What are you Training For?
In the current fitness climate, people are training for all sorts of different reasons. Some people want to look huge with big, powerful muscles. Others seek a more defined appearance, desiring to be “shredded” so that every one of their ab muscles can be clearly seen when they take off their shirts at the beach. Besides appearance-related goals, there are also others who strive to achieve athletic feats or performance-related goals such as powerlifters and CrossFitters.
Whatever your training goals are, there are very specific ways you should be structuring your workout program in order to achieve them. In this article, we will take a look at some of the basics surrounding the training principles for achieving a desired physique as well as those needed for achieving an athletic goal.
But before we get into it, a few terms that will come up frequently in this article should be defined from the get-go:
- Progressive Overload. Progressive overload is a principle based on trying to stimulate muscle growth by continually challenging your muscles with more resistance in each successive workout. There are many ways to achieve progressive overload, some of which will be touched on in this article. But for a change in performance or aesthetics, progressive overload must be emphasized.
- One Rep Max. Your one rep max is the absolute most amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition for a given exercise.
- The Big 5 Lifts. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and overhead press comprise the “Big 5” lifts that will be referenced in this article.
Bodybuilding and Aesthetics
For the average individual, aesthetic goals usually fall into either being huge and muscular, or ripped and defined. Bodybuilders, especially those that enter body building competitions are often less considered about athletic performance and more focused on their appearance.
So how do bodybuilders achieve these seemingly unattainable physiques? Or for the average individual, how does one start a fitness program geared toward improving his or her physique?
Let’s take a look at these two broad categories of aesthetic fitness goals and outline some of the training principles necessary to achieve each one.
Big and Powerful Physique
Larger muscles develop in response to high resistance levels and low rep ranges. For example, if your goal is to have a bulky, imposing physique, you’ll want to frequently train the classic lifts such as bench press and squat and work toward increasing your one rep max.
As your muscles begin to adapt to these heavier resistance levels, you’ll need to progressively overload your muscles by increasing your lifts based on one of the following theories that we will introduce here:
- The Two-for-Two Rule: When training a given exercise, you’ll want to set a rep range for the lift. When you perform this lift, if you are able to perform two or more repetitions over your initial goal with the weight you’ve chosen, for two workouts in a row, you’ll want to increase the weight you lift for that movement by 5-10 pounds during your next session. For example, if you’re goal is to bench press 225 pounds for 5 reps and in your next workout, you are able to complete 7 reps or more, you would then try the same rep range with the same weight for one more workout the next time you train that lift. If you are again able to complete 7 reps or more, you would increase the weight by 5-10 pounds and set a new goal. Two reps more than your goal, for 2 workouts in a row is the basis for the 2-for-2 Rule.
- One Rep Max Progression. This method of progression requires some math. But essentially, you are attempting to increase your one rep max each time you perform a given lift in order to provide a progressive overload stimulus to your muscles. This method works as follows: you lift a given weight while you are relatively fresh for a “three rep max” or a “ten rep max” giving you a rough idea of what your one rep max is through a simple math (one rep max calculators are ubiquitous online). When you are training for increased size, you’ll want to generally lift somewhere between 70-80% of your calculated one rep max during your workouts. You’ll rarely actually attempt your one rep max, as doing this too often can lead to injury and decreased training performance.
There are many, many ways to progress lifts that different trainers and coaches use for their athletes, but these are two popular ways that demonstrate how to progress an exercise in terms of resistance. Again, when the goal is a big, powerful appearance, you’ll want to focus on increasing the amount of weight you can lift for fewer reps for all of your major lifts. Whether you decide to do this by following a 2-for-2 rule, a one rep max progression, or some other method is up to you.
Shredded Beach Body Physique
Many of the methods employed to get a ripped physique are focused around diet. While diet is extremely important for all athletic and aesthetic goals, the focus of this article is on training style for a given goal.
In order to train for a shredded physique, you’ll want to focus on a number of things that differ from training for a big and powerful physique:
- Focusing heavily on accessory lifts. Accessory lifts usually refer to exercises that are not one of the big five, mentioned above. These are lifts that geared toward training smaller muscle groups and achieving definition throughout the entire body. For a ripped physique, it’s important to spend time developing these accessory lifts such as face pulls.
- Aim for a mid to high rep range. Unlike training for mass, for beach body goals, you’ll usually want to set your rep ranges a bit higher such as performing 10-12 or 12-15 reps per exercise. You’ll still want to achieve progressive overload, but you’ll just aim for a different number of reps.
- Performing lots of cardiovascular exercise. Ripped lifters have very little fat on their bodies and often achieve this partially through the implementation of cardiovascular exercise. Running, walking, biking, swimming, rowing, or whatever other form of cardio you like will help to keep a lean appearance.
- Spending lots of time on core exercise. The abs are where a lot of people focus their attention when attempting to get ripped. It is important to train abs for a shredded appearance, but be careful: overdoing it with any muscle group can lead to injury. Aim for 3 days a week of dedicated abdominal exercise.
Athletic and Performance-Based Goals
On the other side of the coin, if you don’t really care about how your body looks, but want to be able to compete at a high level, your training is going to be slightly different.
Powerlifters are athletes who have one goal in mind: lift as much weight as possible.The following lifts are heavily emphasized:
- Bench Press.
Oftentimes, powerlifters can get lumped together with Olympic lifters, who focus on the above lifts but also perform:
- Power Cleans.
- The Snatch.
- The Front Squat.
- And others, depending on the specific competition.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with Olympic lifts or traditional power lifts, the goal remains the same and training is usually as follows:
- A Volume Phase: Early on, you’ll be focusing on increasing your weight lifted each session while still remaining in a relatively low rep range (5 reps is often the goal). You’ll perform the three main powerlifts mentioned above but will also incorporate some accessory exercise to keep your joints healthy and balanced.
- A Heavy Phase: After a few weeks of volume training, you’ll move toward less reps and heavier weight. Often, coaches will design a descending rep schedule where you’ll perform a given lift for 5 reps then increase the weight for 4 reps, then increase the weight further for 3 reps during this phase.
- Max Lift Testing: During the last week of your powerlifting cycle, usually at 6 weeks, you’ll test your new one rep max for all lifts. Warming up and being mentally and physically prepared for this week is of the utmost importance.
CrossFit and Functional Training Goals
CrossFit is a functional fitness movement that has exploded in popularity over the past 10 years or so. These athletes “cross train” or use many different styles of exercise and compete against each other at the annual CrossFit games. CrossFit training varies widely depending on the area, the experience of the coach, and the preferences of the athlete. However, some of the consistent moves seen in many CrossFit workouts are:
- Rope Climbs.
- Handstand Push Ups.
- Olympic Lifts.
As you can see from the sampling of exercises above, CrossFit athletes’ training needs are complex and varied in order to achieve overall athleticism. In general, CrossFit training is characterized by:
- Extremely intense workouts involving the whole body.
- High levels of mobility, flexibility, and balance.
- Workouts that can be scaled for any ability level.
Having a clearly defined training plan is the best way to achieve your fitness goals. With a proper diet, adequate rest, and of course, the right training style; you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals in no time.