the key to progress is progress.