Designing an Effective Training Program
Foundations for Maximum Muscle & Strength
As we move into the New Year, gyms fill up with new and returning athletes.
The depth of expertise one can develop in physical development is undervalued unlike any other profession or field of study.
There is a development approach for maximizing progress from your training and minimizing the occurrences of pain or injury.
In this article, I will provide you that formula.
I wish I had this framework over a decade ago when I began training.
Level 1: Pain Free Mobility
Pain and injury are the primary limiting factors for progress.
Typically, pain and injury occurs by neglecting the first 3 levels of this framework. Athletes might begin with zero pain, but by neglecting the second and third levels, it is only a matter of time.
There are thousands of reasons for pain, and if you have pain, you must prioritize its resolution.
First, the brain will not allow maximal force production at a muscle if there is pain in the surrounding tissue or the joint that muscles effects.
Typically to compensate for pain movement patterns are altered which results in suboptimal biomechanics, which results in collateral tissue damage, unnecessary stress, and less tension in the muscle you’re intending to train.
If you push through pain to force tension in a muscle, you risk producing structural damage, worsening the pain, and sustaining an injury. Injury will dramatically reduce your progress and potentially force you to suspend training for an extended period of time.
There are many reasons for pain be it health related, soft tissue restrictions, nerve entrapment or compression, actually structural damage, or structural imbalances - which leads us to the second level.
Level 2: Structural Balance
When athletes don’t have pain, they typically disregard the need for optimal structural balance and pursue rapid progress by simply training hard and often.
While this produces greater results in a very short time period, say 1-3 months, it often leads to a hard plateau, unnecessary soft tissue damage, or an injury.
When you spend even 3-6 weeks optimizing structural balance, especially when you have significant discrepancies thereof, the progress over the following 3 months will absolutely dwarf the progress you would have made.
When you maximize joint integrity you maximize the amount of force a muscle effecting that joint can produce. Furthermore, when there are significant structural imbalances, optimal biomechanics may be impossible, either because you lack the mobility or the strength to maintain proper position.
Which leads to the third level.
Level 3: Skill
When you optimize biomechanics, you maximize mechanical tension in the specific muscles you’re intending to train while minimizing stress on the body in general, thus allowing you to train harder and more often with less risk for injury and faster progress.
Even this level is taken for granted by many trainees, and even coaches.
There is a breadth of knowledge one can develop in biomechanics, and your expertise in biomechanics will determine the quality of your training.
The purpose of optimal biomechanics is to maximize mechanical tension in intended structures and minimize unintended collateral damage. In strength training, the purpose of optimal biomechanics is to maximize the amount of weight you can lift while minimizing structural damage so you can recover faster, train harder more often, and thus make greater gains in strength.
Proper exercise technique is not natural, and it is not a simple subject. Most athletes and coaches lack expertise in biomechanics in my experience.
Level 4: Intensity
This is where many athletes begin and end with their training, only to hit a wall or experience pain and eventually injury.
Another large faction of athletes, coaches, and clinicians focus entirely on the first 3 levels, never training with the intensity necessary to maximize muscle and strength.
When these 4 levels are combined, the progress is orders of magnitudes greater and the risk for pain and injury are minimized.
Maximizing intensity will maximize mechanical tension - the stimulus for muscle growth.
However, if there is pain, you will not be able to maximize mechanical tension; if you push through pain, you may incur structural damage and eventual injury.
If you lack structural balance, you will not be able to maximize mechanical tension; if you continue to worsen structural balance through training, you eventually cannot use proper technique and will likely sustain pain or injury.
If you lack skill, then you are failing to maximize mechanical tension in muscles you’re intending to train, as well as failing to realize your strength potential, all the while increasing collateral structural damage and general stress on the system.
When you nail mobility, structural balance, and skill, you are able to dramatically increase the quality and efficiency of your training by orders of magnitude.
Level 5: Program
The final level is an intelligently designed training program to produce and maximize specific adaptations based on your goals and needs.
You body will adapt specifically to the demands you impose upon it. The exercises you use, the volume, intensity, frequency, order, and how often you vary those exercises, the way these exercises are performed, the rest periods, the tempos these exercises are performed at, the training structure from a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis will all influence training outcomes.
A more in depth exploration of this topic will be subject for another article, but a training program designed with respect for principles of adaptation and a long-term goal-oriented approach, when combined with the first four levels, is how world class athletes are produced.
Resolve pain, learn to train with optimal biomechanics for your unique anatomical structure, and optimize your structural balance with a structured approach to training. Then, learn to train brutally hard, and combine all of it with an effective training program. This will lead to the greatest results over time.
There is a large portion of fitness and healthcare professionals who prioritize injury prevention with pre-habilitative and re-habilitative exercises, but they utterly fail to produce results in the way of muscle and strength development. This is often seen among therapists, doctors, and personal trainers who preach “functional training”, but have no track record of results.
On the other hand, there is a massive population of athletes who train brutally hard but lack structure in their approach. Through sheer will, these athletes realize better results than their counterparts, but their disregard for fundamental principles often leads to pain, injury, or failure to achieve athletic potential.
I truly hope this framework serves you well and helps you maximize progress without ever experiencing significant pain or injury.
If you want to learn more about any of the levels mentioned, or undergo an assessment to find where you stand in the above framework and how you can improve the results from your training, you know where to find me.
Daniel J. Furtado, CPT, LMT, Owner of Honor Strength
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