Successful athletes in all sports must train, and training for distance running is certainly approached with the same philosophy we employ to get strong: start where the athlete is today, and plan for improvement from there. We utilize primarily anaerobic resistance exercises, they utilize primarily aerobic endurance exercises. But training means the same thing for both of us – we don’t wander into the weight room and play with the barbells any more than they wander onto the track and skip around until they get bored. Training means planning, and planning requires an understanding of what we’re going to attempt to change about the athlete’s physical capacity. So here is a complete strength training guide for beginners.
Strength training is a program that increases the athlete’s ability to produce muscular force against an external resistance. It properly follows a logical progression, starting from the athlete’s current strength level and moving in the direction of increased strength. Such a progression requires that two things happen.
First Approach In Strength Training
First, a correct assessment of the athlete’s current strength level is necessary if we are to make plans to increase it from there. This assessment can and properly should occur during the coaching of the lifts the athlete will be using in the program, since the lifts must be correctly instructed and perfected anyway. As the lifts are learned, weight can be added, since we must learn to lift heavier weights if we are to get stronger.
Dedicating a separate assessment event at the inception of the program wastes time, and, more importantly, fails to recognize that the testing event itself constitutes a stress that causes adaptation. If the test is sufficiently intense to accurately assess current physical capacity, the resultant adaptation to the stress of the test changes the capacity of the test subject, thus rendering the data inaccurate for any time point subsequent to the test.
It is much more efficient to use the first instruction day for the lifts to both teach the material and assess the capacity of the trainee. Since the program starts at this point and goes up from there for virtually all novice trainees, the second workout will build on the stopping point of the first workout, and the purposes of both instruction and assessment will have been served.
Second Approach In Strength Training
Second, a program must be constructed that most efficiently serves the purpose of creating a strength increase for the athlete. As we shall see, this entails the application of some basic training principles that are derived from the concept of stress/recovery/adaptation, and a correct assessment of where the athlete is with respect to his potential for physical adaptation. Stress is any event that produces a change in the physiological state of the organism.
Stress can be a hard workout, a sunburn, a bear mauling, or 3 months of bed rest. Stress disrupts homeostasis, the normal physiological environment that exists within the organism. Recovery from the stress event is the organism’s way of perpetuating its survival, by returning to its pre-stress condition plus a little more (if it can – a suntan is easy, bears can be a problem), just in case the stress happens again. This adaptation to the stress is the organism’s way of surviving in an environment that subjects organisms to a variety of changing conditions. Indeed, the ability to adapt to stress is one of the hallmarks of life.
The stress in our scenario is produced by the careful use of the barbell, which can create the conditions under which the adaptation is an increased ability to produce force with our muscles. But like any other organism subjected to repeated stress, the prior stresses produce an accumulation of adaptations that fundamentally change the organism.
You are obviously not the same physical creature now that you were when you were born, and this is the result of both normal growth and the stresses to which you have been subjected during that time.
Know Your Limit!
In the strength training scenario, this physical stress history has a bearing on what type of stress we can continue to apply, because your current state of adaptation constitutes a portion of your ultimate potential to adapt to stress. Each individual has a limit to his ability to adapt to stress, both acute stress in an immediate sense and chronic stress over the course of time.
This limit is determined by genetic endowment as well as the physical circumstances in which the athlete exists, and ultimately controls the potential of the individual for athletic performance. In fact, all human potential is limited by processes that function this way, and that is why exceptional people in every field of endeavor are not the norm.
The extent of an individual’s approach to this limit determines how much potential improvement remains to be developed. An untrained 17-year-old kid and an advanced 38-year-old competitive lifter are opposite ends of a spectrum of the exploitation of physical potential. The kid has not developed any of his potential strength, and the advanced lifter is already very strong, having devoted 20 years to trying to get stronger.
The kid has essentially all of his potential in front of him, while the lifter has developed essentially all of his potential to the best of his ability. The kid gets stronger quite easily and quite quickly, while the already-strong lifter works a complicated program for months at a time to develop just a tiny bit more strength, since he’s already very strong. It’s easier to get stronger if you’re not already very strong. In fact, the kid gets stronger every workout than the advanced lifter does every six months. Depending on your perspective, this is either tragic or marvelous.
The spectrum of human performance is an example of the Principle of Diminishing Returns, commonly observable in countless examples from nature and human experience. Approaching the speed of light, learning to play the piano, and building a faster car are examples of things that start off easy and eventually become so difficult and expensive in terms of energy, time, or money that approaching their limit is essentially impossible. And were it not the case that human performance displays this same progression – easy at first, difficult at last – no one would ever have put 200 pounds on his squat in a year, and world records would always be broken at every competition.