3 main factors affecting the success of a training program
There was a recent study which talked about the 3 main factors influencing the success of a weight loss diet (here is my article on it), which aren't the factors you often hear discussed. In a similar vein, I feel that the factors of resistance training which are talked about the most, aren't the ones that have the biggest impact.
To solve this cognitive dissonance, I've compiled my 3 most important factors for a successful resistance training program, which relate to the 3 important factors for dieting, so you know what to focus your energy on when training.
This article was based off of this peer-reviewed article for dieting and adapted to fit exercise based on scientific principles by me.
3. Specificity (Quality of food)
Getting a bigger vertical jump by doing squats is akin to losing weight through eating Maccas; it's possible, but it's not exactly the best way to do it. The quality of an exercise depends on how specific it is to your goal.
Specificity relates to the SAID principle: specific adaptations to imposed demands. What this means is that if you train by doing slow and heavy squats, your body will get better at slow and heavy squats.
To train for a vertical jump, you want to do lots of explosive lower body movements straight up and down. Fitness training for a game of AFL and for a game of netball should look different, because the demands on the athletes are different.
If you are performing resistance training because you want to get better at something, make sure you are training your body for that specific something. I don't know how I can put it any simpler.
There are still benefits to general strength training, coming back to the vertical jump example, the power of your jump is equal to the amount of force you can produce multiplied by the speed you produce it. Therefore, general strengthening can improve your vertical jump height, and you want enough muscle strength to be able to land safely, but you will hit a point of diminishing returns sooner than if you trained the speed of your muscle contractions.
To make sure your training is specific, make sure you are performing exercises for a similar area of your body, at a similar speed, with a similar intensity and in similar ranges of motion. Just make sure you're still getting progressive overload on these movements.
For more info on making your training specific, new article coming soon!
2. Positive damage-recovery balance (Negative energy balance)
At the end of the day, to lose weight you need to use more calories than you consume. To get stronger you need to ensure your body recovers more than it gets damaged.
If you are not aware, the way in which muscle growth occurs is through exercise damaging the muscle, which then repairs itself to be stronger than before (see previous blog post).
Where the comparison with dieting ends, however, is that dieting is a linear continuum, it works a bit like a seesaw with too much on one end and too little on the other. With exercise however, there is a sweet spot in the middle of just enough exercise to incur adaptations without causing too much damage. The graph ends up looking more like an inverted U shape, also referred to as the Goldilocks law.
Another way to picture this relationship between exercise and growth is shown below. Too much exercise and you won't be able to recover beyond your original baseline (this is called supercompensation). Not enough exercise and you won't be giving the muscles enough stimulus to improve. It's a balance between making sure you do enough, without getting fatigued.
Remember that's two different factors you can change here: the stimulus and the recovery. Sleeping right and eating right are the two big ones for recovery. Click here for my post on the factors that affect your recovery.
Most people won't be getting a high enough volume of exercise or will push themselves too hard every once in a while, instead of steadily building it up. To make sure your damage-repair system is in balance, take note of your weekly volume (kms run, reps, sets etc.), only make increases of ~10% at a time and listen to your body's feedback system.
And the number 1 factor that determines the success of a training program...
1. Adherence (Also adherence)
Even the best written programs in the world won't do anything if you don't follow it.
100% of the work you don't do, won't get done. Which is really just a long way of wording Nike's trademarked slogan.
For all the arguments on the internet over which exercise is good for this, or don't do these exercises they're bad for that, it matters far less than whether or not you actually do any exercise. I highly recommend giving things a go and getting started even if you're not entirely sure what you're doing. P.S that's why my job exists :)
As the graphs above demonstrate, consistently going through the damage-repair-supercompensation cycle is the best way to get stronger, fitter, sexier or whatever else you are training for. The body likes a consistently challenging stimulus, with time to rest in between.
If you take nothing else away from this article, please make your exercise program consistent. Motivation never lasts forever, make it a consistent habit and you will be far more successful.
A good training program will address barriers to adherence by having flexible intensities or planned rest days. Just like with diets, there is no single ideal program for everyone. The best program in the world is the one that works for you, so make sure you choose a form of exercise that is enjoyable so you can stick to it.
Now that you know the 3 biggest factors affecting the success of your training program, you can focus on what needs your attention.
3. Make sure your training is specific to what you want to improve
2. Make sure you are balancing your damage with your repair in order to maximise supercompensation
1. Find something you can adhere to in the long term
If you perform these 3 things well, your program will have a far better chance of success. Then, and only then can you worry about the smaller things.