Guidelines and Principles of Strength Training

24 Mar Guidelines and Principles of Strength Training

The intended goals of a strength and conditioning program for the athletic or general population is based upon the implementation of a properly structured program. The design component of the program will utilize a structured approach to stimulate the intended physiological, psychological, and tactical goals of the athlete (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). The physiological goals of such programming are typically centered upon adaptations within the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems of the body. To create the intended adaptations within these systems a series of acute training variables are manipulated within the programming. The modifications of these training variables over time will elicit the intended adaptations within the body. The governing of the acute training variables within program design is based upon a series of scientific principles. These principles assist is eliciting the intended adaptations in a structured manner. These scientific principles include the following: Principle of specificity, overload, progression, individualization, diminishing returns, and reversibility (Hoffman, 2019).

Principle of Specificity

The principle of specificity is encapsulated in the SAID acronym. SAID stands for specific adaptations to imposed demands (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The underlying component of SAID and principle of specificity is the type of demands placed upon the body will dictate the type of adaptations which occur (Haff and Triplett, 2016). In order for a structured program of exercise to elicit the intended neuromuscular adaptations, the appropriate exercise stimuli in concert with the appropriate acute training variables must be inputted into the programming. These two components must be aligned in accordance with the intended physiological adaptations of the programming. For example, if the intended outcome of the programming is to elicit increases in lower body muscular strength. The appropriate exercise(s) will need to be implemented at the correct intensity with appropriate load and volume to produce the intended neuromuscular adaptations.

The implementation of the principle of specificity provides the programming an opportunity to elicit a transfer of training effect. A positive transfer of training effect is one where structured programming elicits performance gains during athletic competition (Burnie, Barrett, and Davids, 2018). A negative transfer of training effect occurs when programming does not elicit performance gains or detracts from current athletic performance (Burnie et. al, 2108). As a result, training specificity is of great importance during the process of program design. Training adaptations are specific to the stimulus applied which encompasses movement patterns, force-velocity characteristics, muscular actions, speed of movement, range of motion, training load, and energy system utilization (Haugen, Seiler, Sanback, and Tonneson, 2019). In order to elicit a positive training effect, it is necessary for programming to utilize the principle of specificity and address the physiological requirements of the athletic activity. Otherwise, programming can elicit less than optimal performance gains or potentially negatively affect the athlete’s physiological outputs.

Principle of Overload

The process of increasing the physiological outputs of the human body over time requires an approach in which structured programming elicits a stimulus above and beyond the normal levels of activity. This stimulus is in the form of structured exercise. The principle of overload states in order to elicit the intended adaptations within the body, acute training variables are utilized through exercise to place stress upon the systems of the body above and beyond normal levels of activity (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Over time such exercise will induce the intended adaptations within the body. For example, if the exercise prescription utilizing a repetition continuum for the training goal of strength development dictates a repetition scheme of 5 per exercise set, the individual should implement a training load which challenges this per set repetition goal (Haff and Triplett, 2016). If the individual utilizes a load per set where rate of exertion is less than the intended goal of 5 repetitions per set, an overload may not occur on the neuromuscular system, and overtime the intended adaptations may not occur (Hoffman, 2019).

The goal of training is to provide incremental overload on the body to elicit physiological adaptations which can subsequently contribute to improved athletic performance (Haff and Triplett, 2016). This aforementioned goal is the underpinning by which the principle of overload is utilized in program design. As stated previously, the overload presented within a structured training program must provide a stimulus above and beyond the normal levels of activity. Such a stimuli will elicit positive physiological adaptations. Successful training must involve an overload but must also avoid the combination of excessive overload. When training frequency, volume, intensity, or duration is excessive without sufficient recovery, nutritional intakes, or rest, conditions of fatigue, illness, or injury can occur (Haff and Triplett, 2016). It is imperative in the process of program design, observation, and continual modifications the principle of overload is utilized and observed for this principle to provide a positive outcome.

Principle of Progression

The specific adaptations elicited within the body through the process of overload via exercise will diminish over time if adjustments in programming do not occur. These physiological adaptions occurring within the body can diminish if the acute training variables associated with the programming are not independently and interdependently adjusted. These processes of adjustment within the programming in terms of acute training variables are governed by the principle of progression (Hoffman, 2019). The principle of progression indicates if a structured training program is to continually produce higher levels of performance, the intensity of training must become progressively greater (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The concept of progressive overload where increases in load (volume and intensity) above normal magnitude is commonly implemented to meet the requirement of progression (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). Though progressive increases can also occur utilizing training variables such as frequency, duration, adjustments in technical requirements of exercises or programming, or exercise complexity to elicit increases in programming intensity (Haff and Triplett, 2016).

The principle of progression coupled with overload provides the opportunity for positive physiological adaptions to occur on an ongoing basis via a structured training program. According to Bompa and Buzzichelli the physiological systems must be progressively overloaded via progressions to induce the adaptations necessary to improve performance. Similar to the potential positive and negative physiological effects of overload. The principle of progression can negatively affect physiological outputs of the body. If work volume, training volume, or training intensity is elevated too sharply or exceeds the athlete’s work capacity, a maladaptive response can occur that can result in overtraining (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). As a result, it is very important the principle of progression is continually monitored during the process of program design and implementation to elicit a positive physiological ongoing outcome.

Principle of Individuality

The principle of individuality is centered upon the concept of all individuals will respond differently to a given training program or training stimulus (Hoffman, 2019). Individual variables in terms of age, sex, training history, injury history, training status, and genetic predispositions need to be acknowledged and addressed within the process of program design (Hoffman, 2019). The variances of the individual will have a direct effect on the potential gains or lack thereof if not accounted for in terms of program over time. The implementation of a needs analysis where an assessment of the athlete occurs can assist in implementing the principle of individuality properly within the process of program design (Haff and Triplett, 2016).

Additionally, program design and periodization schedules must intake the principle of individuality to elicit positive physiological and psychological outputs. Far too often programming and annual training plans developed for elite athletes are used for young athletes, lacking the training experience and physiological maturity to tolerate intensive training schedules (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019) The result of such an error is detrimental to the development of the athlete and overall performance during competition.

To elicit positive programming outcomes, planning in accordance too tolerance level which is based upon the individual is imperative. Training plans must be based upon a comprehensive individual analysis of the athlete’s physiological and psychological parameters (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). An individual’s training capacity is determined by biological age, gender training age, training history, health status, and recovery rates (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). In order to elicit positive physiological and psychologic gains the principle of individuality must be utilized during the process of program design, implementation, and progression instituted over time.

Principle of Diminishing Returns

The principle of diminishing centers upon the concept of the performance gains of an individual are directly related to the level of training experience (Hoffman, 2019). An individual with little or no training history will elicit larger gains compared to an individual with a high level of training experience over the same period relative to a resistance training program (Hoffman, 2019). At the commencement of a training program strength gains are rapid, as training experience increases improvements slow, and if training continues additional strength gains become more difficult. A genetic ceiling may be responsible for the lessening gains as training experience continues (Hoffman, 2019).

Invariability recognition of the processes by which an individual new to resistance training will achieve initial improvements through neural adaptations progressing to muscle fiber alterations is to be acknowledged (Baechle, 1994). This provides the opportunity for programming to appropriately plan for the rate of physiological adaptations and diminishing returns which occur as training experience increases. In addition, recognizing the principle of diminishing returns provides the practitioner with the recognition of addressing the psychological aspects which can coincide with the lessening improvement and adaptations over the course of an athlete’s career. Not recognizing the process of diminishing returns can deter from the process of optimal program design and invariably cause issues when addressing the psychological components resulting from this principle.

Principle of Reversibility

The principle of reversibility is based upon the physiological effects occurring when a training stimulus is removed or lessened. The principle of reversibility states when a training stimulus is removed or reduced, the ability of an athlete to maintain a specified level of performance will decline, physiological gains made through a structure training program will diminish, and eventually return to pre-training levels (Hoffman, 2019). The removal or reduction of a training stimuli for an extended period of time is classified as detraining (Hoffman, 2019. Detraining for extended periods of time negatively affects the cardiorespiratory system, skeletal muscles, and metabolic characteristics of the body (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). Maximal aerobic capacities can be reduced by 4% in as little as 4 days of detraining, and upwards of 20% after 8 weeks (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). Strength and power outputs are also affected by detraining. For example, 4 weeks of detraining where all strength training is removed from programming can result in a 6% to 10% reduction in maximal strength and a 14% to 17% decrease in power outputs (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019).

Aerobic Effects of Detraining

As stated above effects of detraining on aerobic outputs can occur relatively quickly and increases as time progresses. The percentage of reduction and the rate at which aerobic outputs occur appears to be linked to the training level of the athlete. Studies correlate the loss of aerobic capacity is dependent upon duration, though aerobic levels of the athletic populations are higher than those of a sedentary population (Hoffman, 2019). The decreases in aerobic outputs from periods of detraining appear to be related to changes in enzymatic activity and stroke volume (Hoffman, 2019). Aerobic decreases also appear related to reductions on blood volume, oxygen uptake, and ventricular mass (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019).

Strength and Power Effects of Detraining

The complete removal of strength training has a negative effect on maximal strength and power outputs as stated above. In addition, the removal of such training on a short-term basis appears to affect type II muscle fiber types to a greater extent (Hoffman, 2019). Similar to aerobic decreases, magnitudes of decline is dependent upon training history, background, and length of training periods prior to detraining (Hoffman, 2019). Over extended periods of time without training of seven months an average of 37.1% atrophy was observed in all fiber types of the powerlifting athlete (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The effects of detraining appear to rise in terms of losses in strength capacities and power outputs as the amount of time increases.

Bone Loss Effects of Detraining

Resistance based training programs have an underlying benefit of stimulating bone growth (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The demands of exercises can specifically load particular regions of the skeleton. If the body interprets these forces as new or novel, they will stimulate bone growth in the area that is receiving the strain (Haff and Triplett, 2016). An extended time of detraining can have the opposite effect on the skeleton and bone density. Research has provided support for the negative effects of detraining on bone mineral density. A study of hockey players indicated individuals who continued their sporting careers increased bone mineral density as opposed to the athletes which stopped playing (Hoffman, 2019). Though the positive side of such studies indicated the athletic populations who discontinued sporting activities maintained an overall higher bone mineral density as compared to sedentary control populations (Hoffman, 2019).


Tapering is the planned reduction of volume of training that occurs before an athletic competition (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The intent of the taper is to enhance athletic performance during competition. The process of a taper involves the systematic reduction of training duration and intensity, typically coinciding with increased emphasis on tactical and technical work (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Again, the objective is to attain peak performance in upcoming competition and the premise behind a taper is to dissipate accumulated fatigue (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). Duration of the taper is dependent on numerous factors, though a typical period may last between 7 and 28 days (Haff and Triplett, 2016). It is imperative to recognize if a taper is too long in duration, the level of readiness achieved by the training program can dissipate and result in a state of detraining (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019).

Various types of tapers have been presented and attempted. Tapers can be broadly defined as either progressive or nonprogressive (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). A progressive taper, training load is reduced in either a linear or an exponential manner (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). The nonprogressive taper also referred to as a step taper is marked by a sudden decrease in training load (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019). Scientific literature does indicate if a taper is administered correctly a positive improvement in performance of 0.5% to 11.0% can occur (Bompa and Buzzichelli, 2019).



Baechle, T. (Ed.). (1994) Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Bompa, T. Buzzichelli, C. (2019) Periodization theory and methodology of training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Burnie, L. Barratt, P. Davids, K. (2018) Coaches’ philosophies on the transfer of strength training to elite sports performance. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 13 (5) 729-736.

Haff, G. Triplett, T. (Ed.). (2016) Essentials of strength and conditioning 4th edition, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Haugen, T. Seiler, S. Sanbakk, 0. Espen, T. (2019) The training and development of elite sprint performance: An integration of scientific and best practice literature. Sports Medicine Open, 5 (1) 1-16.

Hoffman, J. (2019) Physiological Aspects of Sport Training and Performance, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.