Young bodybuilder with barbell

Everyone with a fitness goal knows that they need to train and eat right. Even those who don’t want to get fit can benefit from fitness training, though perhaps not as much as the fitness enthusiast. Most people know these two facts.

However, they may not know that “how motivated” they are to start training is irrelevant in the face of not knowing what to do. Without a doubt, there are essential principles of fitness to consider before starting your fitness journey.

You simply can’t embark on this journey with no substantial knowledge in your head because, well, “just going all out” in the gym won’t really cut it.
In this article, you will learn the very fundamentals of fitness training and why they are important.
So without further ado, let’s get to it by first mentioning something very important.

How Can You Measure A Workout & Why Is That Important?

For the most part, you may feel like training is about going “hardcore” or following a specific training regimen that you found on the internet. And well, while some of those may be effective for specific goals, the truth comes when you actually LEARN what a workout is made up of and then apply that knowledge.

In that context, we can say that a workout is a kind of like a complex math equation. In a workout, you have different variables, and the different ratios of those variables will produce different end results. Any workout you do in the gym can be measured by 3 main parameters (variables):

  • Intensity
  • Volume
  • Density

Let’s break this down further, shall we? Intensity is the variable that measures how close you are to your maximum strength capabilities – The closer you are, the higher the intensity. In simple words, the more your working weight increases, the higher the intensity.

A hundred percent intensity, in that case, would be considered the maximum weight you can lift for one single repetition until failure (i.e. you do one rep on the bench press with 100 kg and fail to do a second repetition, unassisted – this is 100% intensity for you, for that exercise).

Volume, on the other hand, refers to the total amount of weight lifted (total amount of work completed) and is calculated using the following formula:

Weight * Sets * Reps = Volume

For instance, that same 1-rep set with 100 kg that we mentioned above would yield a volume of 100 kg.
100 kg * 1 set * 1 rep = 100 kg.Oppositely, if the set consisted of 10 reps, it would yield a volume of 1000 kg (100 kg * 1 set * 10 reps = 100 kg), and if you did 2 sets like this, they’d yield a total volume of 2000 kg, etc., etc.

Density is the third key component of your workout, which measures the volume, referred to as total completion time, including rests.The formula to calculate density is: Volume / Total completion time = Density (Measured in kg/min).

Sounds complicated? Let’s take the example we gave above – 2 sets of 10 reps with 100 kg that yield a volume of 2000 kg. If you do these 2 sets for a total of 4 minutes, including rests, that’d be a density of 500 kg/min.That is because 2000 kg / 4 minutes = 500 kg/min

Why You Need To Know This

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The reason why this is important is that these variables of a workout are your FRAMEWORK!
And on top of that, all 3 of them are correlated and dictate your performance and progress.
Think of it this way:

Intensity measures your effort – You have to train at a challenging intensity to create sufficient muscle/strength development stimulus. Volume measures the total amount of work you’ve done. You have to do a certain amount of volume, at a certain level of intensity, in order to create a continuous stimulus for sufficient progress.

In a sense, density shows how good your rests are, in a sense – Because intensity is strenuous, it requires good rest between sets. So, basically, if you go too heavy (too intense), you won’t be able to do as many reps, thus not reaching effective volume.

If you don’t rest enough, you will also be unable to sustain optimal performance set to set, thus robbing yourself of adequate volume and intensity. Optimal training intensity for maximum strength gains, forms at 80-100%, or in other words, doing 1 to 5 repetitions, close or until failure.

Optimal training intensity for maximum bulk muscle gains forms at 65-80%, or in other words, doing 6 to 15 repetitions, close or until failure. Recommended training volume for both strength and muscle gains starts at 4-5 sets per muscle group, per week, for beginners, and grows to 15-20+ sets, as you advance in your training.

The recommended rest times between sets are:

4-5+ minutes if you train at the 1-5 rep range
Up to 3 minutes if you train at the 6+ rep range

These rest times will make it far more likely for you to perform at your best from set to set, thus realizing the highest quality training volume.

Compound Over Isolated!

Body building woman doing compound movement

Alright, you now know that your workouts have to be fairly intense. You also know that such intense sets would demand a solid rest in-between sets and that you have to do more than just 1-2 sets to create sufficient stimulus for progress.

The next important thing in your workout is exercise selection. Many trainees go to the gym with the mindset of ‘developing a certain muscle group’ (i.e., “I want big arms,” “I want nice abs,” etc.)Following these ideas, the same trainees go on to choose isolated exercises for the desired muscle group…

But think about it… If intensity matters (lifting heavier is a great stimulus), and if one muscle won’t lift nearly as much as a couple of muscles working in synergy… Does that then make isolated movements inferior?
Well, to a certain extent – Yes!

Compound exercises involve the use of multiple muscle groups, thus allowing you to lift heavier weights while providing a greater stimulus to your muscles. These are the exercises that you must put at the very core of your training regimen.

So, which are the most crucial compound exercises, you may ask? Good question! Here are our top 15

  • Flat barbell bench press
  • Incline barbell bench press
  • Flat dumbbell bench press
  • Incline dumbbell bench press
  • Overhead barbell press
  • Overhead dumbbell press
  • Back barbell squats
  • Front barbell squats
  • Hack squats
  • Barbell deadlifts (in all variations)
  • Pull-ups
  • Parallel bar dips
  • Chin-ups
  • Hip thrusts
  • Barbell good mornings

Focus on these exercises, follow the training principles & methods we’ll talk about below, and WATCH YOURSELF PROGRESS AND FEEL BETTER!

Training Principles & Methods

Health Score Measurement Fitness

Once you understand the training variables and why compound exercises are important, it is then time to move on to the more actionable stuff – The fundamental training principles to follow and methods to apply through your training regimen.

Let’s start with the most important one!

Progressive Overload

You gain strength, muscle and look better when training because the body gets exposed to new, previously unknown stress. When that happens, it’s kinda like the body thinks, “Alright, that was tough, I better be ready for more than that next time!”

In turn, the body increases the strength, endurance & overall performance capacity of the trained muscle groups in preparation for more. This increased capacity is also referred to as “supercompensation.”
For super-compensation (gains) to occur over time, you must follow the fundamental principle we refer to as ‘progressive overload’.

This basic principle implies that your body should be exposed to more and new tension as your training progresses. To realize the principle of progressive overload, you can go a couple of routes:

  • Increase the weight you use
  • Increase the number of repetitions
  • Increase the number of sets
  • Increase training frequency
  • Increase the time under tension
  • Decrease the rest time between sets

TRY THIS: On your compound movements, pick a weight and aim to complete a total of 32 repetitions in 4 working sets. Once you reach that number of repetitions, increase the weight by 2-5%. For instance, if you manage to do 4 sets of 8 repetitions (total of 32 reps) with 100 kg on the bench press, increase the weight to 102.5-105 kg and aim to reach 4×8 with that weight over the next weeks/months, before you increase again.

PRO-TIP: When increasing the working weight, also increase the rest times between sets!

Time Under Tension

You got the training intensity, numbers of sets, and reps down. You also got the exercise selection down.
The next step is to understand the fourth hidden variable in your workouts – Time under tension!

Many people may consider intensity to be the most important variable, thus focusing on lifting as heavy as possible. In the quest to lift as heavy as possible, trainees may forget that how you lift is even more important.

Suppose you rob your muscles of mechanical tension for the sake of lifting heavy. In that case, that won’t really be more effective because what is gained in heavier weight lifted is lost with the lack of mechanical tension (i.e., jerking the weight, rather than controlling it).

In your training sessions, focus on a fairly slow exercise execution, combined with explosive work as well.
Let us further elaborate. Each and every repetition that you do consists of two portions:

The concentric portion – This is when you apply muscular strength and the muscle contracts (i.e. pulling yourself up when doing a pull-up)

The eccentric portion – This is when you go down after the contraction and don’t apply muscular strength (i.e. coming down from a pull-up)

The mechanical tension created on BOTH portions of the movement represents a training stimulus that provides the necessary tension to develop muscle and strength gains. So Here’s A Pro-Tip:

Go slowly on the eccentric portion, then explosively on the concentric portion. Doing this will help you maximize each repetition!

Setting Realistic Goals

Last but not least, you have to set goals with your training! Setting fitness goals is a fundamental part of ANY fitness training and nutrition plan. As a matter of fact, it comes way before understanding the training variables or even selecting the right exercises.

Though crucial, however, it’s important to set REALISTIC fitness goals that match your abilities. If you want to lose weight, but find dieting difficult, for example, then it would be better to focus on establishing good habits. (i.e., becoming more active, choosing the right foods, exercising frequently, etc.)

You should also consider what type of time commitment (in terms of both length and frequency) will work best for you- this could make the difference between sticking with your fitness plan or quitting after a few weeks because it was too hard!

Finally, remember that there are no good or bad types of exercise: if something feels good and makes you happy, do more of it! Setting realistic and achievable fitness goals will help you to create a fitness plan that you can stick to for the long run.

Whatever you choose to do, whether it is about training or eating, you must make sure that you can adhere to it – If something feels like torture, don’t do it!

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