Training can be a tricky thing. Most people will tell you it’s just about effort, and for the most part that is where it starts. If you put in lots of work, good things will happen. If you don’t, it becomes hard to make change. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s talk specifics…
If you are looking to improve body composition, sometimes it doesn’t matter WHAT you do, as long as you are doing enough work in general. If you have plenty of room for improvement, then almost anything works, as long as you are doing SOMETHING. However, when your goals are more specific, you need more specific ways of structuring your training and I’ll outline some of these.
You can learn more about this from THIS ARTICLE.
In general, training needs to be focused on a specific characteristic. The one’s we’ll discuss here are Strength, Hypertrophy, Power/Speed, Body Composition, and Conditioning.
NOTE: These categories overlap, and improvements will generally be seen in multiple areas, but the biggest improvements should be seen in the area of FOCUS.
Typically this is where you will see a lot of the focus for athletes and powerlifters. The average gym goer will opt more for hypertrophy or fat loss due to the aesthetic effects rather than the performance gained from a strength-focused block of training.
When training for strength, a large portion of the adaptation comes from the nervous system and its ability to coordinate the use of your muscle tissue. Synchronization of motor units, inhibition of antagonist muscle groups, and increased recruitment of motor units all contribute to lifting heavy weight on top of some increases in muscle mass.
Here are a few examples of strength work. This is typically compound movements (lots of muscles used) for high load and low repetitions.
This is definitely the most popular category for young men, because your biceps can never get big enough. Truthfully, having a decent amount of muscle mass is important for self-confidence and filling out half your wardrobe, so I definitely don’t know it. I think almost every guy has thought about putting on 10lbs of muscle, and every woman has thought about seeing a nice flat stomach. There is nothing wrong with being sexy.
There are a lot of different programs and approaches that are used for hypertrophy but there is definitely a best-way and all the rest. The catch is whether you want muscle mass and strength and power to all improve together. This goes back to the concept of specificity. You can accomplish all 3, but much slower.
Ideal hypertrophy training involves a high amount of volume per body part along with reaching that dreaded fatigue mark (1). In strength and power training this is discouraged, but with hypertrophy training this is the way to go…
Here are a few examples of the kind of volume you want to get for hypertrophy gains!
If you think about the Crossfit approach, that is definitely the path to go for the best in conditioning and fat loss training. You want to work in a high-intensity heart rate zone with low amounts of rest. The key here is to build circuits with a strong resistance training component so that you are either building muscle mass or maintaining what you have, while shedding body fat. That will ultimately make for the best body composition (Think Percent Body FAT!). If you could do a 30-40 minute mixed workout while avoiding going over the 40 second rest mark you will probably build quite a body composition workout. If you take this version of a Hypertrophy program, cut some of the volume down and make it full-body, you’d have a great workout.
This is the bread and butter for athletes, but should not be the primary focus year round. The key to power/speed is that you need a sufficient base of strength in order to express high levels of power. Power involves moving high amounts of force quickly. Moving a tiny weight quickly is just annoying, not powerful. There are a few different approaches for working on speed and power. First, are the weightlifting exercises, clean and jerk, and snatch. These are difficult to master so if you want to do them well, find a coach who knows how to teach them. If you are weak, go figure out the strength part first! The second method is complexing a strength and speed movement to maximize power in the second movement. This is also an advanced technique that works best in experienced strong lifters, so feel free to try it out, but don’t make it a staple of your program if you aren’t strong (think 2x bodyweight squat for STRONG). Finally, strictly plyometric (jumping) or sprinting workouts are great ways to improve speed/power. These can be box jumps, bounding, broad jumps, sprints, hill sprints, etc.
Here are a few variations of speed and power work..
The key to getting the most out of your training is knowing WHAT you want to accomplish, then executing properly on the HOW. Think about sticking in one category for 4-6 weeks in order to see some adaptations!!
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1. Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, Holwerda AM, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, and Phillips SM. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS One 5: e12033, 2010.