Strength training has been around for thousands of years. In the 6th Century B.C., Milo of Crotona, a city in what is now Southern Italy, came up with a simple, yet ingenious system for achieving strength and power. Milo would pick up a calf and carry it on his shoulders the length of a field. As the calf grew in size, the demands of the already heavy load increased and Milo adapted and grew stronger.
Thousands of years later little has changed in the health and fitness industry. Sure, every other second a spandex wearing, crazy loud fitness specialist is touting their latest method for achieving a lean, rock-hard body. Just send them three payments $39.95 and they will happily share their secrets with you. The problem is that by the time the consumer finds out that the dvd’s they purchased contain the same old crunch and curl routine that they have been doing since grade school, the next guru comes out with yet another routine and the public is forced to start the search for the right program all over again.
The general fitness seeking public needs to stop and take a collective breath. Fitness is simple. Every fact, in every text pertaining to strength, power, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness can be reduced to two simple words: Progressive Overload.
Progressive overload is simply a fancy way of saying that you must do more in the future than you did in the past. One more repetition, one more set, five more pounds…more. Just a little more, not a lot, then rest and recover. That little bit more that you did yesterday, combined with the recovery of today, will start a biochemical chain reaction. The end-result of this marvelous biological process is adaptation.
Viola, you grow stronger, faster, leaner, or whatever it is that you set out to do. Everyone had heard of the acronym, “KISS”. Keep it simple stupid. They key to progress is simplicity in program design, simplicity in exercise selection, and simplicity in building in rest.
Creating a sample program for a collegiate football player that wishes to increase the number of repetitions he is able to perform with 225 pounds in the bench press is a straight-forward endeavor. If player desires to improve their repetition maximum with 225 pounds, the most direct course for this player is to work with 225 pounds in the bench press. Following the KISS principle, exercise selection and load have just been decided.
The next piece of the puzzle is program design. If more repetitions are to be achieved in the bench press with the pre-determined load, then more repetitions will need to be performed. Volume will need to be added incrementally. This increase in volume may be achieved by adding more sets, reps, and/or more training sessions.
Which leads us to the next training variable that needs to be addressed; rest? Without recovery there cannot be adaptation for the system will be overwhelmed and will actually regress in performance. Again, sticking to the KISS principle, the simplest way to determine the amount of rest is required for our hypothetical athlete is to have him train hard and see how long it takes him to feel completely recovered. Gradually shorten or lengthen time between sessions until the optimal rest for that exercise is discovered.
The key to progress is progressive overload, coupled with optimum amounts of rest. Lift, rest, lift a little more rest… you get the idea. In the end, KISS and grow strong.