To progress consistently and break PRs (personal records) you need to follow a well-structured program. When I say program, I am referring to more than a workout split; I am referring to a complete program that addresses four key pillars of strength: nutrition, weight training, mobility, and supplementation. This article will serve as an introduction into each of these PR-BREAKING pillars.
Calories are energy stored in the foods we eat. The number of calories you eat, termed caloric intake, will determine whether you gain or lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn (a surplus or hypercaloric intake) you gain weight; if you burn more calories than you eat (a deficit or hypocaloric intake) you lose weight. This fundamental principle is what dieting to produce physique changes is built upon.
Achieving optimal results requires controlling caloric intake more precisely than simply creating a surplus or a deficit. When targeting fat loss, setting your caloric intake too low can result in lean mass loss and decreased performance. When focusing on gaining muscle, setting calories too high can result in excessive fat gain. To optimize body composition changes and maximize performance, caloric intake must be monitored and controlled while progressively adjusting based upon progress.
The foods we eat supply calories in the form of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Protein and carbohydrates each contain 4 calories per gram while fat contains 9 calories per gram. Each macronutrient has unique metabolic properties and functions in the body and therefore different dietary intake requirements.
Protein intake is critical due to its role in protein synthesis and repair. A combination of hypocalorism, insufficient protein intake, and drastic caloric deficit, can result in the loss of lean mass. Similarly, a combination of hypercalorism and insufficient protein intake can impede lean muscle gains. As a general guideline one should consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (more specifically 1.05-1.41g protein/lb lean mass).
Once protein intake is set, the remainder of calories is distributed between carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrate and fat intake is set in accordance with goals, food preference, and individual response to each nutrient (i.e. some people respond better to high/low carb diets). Furthermore, reducing carbohydrates too low can hinder performance and reducing fats too low can negatively affect mood. Therefore, a BALANCED diet that supplies sufficient amounts of all three macronutrients is ideal.
Monitoring and controlling your caloric and macronutrient intake is imperative when looking to maximize results. If you do not know how many calories and macronutrients you are eating, you cannot accurately make changes to your nutrition program when your progress stalls.
The best way to monitor your caloric intake is by utilizing a food scale. This tool allows you to precisely measure food in ounces and grams. While it may seem inconvenient to measure your foods, doing so is the only effective way to accurately tracking your caloric and macronutrient intakes.
A training program should be structured with individual workouts that work in conjunction together towards a long-term goal and results. Anyone can design a workout routine to cause fatigue and make you feel tired. Feeling tired does not mean the workout was productive towards your long-term goal unless your goal is to simply burn calories. The three primary principles of an effective training program are (1) specificity, (2) progressive overload, and (3) adherence.
If you want to get better at something, then you must do it; weight training is no different. This is known as the SAID Principle.
SAID Principle = Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands
A training program should be structured to accomplish a specific goal. If your goal is to increase your 1-RM squat strength, then you need to include low rep squat training in your program. If you want your shoulders to get bigger then you need to include shoulder exercises in your training program. That may seem straightforward and self-explanatory, but often one’s program is not structured optimally to accomplish their goals.
Muscle hypertrophy and increased strength are adaptations to overload beyond what the body is accustomed to with weight training serving as the stimulus. If the training stimulus never increases and you simply do what your body is accustomed to, then there is no reason for your muscles to get bigger or stronger. This is the principle of progressive overload.
Principle of Progressive Overload = lifting heavier weights and/or completing more reps with a given weight over time.
I believe that getting stronger (over time) in all rep ranges is the best way to stimulate long-term progress and should be the focal point of all strength-training programs.
It does not matter how optimal a training program is, if you don’t or can’t follow the program then it will not deliver results. For example, if research showed squatting five times per week at 80% of your 1-RM lead to the greatest strength gains but every time your tried to follow that program you got injured then it is not the ideal/optimal program for you. Or if you can only weight train 3 days per week then a 5-day/week training split will not work for your schedule. Your training program must be structured as something you can adhere to consistently.
I also feel one should ENJOY their training program. If you hate your training program, then chances are you are not going to stick to it long term or may not put your full effort into your workouts.
All training programs should be built around these three primary principles.
Mobility is the most overlooked pillar of fitness. Mobility refers to the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion without pain. For example, if you fall over when you try to perform a full squat you need to improve the mobility of your hips, knees, and/or ankles. Lacking mobility can lead to performing exercises incorrectly and eventually injury. You can only squat incorrectly so many times before something gets hurt. We all spend so much time lifting weights to build our muscles yet neglect keeping our muscles functioning optimally. A properly structured mobility program should include:
- Pre-Workout Dynamic Exercises/Stretches to Activate Muscles and Practice Movement Patterns
- Post-Workout Stretching and Soft Tissue Work
- Additional stretching and soft tissue work on off days or separate from training sessions.
Improving your mobility will allow you to perform exercises correctly and pain free and help prevent potential injuries. Future articles/videos will provide you with exercises and stretches you can incorporate into your program.
Supplementation is the least important of the four pillars. Your diet and training program will dictate your results. That said, using research-supported supplements can enhance your results. Unfortunately, there are a lot of supplements on the market that are not worth the cost or simply don’t work. You must educate yourself to make informed purchases. Look for supplements with published research showing them to be safe and beneficial. Here are my top six supplement recommendations.
Taking a protein supplement is not a must do, but having a convenient high-quality protein powder certainly makes getting your needed protein easier. Ideally you want to look for a low-fat/low-carb protein powder to supplement your diet.
While it is possible to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from your daily diet taking a multi-vitamin ensures that you are in fact meeting your needs. Think of a multi-vitamin as supplemental insurance for your vitamin and mineral intake.
Fish Oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which offer many overall health benefits in addition to aiding muscle growth and fat loss. You can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from your diet, from foods such as Salmon, but supplementation ensures you are getting adequate amounts.
Creatine supplementation can increase skeletal muscle phosphocreatine (PCr) levels, thereby increasing the capacity to resynthesize ATP and sustain high-intensity exercise performance. Creatine monohydrate has been shown to increase strength, lean mass, and improve recovery, along with a host of other benefits. Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and proven-effective form of creatine.
Citrulline Malate supplementation increase nitric oxide (NO) production and blood flow, delays fatigue, and increases performance. Recent research has shown that a single serving (8000mg) of Citrulline Malate taken pre-workout can increase repetitions performed on both upper and lower body exercises.
Beta-Alanine supplementation increases levels of Carnosine, which acts as a metabolic buffer to help maintain the acid-base balance in the presence of high free Hydrogen Ion (H+)/free radical concentrations. Beta-Alanine has been shown to increase strength, endurance, and lean mass.
To optimize your results, you must implement all four of the PR-BREAKER pillars:
- Control and monitor both your caloric and macronutrient intakes.
- Structure your weight training program based on (1) specificity, (2) progressive overload, and (3) adherence.
- Improve your mobility so you can perform exercises correctly and pain free and help prevent potential injuries.
- Use research-supported supplements to enhance your results.
Implementing these four pillars will lead to consistent, long-term progress and results.