The 3 Fundamental Elements of a Training Program

While something as uniquely complex as training the Human body cannot be fully categorised into totally separate compartments, there are three elements of training that have proven useful to isolate in order to help with effective program design. Those elements are Intensity, Frequency and Volume, all of which play clear and distinctive roles within training programs of all kinds. Again, the variables involved in training may seem infinite and somewhat unquantifiable, at least to 100% accuracy, but the progress an athlete makes at their chosen discipline can be greatly maximised by implementing these fundamental elements of training.

1. INTENSITY

Intensity is defined by the increase of the Challenge Factor experienced by your body systems, and thus exceeding the capability of current body adaptations. So, by this definition, an exercise is not Intense unless it challenges body systems beyond what they did when they were last challenged. Without Intensity the body is not given sufficient environmental stimuli to promote body adaptations. An example of an insufficient stimuli is performing the exact same exercise as the previous session with the same amount of weight, reps, sets, tempo, rest periods and technique. It may still feel hard, but it doesn’t provide any new environment and so doesn’t push body systems beyond current capabilities. Something about the training must increase the challenge factor. It could be different exercises, weights, reps, sets, tempo, rest periods or technique - but emphasis should always be placed on the Challenge Factor. It must be harder than ever for the target body systems, full stop. At the beginning of every workout ask yourself, “how will this session challenge my current capability?”

2. FREQUENCY

Frequency refers to how often a target body system is stimulated. Training a body part twice per week means that the body part experiences a training Frequency of two stimuli per week. Frequency is important because the body responds to the environment with Fluid Plasticity, which means it will adapt more to stimuli it receives more, and adapt less to stimuli it receives less, a sliding scale of adaptation depending on how often (and it what form) it receives environmental stimuli (one stimuli per week considered minimum for weight training). As you adapt to training received in the gym, so will you to performing eight hours of sitting on your butt at work. However, more does not always mean more adaptation if the stimuli becomes too demanding for body systems. This means that Frequency, like with Intensity and Volume, must be balanced against the other elements appropriately. So Frequency can only be increased alongside one of the other elements of training, Intensity or Volume, not both. The same goes for the others; only two can be kept high long term.

3. VOLUME

Volume refers to the amount of work performed in any given training program. It involves the amount of weight, reps and sets all added up together. If one was to perform 5 exercises with 4 sets of 10-15 reps each, then that is high volume training. High Volume training can also revolve around fewer exercises but with more sets and higher or lower rep ranges. Generally speaking, 15-20 sets per session is higher Volume, while less is considered lower. Volume has to be high enough to solicit adaptation but not so high that the body is unable to recover. Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) is very individual and may change over time. What is known is that too little Volume, no matter how Intense, may not solicit the maximum amount of adaptation desired. It should also be noted that the lower each element of training is (Intensity, Frequency, Volume), the higher the other two must be to solicit adaptations, which may potentially require an unrealistic demand on the athlete long term. So if Volume is very low, say only 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps, then Intensity and Frequency must be sky high in order to solicit adaptations.

BODY SYSTEMS

As you may conclude, the different training elements and how they are applied to a successful program fundamentally dictate what body systems are targeted, and therefore how athletes adapt. Power lifters, who prioritise 1 Rep Max performance, may perform very low reps with high weight. They will have to balance that low Volume against Intensity and Frequency, which normally results in very high Frequency, possibly training the same body systems every day. They may in turn cycle Intensity up and down depending on how many sets and reps they are doing - so when Volume is higher they reduce Intensity by say, working below maximum lifts and not training to failure. In this case another body system may become a target, such as technique or speed. As soon as Intensity is increased again, Volume or Frequency must be decreased.

CONCLUSION

After knowing about the elements and their capacity to cause body adaptations it might be tempting to increase all three to the maximum. However, this will result in over-training very soon, as body systems quickly lack time to recover and the quality of training dramatically drops. There is a reason why these elements must be kept in balance, and that is the ever so delicate balance of chemicals in the human body. Training causes the increase of chemicals involved in recovery, growth and repair and if these are continually disrupted then an optimal environment for adaptation cannot be maintained, and no changes manifest. To emphasise once more, only 2 elements at a time should be high, while the remainder must be kept lower. This may change as different body systems are targeted or a change in stimuli is required for further change (likely, over time).

Balancing Intensity, Frequency and Volume is a logical adherence to what we know about Human biology and physiology. Note also that exercise choice is useful to rotate every few weeks. See below for examples of training programs for Bodybuilding.

BODYBUILDING

Target Body System: Skeletal Muscle

Goal Result: Muscle Growth and Proportion

Stimuli: Resistance Training

Required Physiological Trigger: Mechanical Tension, Muscle Damage, Metabolic Stress

Training Element Balance: High Intensity, High Volume, Low Frequency OR High Intensity, High Frequency, Low Volume.

OPTION 1. Beginner (Each body part trained once per week)

DAY 1: Chest and Arms

Chest Press/ Flat Bench Press - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Incline Press/ Incline Dumbbell Press - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Decline Press/ Decline Bench Press - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Chest Fly - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

EZ Bar Bicep Curl - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Curl/ Preacher Curl - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Extension/ Pushdown (bar) - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Overhead Extension (rope) - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

REST DAY

DAY 2: Legs and Abs

Calf Raises - 3-4 Sets 15-20 Reps

Linear Leg Press - 3-4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Hack Squat Machine - 3-4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Leg Extension - 3-4 Sets 12-20 Reps

Leg Curl - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Ab Crunch - 3-4 Sets to Failure

Leg Raises - 3-4 Sets to Failure

REST DAY

DAY 3: Back and Shoulders

Lat Pulldown Machine - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Seated Rowing Machine - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Close Grip Pulldown - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Cable Pulley Row - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Lateral Shoulder Raise - 3-4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Shoulder Press Machine - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Barbell Upright Row - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

REST DAY X2 - REPEAT

NOTE: Start by doing only 3 Sets of each exercise, then move up to 4 Sets after a few weeks. Rest 30-45sec between sets for upper body and 60-90secs for lower body. Every rep performed with a 2secs Up and 2secs Down Tempo. Keep a workout journal to track all your exercises, weights, sets and reps - this will help you measure progress. Get aggressive with Intensity and take charge of your body changes.

OPTION 2. Intermediate (Higher Volume, each body part trained twice every 6 days)

DAY 1: Chest and Abs

Chest Press/ Flat Bench Press - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Incline Press/ Incline Dumbbell Press - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Decline Press/ Decline Bench Press - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Chest Fly - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Decline Cable Chest Fly - 3 Sets 10-15 Reps

Ab Crunch - 3-4 Sets to Failure

Leg Raises - 3-4 Sets to Failure

DAY 2: Back

Lat Pulldown Machine - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Seated Rowing Machine - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Close Grip Pulldown - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Cable Pulley Row or High Row - 4 Sets 10-15 Reps

T-Bar Row - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

REST DAY

DAY 3: Legs and Abs

Calf Raises - 3-4 Sets 15-20 Reps

Linear Leg Press - 4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Hack Squat Machine - 4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Leg Extension - 4 Sets 12-20 Reps

Leg Curl - 4 Sets 10-15 Reps

REST DAY

DAY 4. Shoulders and Arms

Lateral Shoulder Raise - 4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Shoulder Press Machine - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Barbell Upright Row - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Rear Deltoid Fly or Cable Face Pull - 3 Sets 10-15 Reps

EZ Bar Bicep Curl - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Curl/ Preacher Curl - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Extension/ Pushdown (bar) - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Overhead Extension (rope) - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

REPEAT

NOTE: Start by doing only 3 Sets of each exercise, then move up to 4 Sets after a few weeks. Rest 30-45sec between sets for upper body and 60-90secs for lower body. Every rep performed with a 2secs Up and 2secs Down Tempo. Keep a workout journal to track all your exercises, weights, sets and reps - this will help you measure progress. Get aggressive with Intensity and take charge of your body changes.

OPTION 3. Advanced (Higher Frequency Lower Volume, body parts trained x2 in 5 days)

DAY 1: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps

Chest Press/ Flat Bench Press - 2-3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Incline Press/ Incline Dumbbell Press - 2-3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Decline Press/ Decline Bench Press - 2-3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Chest Fly - 2-3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Decline Cable Chest Fly - 2-3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Lateral Shoulder Raise - 3 Sets 10-15 Reps

Shoulder Press Machine - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Barbell Upright Row - 2 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Extension/ Pushdown (bar) - 4 Sets 8-12 Reps

Tricep Overhead Extension (rope) - 3-4 Sets 8-12 Reps

DAY 2: Legs

Calf Raises - 3-4 Sets 15-20 Reps

Linear Leg Press - 3-4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Hack Squat Machine - 3-4 Sets 10-15 Reps

Leg Extension - 3 Sets 12-20 Reps

Leg Curl - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

DAY 3: Back, Biceps and Abs

Lat Pulldown Machine - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Seated Rowing Machine - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Close Grip Pulldown - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Cable Pulley Row - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

EZ Bar Bicep Curl - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Machine Curl/ Preacher Curl - 3 Sets 8-12 Reps

Ab Crunch - 3-4 Sets to Failure

Leg Raises - 3-4 Sets to Failure

REST DAY - REPEAT first two days, then take one rest day, then continue with three days on.

(3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 1 day off - repeat)

NOTE: Only perform a maximum of 3 Sets of each exercise for upper body, to accommodate the increase in Frequency. Rest 30-45sec between sets for upper body and 60-90secs for lower body. Every rep performed with a 2secs Up and 2secs Down Tempo. Keep a workout journal to track all your exercises, weights, sets and reps - this will help you measure progress. Get aggressive with Intensity and take charge of your body changes.

HAPPY LIFTING!

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