The principles of training

If you want to get good at training, working out, exercising etc, there are some basic things you should know.  Here are some of the most important ones:


Basically, this means that we get better at what we do in training, with little crossover into other things.  

  • Example #1 – spending hours each week swimming is not going to make me a better cyclist/footballer/wrestler etc.  Swimming training will specifically improve our swimming ability.
  • Example #2 – strength training on the legs is not going to make the arms any stronger.

This specificity can go even further than this and include the size of the move we are training…

  • Example #1 – practicing a half squat won’t improve our full squat.

And it also includes the speed at which we do things…

  • Example #1 – practicing a move at half speed won’t improve the moves top speed.

And also our flexibility/mobility…

  • Example #1 – stretching/mobilising our shoulders won’t improve flexibility of our hips.

Conclusion:  if we want to get good at something, at some point or other, we are going to have to actually do that thing.  We can’t skirt around it, avoid it and hope that we will improve by magic.  At some point or other, we will have to knuckle down, bite the bullet and actually do the thing.

Example:  In 2006, well known drug cheat, Lance Armstrong, finished the New York marathon in 2hr 59 minutes.  This is a very respectable time, but far short of the world record of 2 hours.  In other words, while Lance Armstrong was world class at a specific activity (cycling), only a fraction of this fitness transferred into another activity (running).

The Overload Principle


This may be one of the most ignored principles I’ve come across.  To get fitter or stronger, we need to overload our current ability to do it.  In other words, we need to do more than we are currently used to.

  • Example #1 – to get stronger, we need to lift heavier loads than we are currently used to (not a lighter load more times..don’t forget the previous principle of specificity!)
  • Example #2 – to get fitter, we need to get more out of breath than we are currently used to.
  • Example #3 – to run/swim/cycle faster, we need to run/swim/cycle at a faster speed, not at a slow speed for longer (remember specificity!)

Conclusion:  We got to work hard.  We got to work outside our comfort zone.  We got to do things that are faster/heavier/longer than we are used to.

  • Example:  Very common in the gym.  A woman picks up the little pink dumbbells and does an entire workout using only those.  She refuses to use any heavier ones for any number of reasons.  But because she is never pushing her muscles out of their comfort zone, she never improves.


Put another way…Use it or lose it!  We improve when we train and we get worse when we stop training.

  • Example #1 – teenage boy trains hard to get on the football team.  But once he achieves this goal, he stops working/training, coasts along and soon can’t keep up with his team mates.
  • Example #2 – a person is advised to do certiain strengthening/stretching exercises by their physio to help get rid of knee/shoulder pain.  They follow the instructions and after a few weeks there is no pain!  So they stop the exercises.  And a few weeks later, the pain returns.  D’oh!
  • Example #3 – you get fit and look dead sexy in time for your summer holiday.  So you stop training.  By the end of the summer holiday, you are strarting to feel/look bloated and slow again.

Conclusion:  Don’t give up.  Little and often is better than a massive splurge followed by nothing.  A mediocre training programme done consistantly is better than a “perfect” one done once in a blue moon.

  • Example:  Again, a very common thing in many people.  They start exercising for an event (holiday, wedding etc).  They do really well, they look and feel awesome.  But then the event comes and goes, so they stop exercising.  A month later, they look and feel just like they did before they started all that hard work.  Their behaviours and habits have reversed back to what they were, and so has their body.