If you’re going to put that much work into a training program, make sure you understand the “why?” and “how?”
If you have a training program that includes a hypertrophy and a power phase in it, do you know what that really means? Do you know the mechanisms that are at work to get you to these goals?
How about strength? Most people, even those who have been training for decades, don’t really know what this term means, or the appropriate way to train for it.
I see trainers, even highly respected trainers in the industry, give programs with bad information (systematically using terminology and application of concepts incorrectly).
For the scope of this article, I will focus on three basic program design concepts: hypertrophy, strength, and power.
HYPERTROPHY is a program design phase that focuses on muscle fiber size increase as the main goal. AKA getting bigger muscles. A successful hypertrophy programs seeks to do ONE thing; create a hormonal environment in the body conducive to gaining size (increased testosterone and growth hormone primarily). There are specific workout variables that must be followed to do this efficiently. First, take less rest in between sets (45 seconds). Rep range should be to failure at 10-12. Isolating muscle groups and performing up to 12 sets per muscle group using supersets and compound sets are optimal for this. Following these variables manipulates your body’s hormonal environment to a place where muscle size gain is optimized. Bench pressing for 5 reps followed by a lengthy rest for recovery won’t do this. Neither will plyometrics or other low reps, high rest training protocols.
POWER is a widely misunderstood term. Power by definition refers to the RATE of force development, AKA SPEED. Power is not effectively trained with heavy lifts to muscular failure. Power is best trained with a weight equivalent to about 50% of your one rep maximum. The resistance is lighter to facilitate SPEED. Training power requires explosive movement, with relatively lighter loads, with about 2 minutes rest in between sets. A power set is over when the weight begins moving slower than it did on the first rep, not when you simply can’t lift it anymore. This term is often used interchangeably with strength,which is something completely different.
STRENGTH is basically moving mass from point A to point B independent of how fast this happens. Strength training is training the neuromuscular system to use the muscle you ALREADY HAVE to produce force more efficiently. This is accomplished by making better “connections” to motor units in the muscle. Firing more of them at a faster rate produces more force. Force production is the goal of strength training. You can get stronger without gaining an ounce of muscle, and this often happens. Think of the first month you ever lifted weights. All of your lifts jump up FAST. This didn’t happen because you put on 20 pounds of new muscle. It happened because you began using the muscle you already had more effectively. Strength training is best accomplished with a rep range of 3-5, a rest period of 2-3 minutes (to recover neurally as well as physically) using a load that can be lifted with good form to failure for those 3-5 reps.
You should always know the “why” behind a workout program. Understanding this will help you manage your expectations and keep you on track to achieving your fitness goal. Embarking on a fitness program with the intent of adding muscle size with a strength and power program will leave you frustrated and definitely underperforming.
If you have a trainer, ask tons of questions. The more you understand the mechanisms of how a certain program design works, the greater the connection and investment you have to seeing results.
Never take things for face value. If you’re going to put forth the tremendous effort to achieve a fitness goal, make certain that the path you are taking is the most effective one.
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS