Everybody has a goal, not everybody has a plan.

In order to create an effective training plan you must determine the stimulus that will yield the desired response.  In other words, if your goal is to improve strength, you must apply a stimulus (achieve powerful positions, training intensity etc..) in order to receive the desired response (strength).  If your goal is purely aesthetics the stimulus will be different!

Mitch Stewart

Now, what do I mean by stimulus… does this mean the exercise you use?  Absolutely not, the same exercise may be appropriate to achieve either strength or aesthetics but the way it is performed will be substantially different.  In this article I will discuss some often misunderstood or overlooked training variables:

  • Speed of contraction
  • Time under tension
  • Nutrition

Speed of contraction: The speed of contraction is illustrated through a series of numbers known as ‘tempo’.  Tempo is written like this ‘3-0-1-0’ and indicates that you will perform a 3 second eccentric, 0 second pause in the bottom position, 1 second concentric and 0 second pause at the top.  If this tempo was used for a squat pattern, you are going down for 3 seconds, 0 pause in the bottom, up for 1 second, 0 pause at the top.  Tempo x reps equals time under tension.

Time under tension: This refers to the amount of time you are actually moving weight.  Understanding time under tension is critical to select appropriate rest periods between sets.

Time under tension:rest can be viewed as the work:rest ratio which plays a critical role in the body’s response to exercise.

Depending on your goals you may want complete recovery (or as close as you can get) between sets or incomplete recovery between sets.

If your goal is to improve strength you’ll often want nearly full recovery of the nervous system between sets.  This will allow repeated work at a higher intensity (intensity defined as percentage of 1 rep max).  Even though you may not be breathing heavy or sweating profusely when the goal is strength it must be understood that the nervous system needs time to recover.  Here are some general recovery guidelines when the NERVOUS SYSTEM is under significant stress:

  • 1-2 rep max 4-5 minutes of rest
  • 3-5 rep max 3-4 minutes rest
  • 6-8 rep max 2-3 minutes rest

The stronger the individual the more rest required, if you are just beginning a weight training program taking 5 minutes of rest between sets is ridiculous.  Also, doing a 1-2 rep max is unnecessary and dangerous… as a beginner.

KEY POINT: The nervous system takes time to recover… if your goal is strength… take the time!

Furthermore, these rest periods are based on 1-6 reps at higher intensities.  When performing density training (more work in short period of time) you may be using 2-8 reps but at lower intensities (relative to your 2-6 rep max), which requires less rest (and an entirely different response).  The use of high density training will result in more fatigue substrate accumulation lactic acid, blood PH levels will drop and this will have negative effects on repeated high intensity work (hence why you need to work at lower intensities to get through the workout) but positive effects from a work capacity and body composition standpoint. This study demonstrates some clear differences between high intensity and high density training.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Slow speeds will create more intra-muscular tension (creating tension is key to improve strength)
  • Slow eccentric contractions are associated with more tissue damage and muscle soreness.  When the goal is hypertrophy (muscle mass) overlooking the eccentric contraction is a common mistake
  • Lifting at higher velocities will utilize the stretch shortening cycle and should only be performed in more advanced lifters who have mastered motor patterns
  • To ensure long-term progress, lifting speed is one critical variable to manipulate

The goal of plyometrics is to exert a lot of force in the shortest time possible, so fast rates of muscle contraction, they are more advanced, a great tool to use as part of a plan designed to improve power output.  A tempo for plyometrics may be written like this X-X-X-X meaning the entire sequence is explosive.  When I see ‘plyometric circuits for fat loss’ this makes no sense.  I would imagine it comes from a thought process similar to this … athletes are generally lean, athletes do plyometrics, I SHOULD DO PLYOMETRICS … No


Nutrition:  Workouts involve work in the gym, on the field or whatever… Training is much more than that. The process of recovery should be viewed as a part of training. Don’t forget about key components in training like nutrition and sleep. What are you training for… performance, fat loss, lean mass… it’s not all about the gym

Remember stimulus = response, apply this to nutrition as well.  If your goal is to increase vs. maintain lean mass, reduce fat mass vs. increase fat mass there are distinct differences between the dietary protocols that will yield results.  I will link all of other nutrition related articles I have written below:


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