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Efficient, Effective, Intentional: A Training Framework

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

There are numerous long, nerdy rabbit holes that you can go down to try and find the best possible methods for meeting any training goal. For just strength training, you can dive into the principles of stress, recovery, and adaptation; learning what kinds of stress are best, for how many sets and reps, etc. trying to maximize your recovery with the latest and greatest information.

We love to nerd out on any and all things strength-related, but it can help to have a framework that enables you to interpret all the information at your fingertips thanks to the Interwebs. There is a simple, non-technical framework you can use to categorize and classify training advice. You just have to ask is this efficient, effective, and intentional?

Efficient

It is impossible to be precisely optimal in your training. But, you should try to waste as little time as possible. Physical activity is efficient when it moves you toward your goal with as little wasted effort as possible. Imagine your physical goal like a destination, every day represents the chance to take a step toward that goal. Whether you take a big step or a small step or whether you take a direct or scenic route depends on how you organize your training.

Fundamental changes and general adaptations should come first. This is why in barbell training we focus first on the lifts that allow us to lift the most weight using the most muscle mass and the longest effective ranges of motion. These lifts will make you the most generally stronger. Any program that suggests novices use isolated exercises or highly specific movements is going to waste time by targeting small steps before big steps.

Examples exist for other goals. Last week Coach Matt Moore gave similar advice to lifters who might what to try a strongman competition:

“Like any other programming consideration, the first step is to identify where you are in your training advancement. If you are a Novice and you’re finishing out your first linear progression, there’s really nothing you can or should change about your programming (more on that later).  The further along you are on the training advancement curve, the more specific your training might have to look to your upcoming event.”

Coach Adam Laurentizen gives similar advice if you are unsure where to start with strength training and martial arts:

“This group encompasses those who have never lifted or done martial arts. Members in this group should be executing a Linear Progression and drilling their art (with occasional sparring bouts). This a magical phase. Like Luke discovering the force, everything is new and wondrous. Ideally, I would have a lifter start their martial arts after the first week of LP to give time for any novel soreness to abate before jumping into something that requires timing and coordination. After that though, run the LP for as long as you can make progress in strength and skill.”

This is a fundamental organizing principle that holds true for most new ventures. Target the changes that have the most downstream effects first. Training for strength affects flexibility, conditioning, endurance, and fine motor control. But, training these more specific adaptations do not positively affect your strength. For efficiency’s sake, we want to train big, general adaptations in a manner that raises the trainee’s physical attributes, keeping close to the trainee’s maximum ability to adapt.

Effective

Very often someone new to training will be taken by the novice effect (an improvement from low-dose inefficient training) and interpret some success for effectiveness.  But the novice effect is short-lived. Any effective training program must adapt to individual changes in progress and include a plan for long-term progress.

Effectiveness, then, is the adaptability of your training regimen: How well does your plan change based on actual training data? For strength, this means that you should have a plan in place that accommodates your individual needs. The novice linear progression does this well for those in the novice phase of strength training. Beyond that, we like to use the idea of Minimum Effective Dose training.

Intentional

Training is intentional when the results are planned rather than merely hoped for. While the specific mechanisms that make you stronger in response to strength training aren’t easily parsed, we can easily observe the adaptive responses to many physical activities, as the adaptations tend to be specific to the activities themselves. Endurance athletes get better at running, biking, and swimming, just as lifters get stronger from lifting weights. We know that the adaptive responses to squatting, pressing, bench pressing, and deadlifting lead to your increased ability to produce force—strength training makes you stronger.

But sometimes, people call things strength training that aren’t strength training at all. The idea that “you will get a lot stronger just doing jiu-jitsu/climbing/swimming/CrossFit” is an observation of the novice effect, but does not represent a goal for your training. Adaptations to specific stresses are knowable, so instead of hoping to get stronger, every strength training program should plan to get stronger. This includes some kind of assessment appropriate for the lifter. Planned progress is part of quality training.

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