Eight Most Important Strength Training Principles


Key principles of strength training

In any discipline, there are fundamentals, or principles, that must be followed to achieve success. Strength training is no exception. Without a basic knowledge of these fundamentals, you will never reach your goals. That’s why you should read this post carefully in order to fully understand all of these strength training principles.

Your training programme should be appropriate to your goals, effective in achieving them, and take into account your particular needs and personal circumstances. Before starting to plan a programme, it helps to explore some of the key principles of strength training.

Eight strength training principles that will make all the difference:

  1. Principle of specificity
  2. Overload principle
  3. Gradual progressive overload
  4. Principle of variety
  5. Recovery principle
  6. Principle of maintenance
  7. Principle of reversibility
  8. Principle of individuality

Follow these 8 ultimate strength training principles to get maximum gains with strength & endurance, and become a true bodybuilder.

1# Principle of specificity

If your desire is to gain muscle bulk, it makes little sense to carry out long sessions of aerobic training on the treadmill or exercise bike. Similarly, if you want to enhance your explosive power there’s little benefit in working with very heavy weights that you can only move incredibly slowly. Specificity means tailoring you training to your goals. It is a simple concept, but one that is generally given insufficient thought, especially by beginners in strength training.

If you are training for a particular sport, specificity gets a little more involved: the exercises you perform should in some way mimic the sporting movements and reflect the loads and speeds relevant to the sport. Sports specificity relates to selecting the correct muscles, joint angles, and postural positions to utilize during strength training. The exercise need not be identical to the sport, but it should include the same movements, in the same order, and be carried out at the same speeds.

2# Overload principle

This means subjecting yourself to a greater demand in training than you experience in everyday life. In other words, your training session should challenge you physically. You must receive a stimulus greater than it is used to in order to gain any major benefits. Opinions about what constitutes overload do vary, but it is generally assumed that an intensity of around 70-80% 1RM is required to enhance strength.

3# Progression principle – Gradual progressive overload

From all of these strength training principles listed in this post, this is the most important one. Progression is the planned increase in weight, reps, or volume—or any combination of the three—for a workout. Your workouts should progress just enough to stimulate maximal muscle growth, but not so much that you’re at risk of overtraining or injury.

The point of training is to overload your body, for your body to feel challenged by the demand, and for adaptation to occur. If you lift a 40kg (881b) dumbbell today and find it challenging, your body will adapt. Next time you lift the same weight, it will be less difficult. After a few sessions your body will have largely adapted to that weight. Continuing to lift it for the same number of sets and repetitions will promote little or no further response; you will stagnate. The weight, or the number of times you repeat the movement, must increase to stimulate further development. Progression does not have to happen on every single training session – sometimes taking a step back for a session can allow you to take two steps forward in the long run.

Continually increasing the stress placed on the muscle allows the muscle to increase its strength and prevents stagnation. This is one of the most critical principles of strength training as well as one of the earliest developed.

4# Principle of variety

Shake it up! Changing your training routine is the best and quickest way to get off a plateau. The potential variations are endless.

Beginners can get away with doing the same program for up to 6 months be­fore they start to plateau. The more experience you have lifting, the more frequently you have to change your training. A good rule of thumb is to overhaul your workout every 3 to 4 weeks.

It doesn’t matter what changes you make. You can reverse the order in which you do your exer­cises. If you usually start with bench presses, you may want to switch to an incline press. Even though both exercises work the chest, shoulders, and tri­ceps, the slightly different movements involved ac­tivate additional muscle fibers for greater stimulus.

Here are the major variables that you can change in your routine on a regular basis:

  • Exercise. If on the last day that you trained your chest you did barbell bench presses, next time substitute dumbbell presses or machine presses. For the back, alternate between lat pull-downs and pull-ups, or do bent-over barbell rows instead of cable rows. The possibilities are endless; you can substitute numerous exercises.
  • Change your technique. List fast and lower slowly. Then switch to slow lifting and slow lowering. Then do fast lifting and fast lowering.
  • Change body-part grouping. Work your chest and back on the same days. Later, combine chest, shoulder, and triceps workouts.
  • Change the exercise order. If, in your previous chest workout, you did flat bench presses first and incline presses second, do incline presses first the next time around. If you always do cable press-downs for triceps before all other triceps moves, try doing it last occasionally. This is a particularly good way to add variety when exercise choices are limited, such as for those who train at home.
  • Change the amount of rest between sets – anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
  • Change rep and set numbers.
  • Change equipment. Stick to free weights for a while. Then switch to machines.

5# Recovery principle

An often overlooked yet absolutely vital element of any training programme is recovery time. Your body adapts and strengthens after a training session while it is in recovery. If you don’t provide adequate rest you will, at best, stagnate and, at worst, suffer from overtraining and deteriorate.

Continuous training is not necessarily better training, and many recreational gym-goers train intensely far too often and do not take enough advantage of the greatest training aid of all – sleep!

How much time you need to recover is again a function of the intensity you work at and the overall volume. The greater the work, the longer the rest you will need.

6# Principle of maintenance

As a person reaches his or her goals, it takes less work to maintain that level of strength or muscle mass. If he or she is happy with that level, the frequency of training can be reduced. This is typically a good time to involve more cross-training so that other fitness components can be developed.

7# Principle of reversibility

The fact that once the strength training program is discontinued or not maintained at the minimal level of frequency and intensity, the strength or hypertrophy adap­tations that were made with that program will not only stop forward progression but will also revert back to the starting level.

8# Principle of individuality

Any training program must consider the specific needs or goals and abilities of the person for whom it is designed. For example, a beginning bodybuilder with the goal of adding muscle mass would have a much different training program than an advanced bodybuilder with the same goal. The difference in their training programs is based not on their desired training outcomes but on their training experiences. The advanced trainer would require more volume and high-intensity training techniques to reach the same goal as the beginner.

The principle of individuality simply recognizes that everyone is different and that exercise programs should be designed with these differences in mind.

Closing Thoughts About Strength Training Principles

Countless principles of strength training are being employed today. But the validity of many of these principles is questionable, because few strength training professionals agree on the majority of them.  However, there are a few strength training principles that are revered by all strength training professionals.


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