It seems everywhere you look there is some new exercise program promising to be the Holy Grail of a fitnessdom that will finally get you the "results" that you so desperately desire. While some of these programs have very good information, there are no magic bullets in the fitness industry. The fact is that to get results a person needs to put in the time for working out and make healthy eating a priority. However, what you work at can make all the difference in helping you achieve the goals you have.
It's important to understand the law of specificity when planning your work-out routine. The law of specificity dictates that your body will adapt to the demands imposed on it. It's quite simple and logical really, but sometimes gets overlooked. For instance most people would quickly realize that lifting weights that are so heavy only three repetitions can be completed for a few sets isn't going to prepare them to run a marathon this spring (certainly not as a stand alone method anyway). However, sometimes I'll still see this basic rule being disobeyed. For instance I had the privilege of working with a client that was fairly serious about playing hockey which is an extremely fast paced game requiring sudden bursts of speed and changes of direction. However for conditioning he had been advised to spend hours skating laps or running for periods of 30-60 minutes. Understanding specificity it is apparent that this type of training isn't optimal. It might be appropriate as a phase of training, especially early on to build up an aerobic base in a deconditioned athlete. But a closer look will quickly reveal that with short shifts on the ice that short (no more than two minute) higher intensity intervals would more closely match the demands this athlete is up against.
Using Specificity to Your Advantage
The focus going forward is to simply give you an overview of some basic rules that will help you use specificity to maximize your results instead of spinning your wheels.
We'll take a look at three areas in this series regarding to specificity:
So looking at the law of specificity we come to understand that to get stronger we need to lift heavier things than we currently do. There are a number of ways to go about this which can all be quite effective. It is important to realize that higher repetitions are really developing more endurance than strength. Following are some simple set and repetition schemes for two key areas of strength.
Absolute Strength - to develop high levels of absolute strength a person really needs to lift heavy things, and needs to have enough volume to elicit a training response (force the body to adapt by getting stronger). Thus lifting in the range of 4-6 repetitions for multiple sets (think 3-8+) with long rest periods (3-5+ minutes) is an effective way to go about it.
Strength endurance is the ability to keep working at a reasonably high intensity (high percentage of your maximum lifting capacity). Here we'll be looking at using higher repetitions in the 12-15 range and shorter rest periods (1-2 minute) and we don't generally need as many sets (2-3).
Although it is not exactly a "strength" attribute, hypertrophy deserves honorable mention here. Hypertrophy is the scientific term for muscle growth. It is arguably one of the main reasons guys work out and one of the ladies' biggest fears with using weights. As a side note - ladies you can't generally become accidentally massive with muscle - perhaps an entire article should be dedicated to that some day. If building bigger muscles in the primary goal then using a range right between the strength and endurance ones is very beneficial. This is often seen as the almost typical program in muscle building magazines I read as a kid using 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Check back for part 2 to continue reading.