5 Fitness Objectives And The Methods to Achieve Them
If we're talking about objectives then by default we must also be talking about methods. All too often one is talked about and not the other, or in unbalanced ways or simply with the wrong understanding what these things mean. So to be clear, let's define what we mean by the words Objective and Method.
Objective: What we want to achieve.
Method: How we're going to achieve it.
We're talking about the What and the How, because rationally speaking when there's a destination in mind, there's also a journey to get there - and we don't want to be travelling down the wrong road. Now, it's very important to acknowledge the sliding scale of fitness. Movement is Fitness, Movement is Health/Vitality/Life - Action = Reaction - so anything that we do that challenges our biology will result in adaptation to a certain degree. What we want to define is how to move in order to solicit the highest degree of adaptation appropriate to our objective.
What is meant by this is that if someone walks up a flight of stairs then they might get stronger - but only if walking up a flight of stairs was the most challenging thing their muscles have done in the recent past. In that case, it might be an appropriate method for that objective. If their biology wasn't challenged, then walking up a flight of stairs would not be an appropriate method any more.
1. Gain Strength
Strength Training predominantly stimulates the Central Nervous System, so therefore requires methodology that targets the Motor Units (nerves connected to muscles). Like the staircase analogy, there are many things that could potentially make you 'stronger' - it all depends on your current abilities/adaptations. If you've never lifted weights before, then simply going to the gym and lifting weights will help make you stronger. However, when our sole priority is Strength, then our goal is to lift progressively heavier and heavier weights. This means that we want to perform exercises that allow us to move the heaviest weights, and then use methods that allow us to increase those weights the most.
Objective: Stimulate Nervous System to recruit more Motor Units.
Method: Perform The Heaviest Movements, in a Rep Range that allows maximum increases in weight:
Sets: 10-20 Sets (lower the reps, higher the sets)
Rest Period: 3-5 Minutes (lower the reps, higher the rest)
Tempo: 3010 (3 second Negative, 1 Second Positive)
Time Under Tension: 2-15 Seconds
Depending on our starting point, there are many things that may increase strength. But if strength is the priority, then using exercises that allow maximum weight to be lifted, in a rep range that allows for the biggest increments in weight, is the best method appropriate for this objective.
RESULT: Strength Increase (higher motor unit recruitment)
SLIDING SCALE: Muscle Gain, Cardiovascular Improvement, Power Increase, Increased Functional Ability.
One can get stronger in other auxiliary movements in a low or high rep range - but the heaviest weights possible would still not compare to main compound movements, and if a higher rep range is used then increments in weight would be small in both isolation and compound movements. In this case, although strength would increase, the sliding scale of fitness would swing towards another priority.
2. Gain Muscle
Hypertrophy Training (muscle building), predominantly stimulates the Metabolic System, requiring training that targets Metabolic Stress. Muscle gain will be a bi-product of strength training, but since the priority of strength training is motor unit recruitment in a short rep range, over time the stimuli becomes less metabolically stressful. Metabolic stress occurs when there's a big chemical upset in your muscles; Oxygen depletion, Glucose depletion, Energy Source Cycling, Blood Flow Restriction, Muscle Fiber Breakdown and Lactic Acid build up (metabolites). This means that although compound movements will be performed, we can cause further metabolic stress by also using auxiliary exercises, as well as constantly stressing the muscles with novel stimuli.
Objective: Prolonged Metabolic Stress in muscle fibers.
Method: Perform both compound and isolation exercises in a higher rep range with short rest periods:
Exercises: All compound and isolation exercises (rotating in new exercise variations often)
Rep Range: 8-15 Reps
Sets: 20+ Sets (with multiple set structures - see here for more info)
Rest Period: 45-90 seconds
Tempo: 2020 (2 second Negative, 2 Second Positive)
Time Under Tension: 40-70 Seconds (see here for vital technique instructions for hypertrophy)
Metabolic Stress is the priority, which means using a rep range that increases a stressful environment in the muscles, while also being heavy enough to cause the required mechanical tension for muscle fiber micro-tears, Energy + Oxygen depletion, use of different Energy Cycles and Blood Flow Restriction.
One can grow muscle using other methods, but since methods that don't prioritise metabolic stress fail to upset chemical composition of muscle fibers as much, hypertrophy will not be the main adaptation solicited.
3. Gain Functional Strength/Hypertrophy
Functional Strength/Hypertrophy is a combination of strength training and hypertrophy training. This requires training that targets both the Central Nervous System (motor units) as well as the Metabolic System (Metabolic Stress). While one would gain some form of function from either strength training or hypertrophy training, the most gain in function will come from focusing on functional strength/hypertrophy. This kind of training will benefit athletes and sportsmen + sportswomen as both muscle mass and muscle performance are required in their chosen discipline. This means that compound movements will form the basis of functional training, but auxiliary exercises can be supplemented to solicit further adaptations.
Objective: Stimulate Nervous System to recruit more motor units, stimulate Metabolic System.
Method: Perform both compound and isolation exercises in a mid rep range with medium rest periods:
Exercises: All compound exercises (supplementing with isolation exercises)
Rep Range: 6-8 Reps
Sets: 10-15 Sets
Rest Period: 90 seconds - 2 minutes
Tempo: 2020 (2 second Negative, 2 Second Positive)
Time Under Tension: 20-40 Seconds
Both the Central Nervous system and the Metabolic System are stimulated by the mid range of reps. A rep range of 6-8 allows the load to be significant enough for high motor unit recruitment, but also provides enough time under tension to induce metabolic stress in the muscle fibers for muscle growth.
RESULT: Hypertrophy (muscle gain) + Strength (higher motor unit recruitment)
SLIDING SCALE: Cardiovascular Improvement, Power Increase.
Although functional strength/hypertrophy is effective at building strength and muscle it is not a 'best of both worlds' scenario, but more of a compromise on the absolute best approaches appropriate to Strength or Muscle Size exclusively. However, it is proven to be the most effective method for all round functional improvement.
4. Gain Endurance
Endurance Training is quite different to functional/hypertrophy/strength training. It involves high performance via varying levels of intensity for extended periods of time. While motor units are recruited and metabolites are produced in the muscles, the main stimuli will come in the form of cardiovascular exertion. Having higher cardiovascular output will have cross over benefits for other training priorities, but for the most part there will be little sliding scale results in strength, muscle gain or functional capability. The target results will be increased VO2 Max, speed x distance/volume, training density and decreased recovery time. It's also important to note that increased endurance related results can also be observed by optimising technique and efficiency.
Objective: Stress/Stimulate the Cardiovascular System.
Method: Perform extended periods of varying or sustained training intensity.
Exercises: All forms of cardiovascular specific activities.
Rep Range: 20+ Reps
Sets: 1-3 Sets
Rest Period: 30-60 seconds
Tempo: Focus on improving technique and efficiency
Time Under Tension: 70+ Seconds
While all forms of training include the cardiovascular system, they do not necessarily increase its output or performance long term - or at least as much as cardiovascular specific training. It's important to include technique and efficiency optimisation in endurance training programs to maximise results.
RESULT: Increased cardiovascular output (VO2 Max, time x distance/volume, training density, recovery time).
SLIDING SCALE: Increased activity specific performance.
Technically speaking, the cardiovascular system services the muscular system. This means that the harder the muscles are working, the harder the heart and lungs have to work to send blood to them. However, while this will improve cardiovascular output in general, it will mainly be specific to that exercise or training system, i.e. base level endurance will increase but high performance in an endurance related activity will not.
5. Gain Power
Power Training is categorised slightly differently to strength training or functional hypertrophy. Power, which is force x speed, is about speed of motor unit recruitment and the force that the muscles solicit quickly. This differs slightly to strength training, which is about enduring strength performance, rather than a one time all out effort of maximum force and speed. While having a sliding scale effect on muscle gain and strength, the main target is speed under resistance, or in the case of Olympic lifting, power while at a specific body weight. Power can be increased greatly through training, however this training system is subjected to motor unit DNA - namely, how many motor units you are born with, as well as the ratio of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.
Objective: Stimulate the Nervous System to produce force quickly.
Method: Perform exercises emphasising speed not weight.
Exercises: All free weight compound exercises and Olympic/ Power lifting exercises.
Rep Range: 1-3 Reps
Sets: 10+ Sets
Rest Period: 3-5 minutes
Time Under Tension: 2-6 Seconds
Power training focuses on increasing speed x force - the amount of force you can produce quickly in a given movement. Emphasis should be placed on speed, not necessarily load or reps. This is because motor unit DNA will govern the ceiling of power results, not necessarily muscle mass or strength endurance. A good indicator of genetic power potential is the standing vertical jump. The higher the jump, the more potential the individual has to be powerful.
Even though potential power is dependent largely on genetics (natural ability), power training must still be practiced in order for results to incur. However, while power under the bar may increase, it's common for an individual's vertical jump to not increase that much from power training alone.
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