Principles of Fitness Training

In this article we will cover the 12 fundamental principles of fitness training (resistance training). This information is perfect for anyone who is serious about getting the best results from their workouts and provides personal trainers with a total gym workout instruction.

By incorporating these principles of fitness training into all of your workouts, you are certain to get the best possible results.

Principles of Fitness Training

There are so many benefits to be gained from incorporating a resistance training program into your lifestyle. Click here to discover all the benefits of lifting weights.

Furthermore, many women are often afraid to include a resistance exercise program into their lifestyle under the mistaken belief that they will 'bulk up' or look like a man.

Principles of Fitness Training 1:
Functions of Resistance Training

The primary function of resistance training is to:

'Subject the muscular and/ or skeletal system
to a level of stress to which it is unaccustomed;
to force an adaptation.'

In the muscular system the following adaptations may occur:

  • Hypertrophy: An increase in the size of a muscle.

  • Biochemical: Enzymatic changes within a muscle. For example, aerobic exercise may result in an increase in the level of oxidative enzymes in the trained muscle.

  • Neurological: The neural innervation of a muscle may change. For example, strength training will result in more neurons stimulating a muscle simultaneously, which leads to more muscle fibres being stimulated to contract simultaneously too. This creates a more powerful muscle contraction.

  • Systemic: The structure of the muscle may change. For example, the distance between sarcomeres may increase as a result of flexibility training.
  • Even though this is one of the principles of fitness training that you can't directly apply to your workouts, it is still an important principle to understand.

    Principles of Fitness Training 2:
    Mechanics of Lifting Weights

    It is imperative that anyone involved in resistance training understands the following mechanical principles as they apply to lifting weights in order to maximise their results and reduce their risk of injury.

    Perfect posture is essential for performing lifts correctly. Your ability to control your posture throughout the lift is also essential. This means you must keep a 'neutral' spine. A 'neutral' spine is a flat back not a 'straight' back. This means you must keep the curve in the lower back (lordotic curve) as well as activation of the erector spinae muscles (lower back) and the transversus abdominis, which is the innermost layer of abdominal muscle.

    It is important to maintain balance during all lifting movements otherwise maximum force cannot be applied. The best way to maintain balance is to ensure that the centre of gravity (COG) remains over the base of support (the area between the feet). This also applies when lifting weights. In order to maintain balance the combined cog must remain over the base of support during the movement.

    The combined centre of gravity is the centre of gravity that is created when force is applied to an object.

    Vertical or straight-line movements make it easier to ensure the cog remains over the base of support. Angular or rotary movements make it more difficult to keep the combined centre of gravity over the base of support, i.e. during a barbell curl with the elbows 'locked in' at the side of the body. As the bar moves upwards and away from the body the centre of gravity moves forward, outside the base of support, which may upset balance. Of course, advanced trainers have a well-developed core strength (to maintain balance during the lift) but beginners usually don't so this may be a dangerous movement for beginners.

    Ideally the lifters body should move to accommodate the vertical travel of the bar, not vice versa. Therefore, the barbell curl for beginners should involve performing a 'drag curl' rather than a conventional barbell curl.

    The drag curl involves lifting the barbell upwards in a vertical plane, whilst keeping the bar close to the body.

    The fact is that gravity produces resistance in a vertical plane so it makes sense that we can only apply maximum force in exactly the opposite direction (also in a vertical plane), not in a semi-circle.

    Levers, Fulcrums and Power Sources
    The human body is a system of levers, fulcrums and power sources.

  • Levers - bones or a rigid spine

  • Fulcrums - joints

  • Power sources - muscles
  • The closer a load is to the active fulcrum (in the horizontal plane), the less difficulty is experienced with the lift. For example, when performing a lateral raise for the shoulders, at the bottom position when the dumbbells are directly underneath the shoulders there is no horizontal distance between the resistance (dumbbell) and the active fulcrum (shoulder).

    However, as the weight is lifted the horizontal distance between the weight and the shoulder continues to increase until the top position is reached. This, of course, is where maximum resistance and difficultly is created.

    In this case, even though the dumbbells travel in a semi-circular motion, the combined centre of gravity remains over the base of support because the dumbbells balance each other on each side of the body.

    Where possible, the instructor or trainer must ensure that all fulcrums (joints) move freely to accommodate the vertical travel of the resistance (free weight exercises).

    If the joints are 'locked' in position, the weight will travel through a rotary path, moving outside the base of support, upsetting balance.

    This is one of the principles of fitness training that may contradict principles of training that you've heard in the past. Nevertheless, there are manymyths surrounding the fitness industry that it is important not to believe everything you hear simply because it is a common belief!

    Principles of Fitness Training 3:
    Workout Structure

    Whole-body vs. Split Routines

    There are advantages and disadvantages for each type of workout routine depending on who it is being performed by.

    Beginners are recommended to perform whole-body routines. The reasons why are firstly because their bodies are totally unaccustomed to resistance exercise and if they perform a split routine straight away they are likely to experience extreme Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Also, since their bodies are unaccustomed to the exercise they can experience muscle stimulation in a greater number of muscles compared to what they would if they performed a split routine.

    Advanced trainers would not experience the same stimulus simply because the amount of exercise being performed for each muscle group would not be enough to overload the individual muscles being worked.

    Of course as a trainer becomes more advanced they need to find ways to continuously overload the muscles. This may be done by increasing the frequency, duration or intensity of the exercise.

    Split routines are a way to do this. By performing multiple exercises and multiple sets per workout, advanced trainers can keep forcing overload on the muscles being trained.

    Many trainers decide to train one body part per day, 6 or 7 days a week but this idea is flawed. Even though the muscle may recover from the exercise being performed the nervous system that innervates the muscle may not recover because it is being worked intensely every day! It is best to only perform resistance exercise workouts 2 or 3 days in a row and then have a day rest followed by perhaps another 2 or 3 days or exercise.

    Large Muscle Groups to Small Muscle Groups

    It is important in almost all workout programs to progress from large muscle groups to small muscle groups. This applies to both whole-body and split routines.

    The exceptions are training the abs and lower back because they are stabilisers muscles during the performance of other exercises and therefore should always be performed at the end of the workout.

    Also, if you are targeting a specific muscle group or groups they should be trained earlier in the workout when your strength levels are at their highest.

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    Principles of Fitness Training 4:
    Selection of Exercises

    Free Weights vs. Machines

    When it comes to free weights and machines the debate has raged on for years about which form of training is better. Overall, if you had to choose between the two, free weights wins hands down!

    The bottom line is, you can perform so many different exercises with a barbell compared to, let say, a leg press machine, which makes the barbell far more versatile.

    However, in saying this, both machines and free weights have their place in a workout routine. As a broad guideline, beginners should use 80% machines and 20% free weights and advanced trainers should use 80% free weights and 20% machines. There is good reason for doing so.

    When a person starts out lifting weights their balance and co-ordination isn't great so putting an emphasis on the machine-based exercises is far better for them because the machines help them perform the movement in a single plane. This also reduces their risk of injury.

    It is still important for beginners to perform some free weight movements though because they help to develop more core strength and stability than machine exercises do and have greater 'cross-over' to functional movements. Squats and deadlifts are good examples.

    As a trainer progresses to advanced it is important to incorporate more free weight exercise into their workout routine because the free weight exercises require more stabilisation than machine-based exercises and therefore more muscle groups will be used in performing the exercise.

    Isolation vs. Compound Movements

    Isolation and compound movements relate to the number of joints involved in an exercise, not the number of muscles. Compound exercises, as a general rule, are better for developing functional strength and isolation exercise are best for cosmetic purposes.

    It is always best to emphasise more compound movements in workouts for both beginners and advanced trainers. However, isolation movements have their place too.

    This is one of the principles of fitness training that is imperative to get right if you're serious about getting the best results from your training sessions.

    Principles of Fitness Training 5:
    Selection of Training Regime (Reps / Sets / Exercises)

    The ultimate goal of a training regime is to provide the minimum number of reps sets, and exercises required in order to induce the required stimulus. This then allows maximum recovery from the training session. The number of sets and reps required varies from person to person, however, there are some general rules that are worth following.

    The number of repetitions required per set is determined by the training goal:

  • 1-6 reps: Strength

  • 6-20 reps: Hypertrophy

  • 20+ reps: Endurance
  • The rep range determines how much weight is used for the exercise and this then determines the type of adaptation that occurs in the muscle. The strength training primarily stimulates neural adaptations and muscle filament thickening, hypertrophy training primarily stimulates cell volumisation and endurance training primarily stimulates 'capillarisation'. Obviously there is some cross-over between the types of adaptations that occurs.

    From a weight-loss perspective the hypertrophy rep range is most suitable and this can be modified for different macrocycles (training months), i.e. low reps one month, moderate reps another month and high reps for another.

    The number of sets required is as follows:

  • 3-5 sets: Strength

  • 1-4 sets: Hypertrophy

  • 1-4 sets: Endurance
  • Again, from a weight-loss perspective the hypertrophy number of sets is suitable. Also, most exercises only require a few sets in order to create the require stimulus.

    After warming up the muscle group only 2 'work sets' of an exercise is usually required to achieve the required stimulus.

    The number of exercises required is as follows:

  • 1-3 exercises: Strength

  • 1-5 exercises: Hypertrophy

  • 1-5 exercises: Endurance
  • For weight loss the hypertrophy number of exercises is most suitable. Beginners should perform 1 or 2 exercises per muscle group because they will be performing whole body workouts.

    Advanced trainers should perform 3-5 exercises per muscle group so they can hit the targeted muscle(s) from a variety of different angles.

    Exercises should be chosen based the actions they perform so overall, the workout should contain exercises that incorporate all of the actions of the targeted muscle group(s). This means the maximum number of muscle fibres in a targeted muscle group will be stimulated.

    For example, the chest muscle has the actions of adduction, horizontal adduction, flexion and internal rotation of the humerus. Therefore exercises should be chosen so that in the workout all actions are used (except for internal rotation because no resistance exercise uses this action).

    Since your primary goal is to lose body fat it is best use all the principles of fitness training that apply to hypertrophy training.

    Principles of Fitness Training 6:
    Rep Speed

    Perform reps slowly

    For maximising weight loss there is no need to perform the repetitions quickly. A fast rep speed is only required for athletes that require power and/ or speed. Therefore, for achieving body composition changes, no matter whether it is weight loss, muscle gain or 'toning' that is desired, a slow rep speed is all that is required.

    By performing the reps slowly you eliminate momentum, which helps to maximise the stress being placed on the muscle(s). It also minimises the stress on the joints and increases the level of intensity of the exercise, which helps to overload the muscles effectively.

    As a general guideline, the rep tempo is as follows: lift in 2 seconds, hold momentarily and lower in 4 seconds. The lowering or eccentric phase of the movement should always be performed slower than the lift.

    For compound exercises that have 'lock-out' positions it is important to maintain 'soft' joints to miminise the stress placed on the joints.

    This is one of the principles of fitness training that is important to get right in order to reduce your risk of injury as well as maximise your results.

    Principles of Fitness Training 7:

    The general rule for all resistance training exercise is to:

    'Breathe out on exertion'.

    This means breathe out as the weight is being lifted (during the concentric phase) and breathe in as the weight is being lowered (during the eccentric phase).

    There are some exceptions to this rule though. When the rib cage is expanding the opposite breathing rule applies. For example, during the following exercises most people find it more comfortable to breathe in during the lifting phase: lateral raise, upright rows, seated rows, lat pulldowns.

    It is important to keep in mind though, the breathing rules are not definite and the most important aspect of the principles of fitness training is that you continue to breathe during the performance of any exercise!

    Principles of Fitness Training 8:
    Rest Between Sets

    The amount of rest you should have between sets depends on your training goals, whereby endurance athletes may only have minimal rest between sets and strength athletes may have around 2 minutes rest between sets.

    You only need to rest long enough to allow your heart rate to come down and also to replenish some of your ATP stores. Alternatively, simply wait for your training partner to complete their set. This should allow you enough time.

    For maximising weight loss, 1-2 minutes between sets is fine.

    Principles of Fitness Training 9:
    Use of Advanced Techniques of Overload (ATOs)

    ATOs are enormously beneficial to include in your workout program. However, since this is one of the principles of fitness training that can dramatically increase the intensity of your workouts it isn't suitable for beginners. ATOs serve a number of purposes:

  • Increase the intensity of exercise

  • Provide variety to the training routine

  • Help overcome sticking points

  • Increase the efficiency of your workouts
  • It is also feasible to use several ATOs simultaneously. This means in a set you may use forced reps and negatives together.

    Some examples of ATOs include: forced reps, negatives, forced negatives, supersets, pre-exhaust, giant sets, tri sets, pyramids, reverse pyramids, etc. Using ATOs is probably the most powerful principle out of all the principles of fitness training for building of at least, maintaining your muscle mass. By doing so, you can dramatically speed up your metabolism and can therefore, burn fat faster.

    Principles of Fitness Training 10:
    Workout Progression

    One of the goals of a training program is continuous adaptation. This can be achieved through progressive overload. Progressive overload may result from increasing the frequency, intensity and/ or duration of exercise.

    An easy way to achieve continuous adaptation is to simply increase the resistance by 5% every time you are able to perform the upper end of a rep range with a certain weight. For example, if you perform a bench press with 80 kilograms and are working in the 10-15 rep range, when you are able to perform 15 reps comfortably with that weight, increase it to say, 85 kilograms for the next workout.

    This is why workout documentation becomes so important.

    This is one of the principles of fitness training that is essential if you want to see changes in your body over time.

    Principles of Fitness Training 11:
    Workout Documentation

    It is no surprise that the vast majority of people who exercise at gyms achieve very few, if any, noticeable results. Part of the reason is due to lifestyle factors such as nutritional habits, stress, alcohol intake, etc. but their training habits can also play a very important role.

    It seems that very few people document their workout programs. This means that it becomes virtually impossible to be able to induce continuous adaptation because the person doesn't remember how many reps or what weight they used in their previous workout. They may not even remember what exercises they did or in what order. As a result, the likelihood of achieving any progressive overload is almost nil!

    If you are serious about achieving some body composition changes, workout documentation is essential. The workout sheet you use should include the following information: order of exercises, weights used, sets/ reps performed, ATOs used, date, duration of workout, muscle soreness, etc.

    The same workouts should be performed for 1 macrocycle (one month or 4 weeks of training) to demonstrate progressive overload. Ideally, the weights or reps should increase every workout. At the end of each macrocycle the workout should be completely changed. This means new rep ranges, order of exercises, ATOs, the split of body parts, etc.

    This is certainly one of the principles of fitness training that few people use regularly.

    Principles of Fitness Training 12:
    Spotting Techniques

    The following 4-point spotting technique can give you a good guideline as to how to spot your training partner or clients in the gym.

  • 1. Training partner / client to reach a point close to momentary muscular failure.

  • 2. As the rep speed slows down until the movement almost stops, assist the training partner or client for another 2-3 forced reps only.

  • 3. Only assist enough to allow the movement of the bar slightly slower than normal rep speed.

  • 4. Only assist on the concentric phase. Allow the training partner/ client to perform the eccentric (lowering phase) unassisted.
  • By following this basic format you can help your training partner or client get the maximum benefit from the exercise and therefore achieve their results much faster.

    So there you have it, the 12 fundamental principles of fitness training that can help you get the best results from your workouts. If you have any questions about structuring training programs, please feel free to contact me any time.

    Click on this link if you would like to get Free Workout Programs

    There are so many benefits to exercise and particularly resistance training. Click here to find out the Top Ten Reasons To Exercise

    Click on this link to find out about the best leg exercises for women

    Click here to discover the best exercises to strengthen the back muscles.

    Click here to find out more about the best chest exercises for women.

    Click here to find out about the 5 best shoulder exercises

    If you would like to discover the best arm exercises for women.

    Here's where you can find out about the best abdominal exercises for women.

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