Today we're starting with training which, for the initiated, is a really simple process yet it is one area that I see regularly ballsed up by overzealous or just uneducated trainers. The following tips will give you the structure and process for building simple programs that you will be able to tweak and follow for the rest of your life.
1. Know your goals
Why are you training? Sounds an easy question but it is so often forgotten. Your entire approach to training hinges on the answer to this question. If you are purely training for enjoyment then crack on and do whatever you feel like but if you have a performance or body composition goal in mind you need to define it and keep it as the central focus of your work. I regularly see people joining gyms in order to lose weight yet soon they are pulled or persuaded into a wide range of different classes that are doing very little to help them towards their goal.
2. Understand the difference between feeling tired and making progress
The current state of the fitness industry, with its heavy Crossfit influence, has convinced many that if you aren't finishing sessions in a sweaty mess on the floor then it wasn't worth it. This couldn't be further from the truth and, for many, could actually be counterproductive. Charles Poliquin has used the term 'entertraining' to describe this and it sums up the approach of many gyms and PTs nowadays. Again you need to connect with your goals and consider these in the longer term, not just session by session. Going to the well and really pushing yourself is important, but not every session, progress is a slow and considered process, don't try and achieve everything at once.
3. What do you want each training session to do?
This builds on the point above and is a lesson I've really learnt and applied through my pre-season programming at Tigers this year. When we train we express genes that then signal the physiological adaptions that we are looking for. The challenge comes in that these genes are on competing pathways, which is why we can't train for improvements in endurance and strength and power all at the same time. What this means practically is that each training session needs to be focused on one of these genetic signalling pathways. Through our pre-season I programmed power focused work on different days to aerobic work. If I'd programmed both efforts into the same session then it would have created mixed signalling and lesser results. For the average gym goer this means that lifting some weights and then sitting on the bike for 20mins is compromising your results. Far better to designate one session as 'cardio' and do this on a separate day to your weights.
4. Minimum effective dose
Whilst it might be tempting to empty the toolbox and throw every training trick available at your goal this, unfortunately, isn't sustainable. Instead focus on the least you can do to make progress. This not only saves you a lot of effort but also leaves plenty of tricks up your sleeve as your training develops and progress gets harder. Think about the 20% of efforts that will get you 80% of the way there. This really shows in your exercise selection, I've seen many gym goers expending huge amounts of time and effort using every leg machine that gym has to offer when they could have just done some squats and romanian deadlifts and achieved more of a training stimulus in half the time.
5. Avoid the grey area
The grey area is that middle ground where you push yourself kind of hard. Many a training goal has died here. You turn up every day, give it a decent effort, yet not much seems to change. You start to feel more fatigued and the lack of progress saps your enthusiasm. It doesn't have to be like this. Again it comes back to signalling. In the grey area scenario you aren't training hard enough to produce a strong signal for adaption yet you aren't training lightly enough to recover properly. So you end up with fatigue but no adaption. Instead, try to adopt a polarised approach to training. Spend most of your time on the easy end of the spectrum with a few, focused, sessions that really tax you. This approach gives both strong adaptions at both ends of the spectrum whilst also allowing adequate recovery time. The variety also makes life a bit more interesting.
6. Strength is the foundation.
Whether you are a marathon runner or a rugby player you need to have some form of strength training at the heart of your training programming. The simple explanation for this is that the stronger you are the less capacity of that you use in every movement you make, whether that be an explosive tackle or a running stride. This makes you vastly more efficient which provides benefits regardless of your sport. Strength also increases your resistance to injury as well as your general health. Even if body composition is your goal then training for strength will give you muscle. Muscle equals metabolism which means a lot more calories burnt without having to do anything extra (which is why strength will always beat HIIT for body comp). At the most basic level include some squats, some hinges and some push-pull at least once a week and you will notice a positive difference regardless of your goal.
I hope this post has provided some food for thought. If your training is drifting currently and you aren't making the progress you'd like then apply the above principles and that'll soon change.