080121 Concepts of strength training theory

Concepts of strength training theory

Strength training is a part of the larger field of training knowledge, i.e. the science of training. This broader view encompasses not only the strength aspects, but also includes other major principle components of athleticism such as agility, balance, coordination, endurance, flexibility, speed, sport technique, and periodization. In the following paragraphs will be brief explanations of the terms that are usually associated with training in general and strength training.

The results of ALL relevant sport strength and conditioning training programs must be enhanced performance in the chosen activity. If not, then the training effort has been wasted. Accountability and responsibility rest squarely upon the shoulders of the coach for this failure.

Training programs that result in the systematic improvement of physical fitness, especially strength, occur with proper planning. I am NOT talking about adaptation here, to adapt means to stagnate. I am talking of consistent improvement using periodization planning, exercise selection, and constant monitoring toward mutually agreed upon targeted goals.

Adaptation means the organism changes to meet the existing conditions to ensure survival. It is one of the main characteristics of biology. Strength training is a powerful motivator in forcing the system to change.

Training programs must consider the overload or the stimulus, accommodation, specificity, and individualization during the macro, meso and micro periodization planning cycles.

The overload must be appropriate, not too much and not too little, to make the system adapt. In 1954, Hans Selye came up with a description that described how an organism adapted to sources of stress in their environment.

He called the model the “General Adaptation Syndrome” aka GAS. He further described two such stressors, one good and one bad. They are respectively,

  • Eustress or that which produces growth, performance enhancements and repair
  • Distress, which can cause decay, damage, death, or disease in the living organism.

The General Adaptation Syndrome theory states there are three phases to an exposure to stress. Phase number one is the initial alarm, phase two is the resistance to the stress and the final phase is the adaptation to the stress (which Selye called exhaustion).

Breaking the three phases down into manageable bits of information one will find the first stage is the body’s initial response to the stress, i.e. flight, fright, or freeze. (“Shock or alarm”, as it is described in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning book by Baechle and Earle) The body at this point has a temporary inability to cope with the situation; however, it quickly calls on energy reserves and begins to function in a more appropriate manner.

This is the beginning of the resistance phase in which the body adapts to the stimulus and returns to a more normal state. The body is preparing itself for a continuation of similar stresses by growing stronger in response.

The final stage is exhaustion. If the organism does not have a pause in the constant stress, it begins to break down. Thus, overtraining has reared its ugly head and progress begins to “grind to a halt”. Minor injuries appear, desire diminishes, and working out is no longer enjoyable. The workout program has failed!

Training loads

The training load must be set above the habitual level to be effective.[1]

The habitual level is the point where the load is no longer a challenge and your body is just ‘going through the motions of training’. This is a waste of your time and as soon as it is recognized, preferably before, it is time to redo the program.

Several methods exist to alter the overload. One of the most used is simply increasing the load by adding more intensity and volume to the same exercises. Instead of progress, this tactic leads to boredom or worse yet to an injury during training.

An important reason for not using the same exercises with the same loads or linear increasing loads for a long-time span is it will NOT substantially change the physiological makeup of the person. The body quickly accommodates to the same schedule and fails to grow as a result.

The second is to make a complete change in the routine either in its entirety or to major contributing portions. This places new challenges to the trainee and re-energizes the workouts.

It is thus apparent the overload must be sufficient and different in nature to cause eustress and not distress or the body will begin to rebel against the imposed load by failing to get stronger. Creating the optimum overload is not difficult in the beginner but as the athlete attains the more elite status these changes become more critical and more challenging to design.

As mentioned, numerous times in the Explosivelyfit Strength Training News there are various accepted intensity ranges a trainee would be working in depending on the goal of the training phase. For example, hypertrophy and strength do not share much in common when it comes to intensity percentages and the intermixing of the two is solely for a recuperation day or two for either trainee. Classifying a training overload into three categories as to “their magnitude” per Zatsiorsky is a relative straightforward proposition. He breaks the loads down in the following manner:

  1. A stimulating overload is one that is above the neutral level and fosters a positive adaptation to take place.
  2. Retraining is the load that maintains the current fitness levels; it neither increases nor decreases the fitness of the athlete. To me this is the epitome of stagnant training.
  3. Detraining leads to a decrease in performance, in the functional capabilities of the athlete or both. Avoid this condition like the plague.

[1] Science and practice of strength training. Zatsiorsky, V. M. Human Kinetics

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