Designing A Training Program: Preparation and Observation

Before beginning training you need to develop a check-list of necessary preparations and form a consistent routine, but be flexible and prepare for unexpected changes, like altered time schedule due to work and family life, because the reality is that no schedule is written in stone. Carry out a gradual warm-up, stretch gently, and develop a sense of muscle awareness. A brief, activating massage by way of a foamroller is highly recommended as well. This is the time before the lifting begins, and in order to have a truly effective and focused lift, you need to relax and remove all distractions from your mind.

During the training session it is vitally important to maintain hydration by way of water or carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, and or protein/branched chain amino acid drinks. These options are all a matter of preference and trial and error. You can try various combinations to determine what is most effective, and what stays within your dietary guidelines as well. Use psychological techniques to psyche-up and psyche-down – it’s an important skill to be able to come down. Learn to manage your training environment as well, regarding temperature, music volume, and distractions around you. Having friends at the gym is great, but having someone start talking to you in the middle of a set of heavy squats is not ideal.

After training it’s equally important to cool down and stretch. Replace fluid losses using a carbohydrate/electrolyte/protein drink. A good rule is to consume 150 percent of fluid losses, and this can be determined by a weigh-in before and after training. Using the foam roller to stimulate waste removal and illicit relaxation is also useful. Make sure to eat a high-carbohydrate meal within two to four hours to restore lost glycogen.

During recovery days  use active rest by doing some form of light activity or cross-training, or play sports, or just go for a vigorous walk. The idea is not to do anything too strenuous, but enough to get blood flowing. These activities will allow the muscles to work, while the mind and nervous system rest.Easy stretching or yoga, or have a complete change of scene by walking in the park or forest. Everyone is unique, with individual ways of responding to stressors and to recovery techniques. What may be restorative to one may be stressful to another. Each person must create his or her own method of recovery strategies, and use them diligently.

This is where the observation part comes in. I was told once that in order to truly create an effective program, you occasionally have to take on the role of observer – as in observing yourself. It’s a strange concept I know, but unless you have a coach with you at all times, you have to learn to objectively assess a lot of information about your training to determine where you are regarding recovery and overtraining. This will help determine whether a deload week in needed, or just a day off.

Overtraining is a poorly defined complex of the body’s psycho-physiological responses to a wide variety of stress, including an excessive or monotonous training load, too-frequent maximum lift attempts, or inadequate recovery time following an intensive work-load. Then there are other stress issues from our life that impair our ability to recover, such as financial or work pressures, social issues, excessive travel, inadequate sleep and nutrition, or lack of recreational opportunities. These are the different forms of overtraining.

Overreaching, which is short-term overtraining, can be defined as an accumulation of training and possibly non-training stress resulting in short-term drop in performance capacity, that may or may not include physiological or psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining. Restoration of performance capacity may take several days to several weeks. Overreaching may be difficult to distinguish from the normal sense of fatigue that accompanies an intensive training program, and it’s up to your assessment and observational abilities to catch this before it worsens.

Overtraining can be defined as an accumulation of training and possibly non-training stress resulting in long-term drop in performance capacity with or without related physiological signs and symptoms of overtraining. Restoration of performance capacity may take several weeks or months. Overtraining may be looked upon as the final result of several systems’ failures due to inadequate restoration and recovery strategies, and the inability to detect the warning signs. Although the similarities between overreaching and overtraining syndromes appears logical, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that overreaching precedes overtraining, or that symptoms of overtraining are worse than those of overreaching.

Any serious weight training individual constantly treads a fine line between optimal levels of training, and overtraining. Close communication between training partners, trainers, and most importantly our own monitoring of our mental and physical responses to training is required to detect the early warning signs of overtraining and to react appropriately.

The optimal training load for an individual athlete depends on various factors, including genetic make-up, lifestyle, degree of physical and mental maturity, and state of initial fitness. There are no hard and fast rules for determining how and when to adjust the training load, but empirical evidence suggests that an increase of no more than five percent each week during a training micro-cycle allows for adaptation and recovery. Furthermore, intensity and volume of training should not be increased simultaneously.

Not being able to accurately define training intensity and volume for each individual makes it difficult to quantify the training load. As a result training must be carefully documented in a training journal. Those of us that train more intuitively need to pay close attention to our responses to and feelings about the training. The reason being that lifestyle factors such as hours and quality of sleep, and nutrition will show their weaknesses with our physical and mental state when we are training. If signs of overtraining do become apparent, having a training journal with notes about general attitude and feelings regarding training will help pinpoint possible causes.

Certain activity patterns are especially likely to cause overtraining. These include too frequent or long training sessions without adequate recovery, a sudden increase in training volume and/or intensity without a gradual build-up, or the use of a single, monotonous training format, such as interval training, which fatigues one muscle group or energy system. Other possibilities are an increase in other life stressors, such as inadequate sleep or nourishment, and travel, especially across time zones. Avoiding these patterns, and ensuring adequate recovery or diversion, is the best way to prevent overtraining.

If you feel that greater effort is needed to complete a training session, or a longer recovery time is needed between exercise bouts, then it is likely you are overtaining. If you feel persistent muscle stiffness and soreness, or a nagging sense of fatigue then it likely is due to inadequate recovery after a training sessions. A poor sleep pattern and elevated morning heart rate may accompany this feeling. Irritability and moodiness in dealing with routine activities is another symptom of overtraining. If you lose the drive to train, or dread the outcome of a poor training session, these are also symptoms.

These warning signals should indicate to you that a major adjustment in the training program is necessary. That may be as simple as an extra day off a week, or reducing the work load by one set for each exercise. Our body has a limited amount of recuperative ability, and if you are training as hard as you can, the limits for adaptation will constantly be strained, and careful monitoring and adjusting will always need to take place.

Happy Lifting!

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