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Training Principles

Training principles are the universally applicable guidelines that should be met in order to achieve a given training objective. There are specific principles laid out in most sport science texts that apply to all training methods, regardless of the goal. However these text book principles only really show a small part of the picture. There are certain principles that are neglected within the world of academia. For this reason Unleashed Training has combined the text book principles of strength and conditioning with a unique set of principles that, if followed, will always produce the stated training objective.

In order to fully understand strength and conditioning and to understand fitness as a whole, it is necessary to have a set of fundamental guidelines that apply to all physical training. These guidelines allow an athlete, coach or aspiring fitness enthusiast to structure a program in a specific manner while being guided by a checklist of actions and requirements. That is what this set of training principles aims to do, provide an overall guideline for constructing and implementing any training program.

Checklist of Training Principles

1. Consistency

2. Specificity

3. Progression

4. Recovery

5. Intensity

6. Frequency

7. Volume

8. Focus

9. Minimalism

10. Adaptation

Explanation of Training Principles

In order to understand how training principles are applied to a training program and to each component of fitness itself, it is essential to understand the meaning of each principle and to understand how it is applied in context.

Training Principle # 1 - Consistency

There are two elements of consistency. The first is consistency in training methods, types, components and individual drills and exercises. The second is consistency of training itself.

Remember this statement - IF SOMETHING IS WORTH DOING AT ALL IT IS WORTH DOING REGULARLY. Applying a specific exercise or training method needs to be consistent in order to produce an adaptive response. Quite often, athletes and fitness enthusiasts will deviate from their regularly training schedule to do something as a one-off. The general understanding is that doing something different all the time will result in the shock and confusion of the muscular and nervous system, resulting in greater gains in fitness. This is a common feature of training systems. However the problem with this approach is that doing something as a one-off or only doing that specific element sporadically will result in wasted time and energy because there is no consistency, which results in no foundation for an adaptive response. If an athlete is going to include squats within a workout then squats need to be a part of the broader, overall training program or there will be no benefit in doing them at all. This is closely tied to the principle of progression.

The second element of consistency is training as a whole. In order to produce a given training goal or objective training needs to be consistent and regular. If training is sporadic and not done regularly then the body will go through a detraining process or reversibility of adaptations, resulting in the athlete maintaining a below baseline capacity for the training that is undertaken.

Training Principle # 2 - Specificity

Specificity refers to training that is specific to the demands of the training objective. A swimmer has different training and adaptation needs to a runner, who has different needs to the shot putter. Not all training is created equal. Every training method, exercise or drill has specific applications that will lead to a specific end result.

There are two components of specificity in training; the first is energy system specific, the second is biomechanics specific. Every training objective has within it specific demands on the body’s energy systems. There are three primary energy systems that determine training output. The anaerobic creatine phosphate system, which is responsible for maximal output over a very short space of time, generally under 10 seconds duration. Common to this energy system are displays of strength, speed and power, such as short sprint efforts, jumping or lifting a maximal weight. The anaerobic lactate system, which is responsible for maximal or near maximal output over a prolonged period of time lasting from 10 seconds up to three minutes. Common to this energy system are displays of prolonged maximal or near maximal output that result in the production of lactic acid and heavy oxygen debt. Examples include sprinting 400m, a maximum one minute interval of cycling or a strength exercise performed for a set of 6-12 reps. Lastly is the aerobic energy system, which supports activity that is well below maximal output and can be sustained indefinitely. Things such as long distance running, long distance cycling or prolonged walking fall into this category.

Training must be specific to the energy system demands of the training objective. If an athlete needs to improve maximal strength and output of power for a very short interval of time then training needs to reflect that demand. Training aerobically for this objective is not going to produce the desired outcome.

Training must also be specific to the biomechanic or movement aspects of the task at hand. A runner cannot significantly improve running ability by cycling, even when the energy demands are matched perfectly. Adaptations occur to the body’s energy systems as well as the actual specific movements used to stimulate those energy systems. Training needs to reflect that.

Training Principle # 3 - Progression

Progression is an obvious goal of physical training. Without progression one cannot improve a specific component of fitness and training then becomes a pointless endeavour. Progression is the gradual improvement of specific skills and physical capacity.

Progression is achieved in a number of different ways. For the best possible result an athlete can use multiple progression and overload strategies in order to effect the change. Overload is the simplest and easiest way to understand how the human body can progress. Overload is the method by which the athlete attempts something slightly above what they were able to do in the previous session or training cycle. A great example is strength training. Regardless of where an athlete currently sits in terms of ability, adding a small amount of weight every workout or every few workouts to the amount they are currently lifting will result in a small and gradual increase in strength, which is specific to the lifts being performed. The same applies to all forms of training, simply increasing the overall output either per set or interval or the overall output of the entire session.

In order for progression to continue indefinitely, the athlete will need to undergo an intelligently designed program that applies methods of periodisation, meaning training that is structured in phases and cycles. The reason being that constant and eternal linear progression is not physically possible, so we need to get creative in order for the body to keep responding.

Training Principle # 4 - Recovery

There are two types of recovery. There is recovery between efforts, which occurs in every form of training where continuous activity is not performed. In strength training it is recovery betweens sets, in sprint training it is recovery between sprint efforts. Specified recovery time between efforts needs to be adhered to in order to produce the desired energy system adaptations as well as to allow the correct level of intensity required of the muscular and nervous systems on each effort, set or interval.

The second form of recovery is recovery between training sessions. Adaptation to training occurs as a result of the stimulus placed on the body’s systems during training, however this adaptive response occurs during periods of rest. It is training type, intensity, duration and frequency that determines the type of adaptations that will take place, however it is rest and recovery from this training that will determine the level of adaptation achieved as a result of the specific stimuli. Rest is required for recovery of the muscular system, the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.

Periods of both kinds of recovery are specified as part of a correctly designed training program and must be adhered to.

Training Principle # 5 - Intensity

The intensity of a training activity determines the result. Taking strength training as an example, training at an intensity that allows 12 repetitions of an exercise produces a different result than training at an intensity that allows only a single repetition. The same applies to other components of fitness. Running at an intensity that allows a person to run indefinitely, such as running a marathon produces a completely different result than sprinting 50 metres.

Training intensity must be structured to specifically match the target training objective.

Training Principle # 6 - Frequency

Training frequency refers to how often within a given week or training cycle a specific exercise or training type is performed. Training frequency needs to consider multiple aspects, being recovery ability, training intensity and training volume. The higher the priority of the training type being undertaken the more frequently that training type is performed, provided that adequate recovery time is given.

Considerations for training frequency include:

The toll on the muscular system, the toll on the nervous system, the toll on the cardiovascular system, the experience level of the athlete and other training that has been undertaken.

Training frequency needs to take into consideration these factors and the priority level of the specific training type being undertaken. Some things, such as plyometrics, are completed on a relatively infrequent basis due to the research that suggests this type of training produces a better result when performed only twice per week as opposed to five days per week. Other components, such as flexibility training should be performed as frequently as possible due to the minimal need for recovery and the relatively fast adaptive response.

Training Principle # 7 - Volume

Training volume is the total amount of work output within a given training session and overall within a training cycle or week. Training volume is expressed specifically pertaining to the type of training being undertaken. For strength training, volume can be measured in terms of the total, cumulative amount of weight lifted, calculated by the number of reps performed and amount of weight lifted within each set and given as a total. Alternatively, it can be calculated by the number of overall reps performed at a given intensity, which is a more common and practical usage.

Training volume will go hand in hand with training intensity to determine the overall outcome of a training program.

Training Principle # 8 - Focus

The principle of focus is a less tangible but equally important training principle as the rest of the training principles. Focus is a multi-faceted training principle, referring to several different areas.

1. Area of focus - pertaining closely to specificity, area of focus refers to where you put most of your focus and energy in terms of training. An athlete that competes in a highly specific sport such as sprinting must have a very narrow and dedicated area of focus, meaning that all of their training is focused on improving sprinting speed.

2. General focus - general focus refers to how well, in terms of lifestyle, a person focuses on their training. Someone that exercises for general fitness 2-3 days a week and gets on with other areas of life in between without thinking about training has an entirely different level of general focus than a dedicated athlete who’s life revolves around their training. The latter is intensely focused on the task at hand and considers the impact of every habit and behaviour as it pertains to their training results. The level of general focus must be relevant and at a level that matches the training objective and its importance.

3. Training focus - training focus is the focus given during each session to the training itself. This level of focus is the focus one demonstrates when performing a specific exercise and within the overall session. Casual exercisers that go to the gym and socialise while putting in less than complete effort and perform lazy exercises at a low intensity have low training focus. Conversely, dedicated athletes training at an elite level for something like an Olympic event spend their training time intensely focused on each and every component of each and every training session. Training focus is the only type of focus where everyone should be equal. When a person is out on the track, in the gym or any other training environment, training focus should be exceptionally high. Every movement, every effort should be performed with complete concentration of effort and complete focus on the task at hand with consideration given to the purpose for doing the training.

Training Principle # 9 - Minimalism

In the spirit of the principle itself, we will keep the explanation short. William of Occam said “it is vain to do more with what could be done with less”. What this means is that in any endeavour, but in this instance training, only hat which is directly relevant and necessary should be performed, with everything else discarded. One should question every exercise, every effort, every method and ask if it is necessary and if it will contribute directly or indirectly to the stated objective. If not then it is discarded to make room for actions that are necessary and contributory to the end result.

Training Principle # 10 - Adaptation

Adaptation is largely covered throughout other training principles, but it bears repeating and is necessary to include as a stand-alone training principle within itself.

An adaptation is the reason for all training. Every exercise, every movement, every bit of effort, is performed for the purpose of inducing a physical adaptation. Lifting heavy weights results in adaptations to the nervous system and muscular system, resulting in greater strength and muscle growth. Running long distance at a specific intensity results in adaptations to the muscular and cardiovascular systems, contributing to greater performance in activities that require this ability. Adaptations are a direct result of all other training principles combined, and must be understood in order to effectively design a fitness or sport specific training program.

Training is always designed with adaptation in mind. The training chosen for a given objective is always based on the adaptation induced by that mode of training. The same applies to the volume, frequency and intensity of that training. These things all determine the physical adaptation that will take place, resulting in an increased ability to perform a relevant and specific physical ability related to the task at hand.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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