This newsletter is not just an opportunity for me to touch base with my dear patrons and show my gratitude for your monthly support, but also to offer you a 5 minute, easily-digestible read around the world of health, fitness and exercise. Here I will troubleshoot many common difficulties my clients experience, offer practical, actionable solutions for you to put to work in your life immediately, and of course provide my weekly motivation in the form of a favourite quote, and a takeaway lesson from it.
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Edition 40 - Training Principles Summary
I hope you have enjoyed the last 10 editions, where I have been giving a rundown of what I feel to be some of the most important things to remember and stay focused on when embarking on your fitness journey. Some of the principles relate to the science of training, some are just basic and downright obvious statements, such as ‘take your time’ and ‘progress slowly’ - I am by no means giving you any industry secrets or special tricks. So here a brief summary of each principle:
1. GAS - General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) refers to the stresses we place on our body, and the subsequent responses and adaptations we develop as a consequence of the initial stress. GAS is broken down into 3 stages: Alarm, Resistance, Exhaustion, Recovery and Adaptation. When we rest/recover correctly, we can respond to the alarm by growing and adapting.
2. Law of diminishing returns - When we first begin exercising, everything is great. We achieve results with ease because everything we are doing is new, difficult and stimulating change in the body. This means increases in muscle fibre recruitment, muscle mass, decreases in body fat (and water weight) occur rapidly, and can potentially give us a false idea about the nature of progress. When arriving to the point of diminishing returns, this tends to be the stage where many beginners tend to lose motivation in their training programme, as they no longer see the acceleration in results that they first saw in the beginning. Rather than working harder, which many people see as the answer to everything, the key is to systematically ease off - to allow the body to adapt to the training effects in play, before returning with variations to the programme to stimulate the body in different ways and continue to produce new adaptations and continued growth.
3. Start easy, progress slowly - Four key factors you should consider when settling on your programme are: Your health status, fitness level, limitations and training goals. It is always important to know what training you are doing and when, and why. You’ll be more likely to stick to your workout program if you have a plan for success. Before you start your training programme, ask yourself what you want to achieve by the end of a certain period. Tracking your workouts will help you stay accountable and show you where you need to improve.If you want to get serious about your workout program, you’re going to have to make exercise a higher priority. To do this, you’ll have to learn to say “no” to all those other activities that are keeping you from getting to the gym. Start easy and progress slowly by scaling back your training and setting yourself up with the very basics for at least 1 month, and see how you get on.
4. Go to your dark place (occasionally) - We need to challenge ourselves. That is a non-negotiable. To do that, we have to take our training outside of our comfort zone sometimes, beyond what is easy and into the difficult. We all know that in order to get anywhere in life we have to work hard. However, the sad reality is that very few people are actually willing to push themselves to experience this necessary discomfort. Why is it so hard for us to train our limits? Because it’s scary! There are many reasons why it feels so challenging for most people, non-athletes especially, and this edition runs through 5 hugely important things to remember.
5. Leave your session feeling BETTER - Training can be taxing both mentally and physically, which is why many people quit after their first few sessions. Here are two tips that will help you leave your session feeling better than you did at the start. Plan ahead - This will give you a clear picture of what your session should look like and will help you stay motivated as you watch yourself progress through it. Rein it in - Despite what you may be led to believe, you do not need to go to extremes with your training and dedicate yourself to long, intense sessions every day. Keeping it short and simple is the way forward. Modern sports science research is now increasingly showing us that the effects of hypertrophy (muscle growth) decrease the more sets and repetitions we do past a certain point - so it is not a case of ‘the more reps you do, the fitter/stronger you get’ - as illustrated here by Chris Beardsley.
6. Variation - Training variation basically just means systematically adding different components and intensities to the exercises you typically carry out. This means switching things up from time to time so that your body never gets used to the same old routine and training volume. However, this may seem like an overwhelming process for people who aren’t accustomed to adjusting their training very often. There may also be people reading this who vary *everything* *all the time*, who need to learn not to vary just for the sake of it. Without variation, you will experience a plateau in your progress as you reach your fitness goals. Additionally, it is important for general fitness overall. Eg. Yes, you may see yourself as a distance runner, but you also need to focus on hypertrophy, maximal strength and lactate threshold. Or you may be a muscle-bound gym god who only ever trains big heavy reps, but the second you need to run for a bus you blow a gasket! Variation breeds versatility and longevity.
7. All or none - A motor unit is composed of a single motor neuron that innervates all of the muscle fibres connected to it. We have thousands of nerves and millions of muscle fibres connected to them. Let’s take the calf muscle for example - for every 1 nerve, it connects to around 1900 muscle fibres, and the calf has around 1000 nerves! Which means (1000x1900) roughly 1.9 million muscle fibres in the calf muscle alone. The number of muscle fibres activated in a motor unit may differ, but there is always only one neuron, and the ‘all or none’ law simply means: You will activate ‘all’ of a neuron, or ‘none’ of it.
8. Big moves first - Too often I see people in the gym doing leg extension followed by squats (queasy feeling), arm extension followed by bench press (involuntary gag), or bicep curls followed by pull ups (little bit of sick in the mouth). My message is simple: Compound exercises train the biggest muscle groups across multiple joints - do them first in your routine (post-warm up). Isolation exercises tend to only use a single joint, and target one particular muscle group - do them last. If you’re going to spend valuable gym time doing leg extension, leg curl, calf raise, abductors, adductors (isolation exercises), at least make sure you’ve nailed your pushes, pulls, hinges, carries etc. as a priority.
9. Force is king - Getting stronger, improving your performance of an activity, and staying injury free is about how much force you can produce, and how much force your joints can tolerate. This principle touches on the three types of muscle fibres: Type I (slow twitch), Type IIa (fast twitch oxidative), and Type IIb (fast twitch non-oxidative). Secondly, the difference between concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. And, thirdly, the force-velocity relationship.
10. Hot, Fresh & Consistent - My final principle encourages you to focus on 3 key-word objectives:
‘Hot’ - referring to hot sessions, the high volume or intensity workouts that simply need to get done.
‘Fresh’ refers to the state you need to be in, in order to perform them well.
While ‘consistent’ refers to your ability to regularly perform your hot sessions with maximum freshness.
To quote directly from ‘The Little Black Book of Training Wisdom’ we can define this principle in the following way:
Corollary 1: Make sure you perform the hot sessions, and that they are completed with the most optimal quality.
Corollary 2: Don’t do things that affect your ability to perform the hot sessions with optimal quality.
Part 1: “Above all else, be consistent.”
Part 2: “Don’t do things that might negatively affect your consistency.”
“Variation breeds versatility and longevity.” ― Me
Movement of the Week: Glute Bridge Walkouts
2 x 5 reps
This exercise is a great way to strengthen the hamstrings at full length! Beginning in glute bridge position, shuffling the feet away from the body as far as the hamstrings can tolerate. The hard part of this one is getting the legs fully extended, then digging the heels into the ground at the furthest point possible and clawing your way back to the start position.
That’s all for this week! Please spread the word about my Patreon channel so more people can enjoy the videos and newsletters!