6 Ways to Optimize your Training Programby Chris and Eric Martinez on December 7, 2014
6 Ways to Optimize your Training Program
There are so many different training methods and myths floating around the World Wide Web, bodybuilding magazines, and commercial gyms. We often hear people asking what training should I be following and I want to do this person’s training plan or does this training plan work?
Dr. Mike Zordous once quoted, “The question shouldn’t be does it work? The question should be is it optimal?”
This stuck with us because there is no such thing as optimal, but when you seek for something to be optimal it creates discussion, brings questioning, theories, and thus leads to studies being conducted. So every time we put a client’s training program together, we ask “is this going to be optimal?”
You see a lot of people think it’s easy putting a training program together. Take some basic movements, make sure they’re balanced and work all your muscle groups, throw them together in an order that works the bigger muscles first, and Walla…a completed workout.
Designing a training program isn’t rocket science, but it’s still a science and there should be some intelligent programming involved using training methodology and exercise science. There’s a reason why certain people get better results than others and we are going to tell you 6 ways to optimize your training program so that you can be one of those outliers getting great results and training at a high level for many years to come.
Tip 1- Use the 3 Mechanisms of Hypertrophy
Muscle growth is not an easy task to achieve. The majority of people think all you have to do is lift weights and eat more calories than you expend and muscle magically starts to appear. As we know, it’s just not that easy or else everybody would be walking around town jacked.
With muscle growth, you need periodization, and you need to dig a little deeper within your training programming.
Brad Schoenfeld found that there are three mechanisms to muscle growth and those are (5):
- Mechanical tension
- Muscle damage
- Metabolic stress/Cell swelling
Mechanical tension relates to how long the muscle is under tension, so heavy loads would be your best bet here.
Muscle damage relates to localized damage to muscle tissue which leads to more of a growth response in muscle, so moderate loads would be your best bet here.
Metabolic stress relates to metabolite accumulation through lactate, hydrogen ions, creatine, etc. So light loads are your best bet here.
When we put this all together we have rep ranges from 1-30 reps that need to be properly used and programmed intelligently into a training program.
Take home: To induce all three mechanisms of muscle growth, try using high loads of 1-6 reps, moderate loads of 8-15 reps, and light loads of 15-30 reps
Tip 2- Use Periodization
What is periodization you ask? O’Bryant and colleagues defines periodization as a cyclic approach to training where periodic changes in training parameters (volume, intensity, frequency, loading, exercise selection, rest periods) are planned in order for the athlete to achieve optimal performance at the appropriate time (1).
So in simple terms, “Non periodization” means no variation and “Periodization” means variation. The key factor involved in going towards an individuals potential is ‘variation’ in exercise stimulus with systematic rest, volume, intensity, frequency, and exercise selection programmed into the equation.
Once you know that you want to incorporate periodization into your training, you then need to figure out what concept you want to use. There are various concepts within periodization, such as (2):
- Linear periodization
- Non-linear periodization
- Daily undulated periodization
- Auto-regulated training/RPE
We won’t get into the different concepts within periodization now, as this is for another article to come. But, once you have the concept you want to use, you then need to program the length of how long you will be training under this concept. In training methodology, these lengths of training periods are termed ‘cycles’ and consist of the following (2):
- Microcycles—Weeks to 1 month
- Mesocycles— Month to months
- Macrocycles— Months to a year
Now that you have your cycles figured out, you will need to use training variables, such as (3):
- Intensity—– % of 1 Repetition Maximum
- Frequency— How many days a week you will be training and each body part
- Volume— Total work out put, sets x reps x weight
And now that you have your training variables incorporated you can start reaping the benefits of strength, power, and hypertrophy.
Take Home: Use periodization, incorporate a specific concept, add a cycle to the concept, and utilize training variables. These components are fundamental for the proper prescription of resistance training (4).
Tip 3- Increase your Volume over Time
Volume has been shown to be the most important training variable in inducing muscle growth and strength (6, 7).
Alterations of training load and volume have been shown to affect hormonal, neural, and hypertrophic responses and continuous adaptations to resistance training (8). Tan and colleagues suggest that the interplay between load and volume is the critical factor in determining the optimal range of training stimuli in order to promote the neuromuscular adaptations associated with resistance training (9).
Volume describes the total work performed within a training session and is typically calculated as Sets x Reps x Weight. Training volume is prescribed in terms of repetitions per set, number of sets per session, and the number of sessions per week (8).
Think of volume like this, it’s like dieting, you want to diet on as many calories as you can and when you stagnate you want to progress appropriately and not cut 500 calories, maybe cut 100 calories and lose at a modest pace and same thing with training volume, if you plateau you shouldn’t just add in a ton of volume, maybe add in a little more and progress appropriately over time.
If you can make progress on a less amount of volume then take advantage of that and if you start adding too much volume you will regress and you may progress to fast and set your volume threshold too high. We see this mistake being made far too often because of people following the popular muscle magazines and the popular internet training fads.
Take home: Use volume intelligently and strategically. If you are doing 10,000 lbs. of volume per week, there’s no need to jump from that to 50,000 lbs. because you will likely hurt yourself and set your volume threshold too high to where you will cap out and not be able to make progress.
Tip 4- Don’t be a Program Hopper
One of our biggest pet peeves in the gym is seeing “program hopping.” Program hopping is a huge problem in one’s training arsenal. Most people at various points in their training careers lose sight of the basis for all productive training. They forget that the goal is always to produce a stress that induces adaptation through recovery and super compensation.
Variety for variety’s sake is pointless. All training must be planned, and success must be planned for it. If you have good success with an exercise program thus far, then change for the sake of change itself makes no sense. In fact, staying within this program longer means the possibility of more subtle alterations, which in turn means less risk of losing valuable training time through trial and error process that accompanies major overhauls in programming.
To add to the program hopping topic, another huge mistake a lot of people make is giving up too quickly on a new training protocol because they think they’re going to be over trained since they are tired, sore, and feeling fatigued. Your body goes through a shock/alarm phase with a new training stimulus and needs time to adapt to the stimulus. If you give up due to being tired, soar or fatigued you will not get the proper adaptations you’re looking for from the training stimulus (2).
Look at it this way, would a construction worker quit his job because he is too sore and tired from using a jack hammer all day? No, he would get his butt up and go back to work every day and work… and his body will adapt!
Take home: Don’t be a program hopper and keep changing your exercise routines for the sake of variety, because it’s trendy, or because someone else is doing the next popular program. Plan an exercise program out, stick with it, let your body adapt, work your ass off, and reap the benefits from it.
Tip 5- Keep a Training Log to Track Your Data
This may have to be second on the list of gym pet peeves, when someone doesn’t track their training progress in a training log at the gym and just goes through the motions.
A training log is kept by every serious trainee as a record of his or her training progress. It is a crucial source of data for determinations such as:
– Effectiveness of newly added exercises
– Tracking volume
– Effectiveness of overall training protocol
The training log records trends in both training and schedule compliance that have a definite bearing on progress. Just ask yourself this question, “Would you go on a road trip without a road map?” So why go into the gym without a plan?
Take home: Purchase a cheap binder or notebook, carry it in your gym bag, map out your workouts before you train, make notes of your overall training sessions, and continue to progress. It’s absolutely true when they say “If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.”
Tip 6- Short Term vs Long Term Training Adaptations
In his 2010 review, acclaimed expert in the field of training periodization, Vladimir Issurin, lists a concentrated focus on obtaining training adaptations as one of his 5 key factors affecting the duration of short-term training residual adaptations. (10) What scientists have noticed is that longer term training adaptations will remain at a heightened level for a given period after training cessation. Interestingly enough, this period is variable depending on the type of adaptation achieved. Abilities associated with pronounced morphological and biochemical changes, such as muscle strength and aerobic endurance, have longer lasting effects than anaerobic-alactic or glycolytic abilities developed from training. (10)
Now, if we are using a traditional form of periodization where we are focusing on a broad variety of abilities at once, we don’t run the risk of de-training adaptations and, as a result, we don’t have to worry about all of this. However, if we are using block periodization, where we are only focusing on a select number of adaptations in each training phase – the risk of detraining becomes much more prominent. (11)
Training must be periodized and it must have enough volume to stimulate growth. Contrary to what most people believe volume, intensity, frequency, muscle damage, mechanical load, metabolic stress, power, strength, etc. Are all important for muscle growth; however volume seems to be the most important based on the research (6, 7).
Make sure to always periodize training protocols, particular with non-linear or daily undulating periodization as those protocols have been shown to be the most effective means to improve performance, power, strength, and hypertrophy.
Now that you have six solid tips on how to optimize your training program, go out there and build yourself an optimal training program and reap the benefits!
- O’Bryant, H.S. Periodization: A Theoretical Model for strength training. 1982
- Baechle and Earle. Essentials of strength training and conditioning. NSCA text book. 3rd edition
- Wernbom et al. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross sectional area in humans. 2007
- Rhea et al. A meta-analysis to develop the dose response of strength. 2003
- Schoenfeld, Brad. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. 2010
- Krieger, JW. Single vs multiple sets of resistance training exercise. 2009
- Krieger, JW. Single vs multiple sets of resistance training exercise for muscle hypertrophy. 2010
- Bird et al. Designing resistance training programs for muscular fitness. 2005
- Tan B. Manipulating resistance training program variables to optimize maximum strength in men. 1999
- Issurin, V. (2010). New Horizons for the Methodology and Physiology of Training Periodization. Sports Med , 189=206.
- Tremblay, Jason. (2013). Periodization Considerations for the Physique Athletes.