Now here’s a very good topic of discussion…I’ve written many times about the structure of exercise programs. One of the most important aspects of physical training is the simple factor of making adjustments and changes along the way.
These changes should be implemented in order to allow (and force) the body to improve in certain areas. In other words…this is a manipulation of stresses on the body, designed to elicit a specific response and adaptation.
Now, let’s look at our muscle system for a moment. Our muscle fibers are not all alike.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Put very simply, we have Type I fibers for muscular endurance, and Type II for strength/power (there are a couple of hybrids in there too but for the sake of this discussion let’s keep it simple).
We also have two types of training: cardio and resistance. When to comes to cardio, we all know that progressive overload means that when you have a goal to run 10 miles, you start with far less distance, then gradually work up to your goal.
This gives the body a chance to safely adapt and change, step-by-step, which ultimately gets it to the point where a 10-mile run can be tolerated. The body’s muscle and aerobic systems, connective tissues, etc. have gotten used to the physical demand.
When it comes to resistance training, things are very similar. We have discussed the different phases or “periods” of training. Manipulating the stresses on our muscles can elicit adaptations which improve: endurance, muscle mass, strength, and power.
This is of course what is known as “Periodization”….a plan of progressive overload first used years ago in the Olympics by a coach who knew a little more than the status quo when it came to maximizing performance.
Back to our muscle fiber types: We have more Type I endurance fibers than we have Type II strength fibers, so it makes sense to focus quite a bit on the “endurance” factor.
When designing workouts, I always recommend that you start with the endurance phase.
This includes light resistance and high number of reps.
Typically this means a resistance that you can perform for 15 reps. Some athletic-level training may mean more than 15, but for most of us this should be fine.
I have heard other trainers express that it’s best to work on strength first…but I disagree. In order to be safe and effective, you at least need to be able to complete a set without hitting excessive muscle failure. This, quite simply, requires adequate endurance, so work on that phase before moving on.
In fact, I recommend the following structure:
First you develop adequate endurance (15-rep phase)
Next you develop adequate muscle mass….size and/or density (hypertrophy or muscle fiber-building—-10 rep phase)
Now that you have what it takes to make it through a set, and you have the necessary muscle to physically do that, you can begin improving on that foundation by developing strength (6-8 rep phase)
For those who need to perform at a higher/athletic level, the final phase would be explosive movements that develop Power (1-5 rep phase). For regular folks, you can stop at Strength.
Now you’ve safely and properly gone through the physiological building process necessary to make a New and Improved You!
Along the way, throughout each phase, you will find that you might be able to add a bit of resistance but keep it in small increments.
The human body responds best to small, “baby-step” changes. Don’t be in a rush. And always remember….we are mostly endurance muscle so let’s keep that in mind when we are training.