Recently I have seen a number of posts, articles, videos and all claiming to be the best “system” for X, Y or Z. These systems are generally lengthy, wordy and somewhat complicated. I feel that in order to sell themselves, people often see a need to jazz things up and make them complicated. However, when you look at most strength training programmes, they are much the same? S0, how can you navigate the minefield that is programming? My answer is pretty simple… Just keep it simple and follow the basic principles!


The Basic Principles of Strength Training

Generally, certain themes run through most programmes and have done for centuries. There is a reason for this, THEY WORK. These are generally referred to as the principles of strength training and look a little like this.

  • Specificity – Think of this as a framework for what you are trying to achieve. The exercises, sets, reps and rest schemes you choose to use must reflect the desired outcome. This could be size, strength, power or whatever you choose.
  • Overload – You need to put more load or stress on your body in order for it to adapt. Without a challenging stimulus, the body will not adapt. The amount and form of overload can also influence how specific your training is.
  • Progression – This is closely related to overload. In order to see improvements, you need to steadily increase the amount of work you are doing. You most progressively, overload your body. As you learn to adapt to training, this progression will slow.
  • Reversibility – If you snooze, you will lose. Adaptions are only temporary and if you stop, they will slowly diminish. Off the top of my head I think you start to drop strength by around 10% after two weeks of stopping training. That’s not to say it’s an immediate stop, just be aware that you need to keep things moving.


Applying these Principles When Programming Strength Training

Specificity is ultimately down to you, be smart and think about what you are aiming for. From here, you can decide your initial plan. The progression and overload are the areas I want to focus on the most. How much is enough overload and how do you keep it moving forward. These are my thoughts.

You need to put enough stress on your body to create adaptation, therefore it needs to be challenging. However, you don’t need to jump up and run face first into a brick wall of fatigue on your first week of training. Challenge yourself but leave a few in the tank. This could be reps, it could be weight or it could be starting with only two sets. If you have not trained in a while, 2 sets of 5 reps with an empty barbell is more than you’re currently doing!

In order to progress you don’t need to change a million things. Simply creep things forward 1 element at a time. Some people suggest a golden rule of 5% increase each week. But what does that even mean?! Personally, I look at the athlete and the movement and then go from there. I will move one thing forward at a time generally. if I am looking for hypertrophy i may add a few more reps or perhaps an extra set. if I am looking at strength, I may add weight and keep the reps and sets the same. Both options show progression but don’t suddenly ramp things up. After 4 weeks, you can have some pretty good increases, without beating yourself up.

As a Leading Personal Trainer and Strength Coach in Berkshire, I believe that steady, sustainable progress is better than a bang and done approach. This way clients can keep moving without hitting walls of fatigue. Pick one or two things for each exercise or session and creep them forward. Yes, it can be more complicated but the basics can keep you grounded and moving forward.