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Principles of Training

When it comes to putting together a complete exercise program, there are several principles of training that should be considered. They are listed below.


The principle of specificity works like this. Training movement patterns and intensities of a task should be specific to the task you want to accomplish. For example, if your goal is to throw a ball at a faster speed, proper throwing technique is crucial, followed by effective practice actually throwing a ball. Doing a fixed motion lateral raise machine to strengthen the shoulder will not directly help you throw faster. Performing a slow controlled throwing motion on a loaded cable machine will also not be as effective as actual throwing practice and can actually be a determent to throwing speed.

Another example demonstrating the principle of specificity would be in the case of someone wanting to get more muscle tone. The individual must strength train in a way that causes overload and thus adaptation, both training principles that are explained below. Walking on a treadmill, using an elliptical, or swimming will improve the cardiovascular system, but typically do little in the way of toning muscles. However, cardiovascular exercise is important for overall fitness and it can help burn fat stores so that muscle tone is more visible! As a side note, having more muscle helps to elevate metabolism too, which is why there are recommendations for both modes of exercise to maintain optimal health.


In order to achieve results from an exercise program, overload must occur. Overload means you have placed a slightly greater amount of stress on the muscles and surrounding tissues and/or the cardiovascular system than they are used to. This is important to do because the body will then adapt to this new amount of stress so it can handle it better. For example, if you want cardiovascular exercise to feel easier, then doing intervals at an appropriate intensity will place a little extra stress on the system, resulting in adaptations so that exercise at that same or lower intensities won’t feel as difficult in the future.


Adaptation ties in with overload and specificity. It describes how the body responds over time to the physical stresses placed upon it. It can work in our favor when we want to gain muscle and improve cardiovascular fitness. Different types of exercise done at the proper frequency, intensity, and duration causes the body to make important physiological improvements so that it feels easier.

In today’s society, adaptation can also work against us though. For example, if we aren’t consuming enough calories to support the energy our body needs, particularly if we put ourselves into an extreme caloric deficit, then we can experience something called metabolic adaptation. Metabolic adaptation was beneficial for humans in history. If there were food shortages resulting in low calorie consumption, our metabolism would slow down to prevent too much weight loss. This was important for survival. In current times, we don’t experience this kind of food shortage, however, people sometimes think that extremely low calorie diets are the best and quickest way to lose weight. We must be sure to eat enough fuel for our bodies to function effectively and avoid metabolic adaptation.


As soon as an exercise becomes easier, it is time to make it harder! Progression is about making gradual increases or changes in training stress so that overload can continue to be achieved (and thus adaptation). An example of this includes the commonly used method of performing 3 sets of 10 repetitions of a strength training exercise. When you can perform all three sets to quality repetitions with perfect form, then it is time to make the exercise more difficult. This can be done by either increasing the weight or by other means, such as decreasing stability of the body position, or changing the range of motion, or using a different tool altogether (ie. going from a fixed motion machine to free weights).


If you stop exercising, you will experience a loss of the beneficial adaptations from training. The amount of loss varies depending on the the length of time, the amount of other physical activities maintained, and per individual.


Everyone is different and responses to training (the capacity to adapt) will differ too.


A Guide to Physical Fitness Copyright © by Jen Hilker. All Rights Reserved.

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