Training discussions often turn to which method or program is the best. And there are a lot of programs out there, too. So deciding which one can generate progress can sometimes be a daunting task. And even if it’s not that bad for you, figuring out how to apply it, or if there is a better way can be a challenge even to seasoned coaches.
The thing is whenever we evaluate programs to decide how good they are, we can always come back to the Seven Fundamental Principles to help point us in the right direction. These aren’t the only principles and they also aren’t always applied equally, but we can use it as a yardstick of sorts to measure programs. I didn’t invent these principles – they are based in scientific observation collected over the last 60+ years.
What I would like to do is go through each principle, discuss it, and also show you some practical application for it. If you think this is too elementary for you, then you aren’t looking deep enough.
#1: Overload Principle
Most Powerlifters will be familiar with this one. If you want to improve your performance, you must overload past what you have already done. This means training stress gradually climbs over time. Greater volumes, intensities, and frequencies all will happen over the years in a well programmed training plan. If it’s done right, this should pose little problem to recovery because your recuperative systems will be strengthened as you develop as well.
The only time when recovery becomes excessively difficult is when either the body is not properly prepared for advanced training or when the athlete is so advanced that their body cannot keep up with training demands. The latter is actually a very rare case among powerlifters.
#2: Overcompensation Principle
This principle states that if your body is stressed, once given the chance to repair itself it will recover to a higher state of fitness than it was previously at. This is how we go from benching 300 pounds to 400 pounds and so on. Over time, our bodies overcompensate in an attempt to make training less “stressful”.
Let’s say your 1RM is 350. If you lift 90% of your max (315), your body sees that as stressful. So it increases your maximum capability to 355. Now 315 is only 88%… less stressful than before. This principle goes hand in hand with the Overload principle because at this point, you would need to increase the training load in order to continue making progress.
#3: Use / Disuse Principle
If you’ve ever heard someone say, “use it or lose it,” then this is probably what they were talking about. It’s pretty simple, yet also rather profound. This has the obvious implications that if you want to keep the size of the muscles you’ve worked hard to achieve, then you’d better continue to train them. But it also applies to skills and strengths, too.
If you develop good squat technique, you’d better continue to use it or else it will fade away just like any other physical trait. If you put in time to develop a superb jumping ability, then stop jump training, you will lose that too.
#4 Specificity Principle
Again, a relatively simple concept. Your body will develop skills and abilities in a specific manner to the way in which you are trained. What this means – if you want to be a better runner, then run, don’t bike. If you want to be a better lifter, then lift, don’t rely aerobics. Pretty simple, right?
This applies to iron sports in a way that hits home for a lot of guys. If you want to be a better deadlifter, then deadlift. Don’t rely on squats or good mornings. Your body will develop the skills that you train it to develop and NOT the skills that you don’t train it to develop.
#5 SAID Principle
SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. This is highly related to the Specificity Principle, though SAID focuses more on the physiological structures. That means that if you want to be more explosive, then train explosively. This will lead to a host of cellular adaptations and modifications that will help you become more explosive. The same goes with Aerobic Endurance, maximum strength, and any other physical ability that can be trained.
#6 GAS Principle
GAS stands for General Adaptation Syndrome. It is an application of Hans Seyle’s research on the stress response. He found that there are three stages in response to stress. The initial stage is the Alarm stage where functional abilities decline for a brief period. This stage is followed by Resistance, where the body resists the stressor. Then, if the stressor persists, the body falls into exhaustion and in extreme circumstances, death.
This applies to training in that when we stress our bodies (train), it must be followed by low stress periods to allow for recovery. If we don’t, we continue to push past “resistance” and into exhaustion.
#7 Individual Differences
This principle states that each individual will respond somewhat differently to the training process. What is high volume to one person may be low volume to another and so on. This is a specialty of RTS – catering to the law of individual differences. Recognize these differences and systematize a way to account for them and then this principle has been optimized.
So how does your favorite program stack up? Give it an honest assessment. Has your program adhered to the Specificity and SAID principles? Has it respected the GAS principle? If so, then you’re off to a good start. It is at this time that you could look to more advanced principles such as accommodation, laws of diminishing returns, periodization, etc. But those more advanced principles won’t have much of an effect if you don’t have your foundation in order.
Of course, you could always have a professional coach take care of the application of such principles for you. Then you can be sure that each principle is optimized for you, thus generating the best possible program for you at that time.
These principles do need to be accounted for in the training process or it is just left to chance. And in that case, chances are it will end up wrong. If the application of these principles seems a little too high-minded for you, ask some questions on the forum. After all, we’re trying to create better training methods and that hinges on our understanding of training principles.
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.