by John Sandberg
I have trained everyone from elite athletes at the professional and national levels, to middle school athletes, busy moms, business executives, grandmas, grandpas and everyone in between. Over the years there are several characteristics that continuously appear in those individuals who reap the greatest benefits from their training. I will share with you my top 4.
The single biggest factor that distinguishes those who get results from their training and those who don’t, is consistency. That’s right boys and girls. I know it’s not earth shattering, but to get results you must show up. This seems intuitive, but you would be surprised how many people ask why they aren’t getting results that miss workouts on a regular basis. If you want to be good at anything you have to punch the clock day in and day out.
Number two goes hand in hand with consistency. It’s training frequency. Again this may seem obvious, but those who show up regularly and the most often get the greatest results from their training. Optimal training frequency is very individual and depends on a host of factors such as training age, activity and stress outside of the gym. That being said, I and other very successful coaches have made several observations with regards to training frequency. The majority of people would achieve greater results from increased frequency. In fact, research shows that if weight loss is your goal a minimum of 5 hours a week may be necessary (2). In my experience the minimal optimal strength training frequency for the majority of people is 4 times a week. This is true regardless of whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, strength, power or some combination of these qualities. This is especially true for the athletic population, I have trained multiple athletes from high school to college then on to the professional ranks, none of them trained less than 4 times a week consistently in the off-season and at least 2 times a week in- season. I have had clients get results from training 2 times a week when they are excellent on the other success factors outlined in this article, but results exponentially improve when a client goes from 2 to 3 and even more when they train 4 times a week.
The third factor of success I have observed from those who get the greatest results from their training is intensity and effort. I know this again, seems self evident, but so many individuals just don’t truly comprehend what it means to exert themselves. When I talk about intensity I am referring to the empirically accepted definition for this term. Which, quantitatively, is the percentage of your maximum capacity. Intensity in this context should be varied in an intelligent manner over time, depending on a variety of factors. But outside of this definition, I include the more subjective quality of effort. There is a principle that is vital to any training, it’s progressive overload. You have to actually place your body’s systems under greater stress than what it’s accustomed to because of an adaptation. Stress is not bad, so long as it does not exceed the body’s ability to adapt to it. Many people that aren’t getting the results they want are simply not working hard enough. If you want optimal progress, get uncomfortable and do so consistently with an optimal frequency.
Now that I have told you to work very hard, often and consistently I am going to tell you to recover. To get optimal progress you need to stress yourself hard then recover from it. Another thing that separates those who get the greatest results is what they do outside of the training facility. This is a multi faceted topic that books have been written on. In other articles I will go more in depth to this subject, but let’s briefly touch on a few important areas of recovery.
- Nutrition: As the saying goes, “you can’t out train a bad diet.” Your body can’t recover from training with inadequate nutrition. If you want to improve body composition then high quality nutrition is a must. I have never seen anyone lose a significant amount of body fat or gain a significant amount of muscle mass that did not make nutrition a top priority. Quality nutrition is also vital to health. You can’t train hard if you’re not healthy.
- Sleep: Sleep is necessary for the recovery of your brain, muscles and immune system. Less than 6 hours of sleep may increase inflammation and insulin resistance, impairing your ability to tolerate carbohydrates (1,3). Sleep deprivation has also been shown to increase appetite and sugar cravings the following day (1,3). All things unconducive to getting the results you want.
- Mobility and soft tissue work: Again, those clients who make this a priority tend to recover better and get better results. Adequate mobility and tissue quality allows you to train through a full range of motion without compensation. This is indispensable to staying injury free.
- Stress management: This is an often overlooked area of recovery. You have to make deliberate effort to manage stress. Just as you must apply consistent stress for results you must also make a consistent effort to relax, methods such as meditation can be very helpful to aid this.
There you have it, the top 4 steps to getting the most out of your training. We will look more in depth into the areas mentioned for recovery in the future. This is not an exhaustive list, but incorporating these principles into your efforts will guarantee you progress towards your health and fitness goals.
(1) Copinschi G, Leproult R, Spiegel K., The important role of sleep in metabolism; Front Horm Res. 2014;42:59-72. doi: 10.1159/000358858
(2) Med. Sci. Sports and Exercise 2009 Feb. 41(2) 459-471. ACSM Position stand on Physical Activity for weight loss
(3) Sirimon Reutrakul and Eve Van Cauter, Interactions between sleep, circadian function, and glucose metabolism: implications for risk and severity of diabetes, annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1311, The Year in Diabetes and Obesity pages 151–173, April 2014