Training Guidelines to Improve Strength and Endurance
Question: “I want to improve my overall level of strength and endurance. Are there any guidelines to ensure I can do it safely, correctly and effectively?”
Getting the most out of an exercise program can best be accomplished by understanding and implementing fundamental principles that apply to all forms of physical training. These principles include overload, progression, specificity, individualization and reversibility.
To overload means to put our physiological systems under more stress than usual. In response to the increased physical demands, our body adapts with improvements in endurance, strength or muscle size. Although usually associated with strength training, the overload principle is applicable to all forms of physical conditioning. For example, a jogger increases his or her running pace during training runs to stimulate improvements in aerobic fitness.
As you become stronger and more physically fit, gradually increase the training load to stimulate additional gains. In simple terms, to continue to produce positive results, workouts must gradually become more challenging. Training variables such as frequency, intensity and volume of exercise can be manipulated to increase the physical demands of workouts and induce further improvements in fitness. The rate of progression is of critical importance. Progressing too rapidly by attempting to do too much too soon can result in injury. Alternatively, progressing too slowly will delay attainment of your goal. It is advisable to move forward steadily in small steps rather than large leaps. Slow and steady progression will eventually win the race.
Commonly referred to as the S.A.I.D Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands), this principle states that the human body will adapt in specific ways to the physical demands imposed upon it. In other words, to achieve a specific exercise outcome will require a specific exercise prescription. For that reason, long-distance runners train differently than middle-distance runners, who train differently than sprinters. Workouts will also vary depending upon short- and long-term training goals. In a nutshell, there is simply not one workout plan that fits all, which brings us to the next principle: individualization.
You might expect that two people who perform an identical workout regimen would experience the same fitness gains. That is not always the case. Normal variation among individuals can explain why some people demonstrate greater improvement from a workout plan than others but does not explain all differences. The following factors also play a role in determining how well a person responds to a given exercise program.
- Level of fitness: The lower your initial level of fitness, the more rapidly you will see improvement. The most significant changes generally occur with people who go from doing nothing to doing something. As you become more physically fit, you will have to work harder to stimulate continued improvement.
- Physical maturity: This factor is linked to an individual’s state of readiness, which affects the ability to exercise. If two people follow the same workout plan but one is more physically mature and exercises at a greater intensity relative to his or her level of fitness, then that individual will experience more dramatic gains.
- Heredity: We inherit certain physical attributes that can impose limits on our potential for physical development. Heart and lung size, muscle fiber characteristics, skeletal structure and body type are a few such examples. Most of us never come anywhere close to reaching our physiological limits, however. Work out on a regular basis and you should experience progress. It just might not be as fast or as dramatic as your workout partner.
- Nutrition and rest: Improvements in fitness are due in part to changes that occur on a cellular level. Oxygen carrying capacity (aerobic fitness) and muscular contractile ability (strength) are cases in point. Without proper nutrition and sufficient rest, improvements will be diminished.
Consistency is a key to success in most every endeavor, and improving fitness is no different. If you exercise only occasionally or stop entirely for extended periods, you will suffer consequences. Levels of aerobic and muscular fitness decline and the composition of your body (muscle vs. fat) will gradually change for the worse. Reversibility, or disuse, is sometimes referred to as the “use it or lose it” principle. For example, a competitive weightlifter who takes three weeks off from lifting during his vacation period will suffer loss of muscular strength and power.
That said, doing more is not always better. Your body will eventually break down if workouts are too hard, too long or too frequent. Our physiological systems require sufficient time to recover and regenerate after strenuous exercise. Maximize training results by varying both the nature and intensity of your workouts. Go hard one day, easier the next. You can also use a variety of exercises that stress the muscles in slightly different ways.