It's essential that we learn how to move our bodies correctly, because contrary to the popular statement that practice makes perfect, when strength training, perfect practice is the only thing that makes perfect.
New to strength training? Coach Kevin Don breaks down the principles of fitness training design for folks who are looking to improve their basic movements.
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Hi, I'm Kevin Don, the Get-Fit Guy, and I'm here to share my accumulated decade of knowledge in the strength and conditioning industry with you to help you become the best version of yourself!
This week I want to talk about the basics or principles of program design for strength training.
The first thing we have to do is identify whether or not we are training a novice, an intermediate, or advanced lifter because each phase of this training lifecycle will have a different approach and a different training intensity, volume, and prescription. An intermediate trainee will be one who has “maxed out” novice gains and now requires more complexity to training, while an advanced trainee will be in the same category, but will typically have a “sport specific” goal, like powerlifting as a strength focussed goal or triathlon as a longer, aerobic type goal. The more specific the goal, the more specific the training prescription will be and typically, these will be built upon mastery of the novice phase.
Typically, novices want to focus on developing control or mastery of motor patterns. Motor patterns are what enable us to express all of the different ways we can move our bodies in space.
We talked about this briefly in my first episode, but there are six motor patterns and six degrees of freedom in space.
The six motor patterns are:
And the degrees of freedom are:
If we want to have mastery of our bodies we need to have some degree of control throughout these six patterns and degrees.
It's really important that we learn how to move our bodies correctly, because contrary to the popular statement that practice makes perfect, when strength training, perfect practice is the only thing which makes perfect. If we practice movements in a non-perfect manner, we are going to develop muscle memory and adhere to a pattern which is going to be non-optimal.
Therefore, novices should prioritize mastering motor control before they move forward in a hierarchy of strength or training development.
That hierarchy would look a little bit like a pyramid with the wide base being motor control. The next phase above that is going to be muscular endurance, above that strength endurance, and above that maximal contractions. These are followed by strength speed, speed strength, and then absolute speed.
The way I like to think about when I work with clients is that I want them to show me that they can make the patterns required. Then, I want them to show me that they can make the patterns and maintain them as they are becoming more and more fatigued. Finally, I want them to show me that they can make the patterns and maintain them while experiencing fatigue and controlling an external object.
Let’s circle back to muscle memory. Most of us have heard the phrase, but what that is based upon is a process called myelination. There is a protective lipid layer or a fatty layer called myelin which forms over the pathways and the more we send a signal down that path, the more we are reinforcing the pattern. So if we want to develop a new pathway, we need to do enough repetitions or spend enough time in those positions that we myelinate that new pattern.
Because we want to myelinate a new motor pattern, the best way to do this is with high repetitions and more time spent in each position. We call this time under tension. The best way you can achieve more time under tension is to take advantage of a training protocol called TEMPO training. This is where we can slow down our movements and make sure we focus on moving well in each part of the pattern we are trying to ingrain.
Tempo training has four phases. The first is an eccentric phase—that's where you are lowering the weight down. Then, there is an isometric contraction (under tension) at the bottom, followed by a concentric phase where you are lifting the weights back up. Finally, there’s another isometric contraction at the top.
In a movement like the squat there may be a tempo such as 3 1 1 2.
This means three seconds to lower the load, one second to hold at the bottom, one second to stand back up, and two seconds to hold and breathe at the top before performing another repetition. Tempo is always read from left to right.
In a novice training program, you’ll do more repetitions at a slower tempo because you won’t be using a lot of counter-weight. So instead of having load to play with, we prioritize motor pattern development with time durations.
The easiest way to train as a novice is by using the most simple prescriptions. As mentioned last week, we are going to find that the most complicated prescriptions are reserved for those of the highest training age and the simplest prescriptions or training interventions are reserved for those of the lowest training age.
Most prescriptions will follow some kind of linear progression. What that means is very simply that you are going to increase one of the following attributes as time moves forwards in the training program: frequency, duration, and intensity (or load).
You are going to be able to monitor whether or not you are above the minimum effective dose and below the maximum tolerated dose simply by monitoring your improvement. As a reminder from last week, the minimum dose is what you need to improve your fitness, and your maximum dose is how much you can take before you become overtrained. If you are able to add 5 pounds every single week to your squat and still perform 3 to 5 sets of 5 repetitions, then we know that you are improving because you're able to continue adding load. Similarly, if the load were to remain constant and over a period of a few weeks, you managed to add more reps in each set, we could say that improvement is occurring and training doesn’t need any further complexity at this time.
Novices will be able to continue adding load for a significant period of time before any further complexity is required. You’ll know you need a more complex prescription when there’s a breakdown in your ability to continue adding load or reps each session.
Make sure to tune in next week, when I will cover the basics of some intermediate training options for those of you who have already “maxed out” on linear progression.