When people hear the word scientific it naturally may make big words and complicated or systematic processes come to mind. While the terms scientific and complicated can coincide, they do not have to be synonymous. I say this, because as a fitness professional I often see complicated and systematic training programs touted and advertised as scientific. Don’t get me wrong, they can be, but if the purpose of them being complicated is to add credence to them being scientific in nature we are missing the point. Science is based on testing hypothesis and comparing outcomes of differing protocols. When it comes to strength training there are two ways it may be scientific science: 1. You can use concepts that are backed by tested and measured outcomes in your programming OR 2. You can carefully measure and assess progress yourself or others using the scientific method to test hypotheses. These can be applied together in areas where there seems to be variance and grey areas, but the majority of training should utilize the former as this will likely get your results faster as opposed to taking a long time to discover individual variances while supplementing the latter to discover individual varience.
The most universal principles in the area of strength training like specificity and progressive overload with progression of total work providing the most valid data across measures of strength, size, and power (Mcbride, et al., 2009) are not overly complicated, so why do we make everything else so, especially when various types of prioritization have consistently shown similar results (Schoenfeld, et al., 2016),(Grgic, Mikulic, Podnar, & Pedisic, 2017) ? Alexander Prilepin was a successful Olympic Weightlifting coach and he was able to summarize the majority of his training philosophy in a table that takes up less than a page (shown below). Don’t get me wrong it takes a good amount of experience and knowledge to be a great trainer, but if you need to make basic concepts seem complicated to convince people they need your services, maybe you should look at what it is you are providing to clients. I don’t sell a system, mystify training, or denounce any training that isn’t my own programming. What I sell is results, and I look at the body of scientific data to determine the most supported methods to get to a client’s results for their goals. That is what trainees want and that is what they will pay for. If you want to make the industry standard, then continue to use whatever touted method it is that takes clients a few months of preparation before they really start to make progress. It works, and there are people who that is the best approach to getting them active, especially if they have pre-existing health or musculo-skeletal conditions. However, if you want to be known as the trainer that is worth paying a premium amount to train with, I suggest using what is tested and works and making specific tweaks for a client’s particular wants and needs (I really like the phrasing of systematic customization) or become the best at a particular training niche. If it takes you 10 weeks to teach an average client to do a squat then maybe you aren’t worth charging a specialist rate.
Prilepin’s table as usually described. What happened to between 65 and 70 percent is a mystery to me, but the idea that the higher the intensity the lower the volume is pretty apparent.
The majority of a person’s results will come from consistency and progression no matter the program they are working on, so as a trainer it is often our place to track progress and remind people how far they have come, to show them where they can get, or to get clients with a very specific goal that other 20-10 percent change that just hitting the gym on their own just won’t get them. Trainers should also be a valuable resource for movement correction and applicable advice for making the things that clients know they should be doing more manageable. Even in states where you can’t give a client a specific diet, you should be knowledgeable enough to present lifestyle habits to help them in their current struggles and be able to present relevant information so they have the best tools to make their own choices. That means that even though you may or may not be able to give them diet advice for a particular condition you can present scientifically supported methods for improving body composition and managing calorie balance as this relates to fitness as much as to general health. This is the minimum in my opinion for a trainer to be able to make an honest living, but there are other skills for those that want to have specialties or seek out specific niche groups.
Out of simplicity here is my very basic general advice:
- Eat enough protein for your goals. Daily amounts at 0.80 grams per pound will be plenty for the bodies needs, while more may help with satiety and calorie restriction. Don’t worry if you go over a little bit. These numbers provide enough buffer above what studies say is enough protein, but more will not necessarily hurt unless it makes eating enough calories for your goals difficult or you have a medical condition that may limit what a safe protein intake is. Morton Et al (2018) found “Protein supplementation beyond a total daily protein intake of ~1.6 g/kg/day during RET provided no further benefit on gains in muscle mass or strength.” That comes to about 0.73g/lb for those unfamiliar with measuring in kg.
- Train for what your goals are and seek a trainer if you don’t know what that looks like. (I take remote clients if you are out of my area and self sufficient, I make the plan and follow-up on progress). (contact me here)
- If your goals are general, base your workouts around functional movements first as they will translate across many areas of life and fitness.
- Generally speaking, when your workout are intense volume should be low, and when workouts are high volume, they should be lower in intensity.
- Don’t slack on recovery. Your body adapts to the stimulus your workout provided during rest. This means sleep and dietary nutrient density are important if you want to get the best out of the work you do in the gym. Muscles recover quite quickly, but is effected by factors such as training status (Teixeira & Duarte, 2016), while tendons (Hope & Saxby, 2007) and ligaments (Woo, Abramowitch, Kilger, & Liang, 2006) take longer to heal (lighter weight work that does little stress to the tendons can be done often while heavy or explosive work requires more recovery between sessions and/or less total weekly volume).