A fitness training program ideally will include five basic bio-mechanical capabilities: strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, and coordination. Other elements that must be considered in a holistic programme include: specific skills acquisition, psychological training, and competition preparation. These are more for the athlete that is engaging in competition. For our purposes, the first five will remain the focus.
Not all elements can receive equal emphasis throughout the training cycle. Many factors determine the type of training programme, and the stress placed upon each element. These include the age and maturity level of the athlete, your prior state of fitness, and of course your goals. If you are concerned with nothing but size and strength, then coordination and speed will not be the emphasis. I feel they should still be included to a lesser degree, as all facets will benefit the overall result.
Although these bio-mechanical elements are thought of as individual entities, they are actually closely interrelated. The application of a training program will impinge on a number of systems, and it is valuable to understand these relation-ships when devising a training program to serve your needs.
The training process is divided into several periods. These periods are usually termed as general preparation, specific preparation, peak preparation, and transition, or active rest – in this case a deloading week.
The emphasis placed upon the various elements of training will vary both in volume and intensity. Volume refers to the total quantity of work, such as pounds lifted during strength training. Intensity indicates the quality of training, usually in reference to your maximal capability in any activity
During the preparatory periods, the volume of training is gradually increased, while the intensity is kept lower. As a few weeks pass and your body has become used to the new routine, the volume is slowly reduced as the intensity is raised. If both volume and intensity remain high, overtraining may occur.
Whenever anyone is subjected to a new training programme, some will respond optimally to the training stimulus, a few will not be adequately trained (undertrained), and others will experience an overly stressful response to the training load (overtraining).
A systematically applied, gradually progressive training load is required for anyone to adapt and improve performance. In order for this adaptation to take place, adequate recovery strategies must be utilised. As the stressors associated with training gradually increase, so must the implementation of a broad range of recovery and restoration methods be carefully included in the training process. While this concept may seem counter-intuitive to many of you, the process of recover is equally valuable to the goal. It is the cumulative effect of training and non-training stressors, along with under-recovery that leads to performance decrements and the overtraining syndrome.
Restoration and recovery measures encompass a broad range of techniques, both active and passive. Recovery should include the physiological, psychological, and social realms.
The first step in preventing under-recovery is for you to develop a carefully planned training strategy, with a periodization system and allowances for active rest.
A common practice is to keep a training diary and record not only the results of each workout, but also his or her subjective responses to it. By doing this you can look back and see that you were feeling sore, or tired during a particular period, and can adjust the intensity and load accordingly. Self-monitoring of your responses to training and your own self perceived mental state are the most sensitive cues to the total volume of stressors and his or her adaptation to them.
Psychological strategies are important factors in reducing and managing stress. Relaxation training is a very valuable tool in order to destress from training and life. Relaxation training is also helpful for inducing sleep. Yoga, going for a walk or a swim are all forms of this. Any non strenuous activity that you are allowed to think freely will do. Adequate sleep is essential for recovery, as many endocrine systems undergo optimal recovery during sleep.
Social interactions can be a pleasant diversion from the rigours of training, especially if they are done in settings outside of the training milieu and with other friends who are not involved in sports. This is something I am guilty of, getting too wrapped up in training, writing about training, and talking about training. It’s important to be able to get away from it all in order to allow the mind a chance to be free of thinking about the gym constantly.
Many medical methods have been found to be valuable restoration tools. Different massage techniques are useful in aiding warm-up, relaxing muscles after training, and in re-activation for subsequent exercise sessions. Hydrotherapy in several forms is used to flush out waste products and improve peripheral circulation, both locally and by nervous system activation. Ice baths, contrast baths, and hydro-massage stimulate venous circulation. Active and passive stretching help muscles to lengthen, relieve tension within the muscle bundles, and enhance relaxation. For those of use that don’t have the time, or money to be treated like a professional athlete, I find a diligent foam rolling regimen to be extremely beneficial. 20 minutes daily and you’ll feel like a different person in the gym.
Maintaining adequate nutrition is essential for complete recovery – this is a given. During and after exercise, it is important to remain hydrated. For short sessions water is adequate, but for longer periods glucose/electrolyte solutions replace losses and maintain caloric and salt stores. This is more for someone engaged in long training sessions, or long runs. Carbohydrate/protein mixtures may enhance glycogen repletion as well as restore muscle amino acids and rebuild muscle tissue. A high-carbohydrate meal should be eaten within two to four hours after exercise.
Keep in mind that this is for optimal performance. I know many of you including myself maintain a relatively low carb lifestyle throughout the year to varying degrees. It is true though, that carbohydrates will benefit many types of training, so if optimal performance is crucial for you, then carbohydrate consumption will be necessary.