As the saying goes, “methods are many, principles are few”.

There may be an unlimited combination of exercises, set/rep schemes and methods that we can incorporate into our training plan. However, there are a handful of training principles that need to be considered in any programme to maximise results. Depending who you ask, there can be half a dozen (or more) principles of training, but most would agree that the three foundational principles are specificity, overload and progression.

As obvious as these may seem, there’s a good chance that you’re missing at least one within your current programme.

  1. Specificity:

Adaptations to training are highly specific to the imposed demands. Logically, strength training will improve strength levels, while endurance training will improve your endurance capabilities.

A couple of examples:

  • Goal: To Back Squat 100kg x 5 reps in 12 weeks (currently at 90kg x 5).
  • Specific Programme: Follow a progressive strength programme emphasising the Back Squat and assistance lower body movements 1-2x per week for 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps for 12 weeks.
  • Goal: To run 5km in 25 minutes in 12 weeks (currently running 5km in 30 minutes).
  • Specific Programme: Complete a combination of continuous (e.g. 20-40min steady state) and interval sessions (e.g. 3-5min hard running interspersed with 3-5min easy jogging for 3-5 reps) 3-5x per week for 12 weeks.
  1. Overload:

Adaptation will only occur if the training stress is beyond what is typically experienced in day-to-day life. If you’re setting challenging goals that you genuinely want to attain, then regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone will be necessary. As the adage goes, “no pain, no gain”. Quick tip: take a moment to reflect upon your last month of training and consider how many sessions you would consider to be above an 8/10 in terms of difficulty. Although the difficulty of a session is not always the best indicator of effective overload, in general putting in hard work is the simplest way to ensure you’re stimulating adaptation.

  1. Progression:

As the body adapts, it accommodates to the imposed training load. Therefore, planned progression needs to be incorporated within any programme to avoid a plateau. For the typical individual, this can be as simple as increasing the weight you lift by a couple of kilograms each week, or doing an extra running rep in your weekly interval session. If you look back over your programme and find, for example, that you’re using the same weight on an exercise as you were a month ago, then you need to consider whether your progression strategy is appropriate.

If you’re struggling to attain your goal or simply want to maximise your time and effort, think about how these training principles are embedded within your current programme. Typically, the absence of one of these principles is the culprit for unsatisfactory progress.

Train specifically for your goal, train hard and ensure you’re besting yourself on a regular basis – the gains will follow!