Training is the systematic application of exercise to achieve a desired outcome, improving fitness, building muscle size and definition and optimising movement for maximal efficiency and minimal injury risk. This article covers the foundations of what you need to know to develop a training plan that will work for you.
Adaptation as the key law of training.
The fundamental difference between exercise and training is the focus on the desired impact. A wise coach once said 'any idiot can make another idiot tired', but if a training plan is carried out effectively, systematically increasing training load, the result will be an improvement in athletic performance. Organisms adjust to the challenges of their external environments in order to better survive, and the human body is no different, when pressure is applied we adapt. Training can provide a powerful stimulus for adaptation, with consecutive sessions built to create a progressively challenging environment, directing adaptation towards a desired outcome.
When creating a training plan it is important to consider the fact that adaptation will only arise from challenge. A training session needs to be tough enough to stimulate change, without excessively overloading the body risking injury or overtraining. As we adapt to a training plan, we will have to add new challenges in order to continue to stimulate adaptations as without a progressive training stimulus we will begin to plateau.
The key variables we can change.
When developing a fitness plan we look to vary the load placed on the body by adjusting several key factors.
- Volume: The amount of work carried out either as a function of total reps or work time.
- Intensity: The degree of maximal effort required by the moves performed as a percentage of maximum force output or heart rate.
- Specificity: The degree to which a plan matches the specific movements and energy systems required by our goals.
- Frequency: The regularity with which we train. Note that a more specific plan will target movements and energy systems with greater frequency.
- Complexity: The degree of control required to coordinate movements within a plan. This can be adjusted by increasing the number of muscles involved in movements, the number of phases there are in each movement, the amount of external stimuli placed on the body, the number of senses used or blocked and the novelty of the movements involved in the plan.
It is important to understand that how we respond to each of these cues is different and specific. Increases in Intensity will often be used if the goal is to increase our maximal capacity to produce force or maximise speed and the rate of force development, while Volume becomes the focus when we look to increase the duration for which we can sustain force output building endurance capacity.
Periodisation of training
The way we load the body day after day, week after week, month after month for the duration of a training plan is hugely important, with training plans being divided into different training periods with each period designed to achieve pre-defined outcomes that will provide the foundation for the following training phase. By carefully designing a program, transitioning through these periods in sequence, we can practically guarantee steady, consistent progress towards our long term goals.