Whatever your barriers are, taking that first step to make exercise a part of your life is not always the easiest step to take. Which makes it even more upsetting when I see people that have made that investment quit shortly after starting. Commonly cited reasons for this are:
· not enough time
· too complicated
· no results
· too intimidating
Knowledge is power. Not only can knowing what to do ensure you reach your goals in a safe, time-efficient manner, but it can also give you the confidence you might need to stick with it long-term.
So, we’re going to equip you with that knowledge and discuss the principles that you should use to guide your training if you want to succeed.
Specificity is a measure of how well training gets you closer to your goals. Greater specificity – or more specific training – means that the exercise you do has a much larger impact on moving you towards your goals than lesser specificity.
For example, if you wanted stronger legs, it would be highly specific to train heavy squats. Squatting slightly lighter weights with more overall volume would still be reasonably specific since it allows you to build a base of muscle mass from which to build more strength upon. Going for a nice long stroll, however, is not specific to achieving stronger legs – it works a totally different energy system.
So, we can see that to move towards a goal, you need specific training.
In order to keep progressing, the body has to be continually challenged. This means the exercise you do must be hard enough to force the body to adapt, and must be, on average, harder than recent previous workouts. This is where a logbook or training diary comes into play. Keeping a record of previous performance means you always know if you are overloading, whether that’s in the form of going longer, heavier, or faster.
For example, if you want to work on your cardiovascular fitness with rowing, over time, the pace you start with will become easier until it is no longer hard enough to force the body to adapt. To keep forcing adaptations, you must overload by either increasing duration or speed, or both.
So, we can see that to continue moving towards a goal, you must overload in your training.
Along with the stimulus that the body needs to trigger adaptation, exercise also causes fatigue. There are several different types of fatigue that you need to be aware of and manage. It might help to think about it like this:
Every set will cause some amount of fatigue, whether it’s depleted fuel stores, oxygen debt, reduced neural drive, or purely psychological. This is where you decide how much rest time you need between sets. Not resting long enough will hinder performance in the next set.
However, resting too long may violate the principle of specificity, or may just be an inefficient use of time.
Each workout will cause a slightly longer-term type of fatigue like tissue damage, inflammation, and nervous system fatigue. This is where rest days become crucial. Not taking rest days between sessions can lead to overtraining. When muscles have not had the time they need to recover fully, performance decreases over time and injury risk increases.
Some types of fatigue take a long time to build up and a long time to fix. Depending on the severity of the fatigue, it can be addressed with a deload week, where intensity and volume are reduced to a more manageable amount, a low volume phase, where volume is reduced for multiple weeks of training, or an active rest phase, where normal training is discontinued in favour of very light movement for a few weeks.
So, we can see that to train hard towards a goal in a sustainable way, you have to manage fatigue.
There are many other things that can be considered when deciding how to go about your training, but the three discussed here are essential. Integrate these ideas and you will find yourself reaching your goals safely and efficiently.
If you want an objective perspective from someone with the relevant knowledge and skills that understands the nuances of every training variable (including the ones not discussed here), I recommend finding a good coach or personal trainer. It’s literally their job to get you to your goals as fast and as safe as possible.