Deciding on what your goals are, is maybe the single most important part of a program. If you don't know where you're going, how will you know how to get there and if you've arrived? Different goals need different methods and protocols to achieve them. Are your goals: absolute strength, relative strength, explosiveness and power, jumping ability, muscle size, muscle endurance, cardio endurance, or joint stability? Some of these are prerequisites of the other but some are somewhat of a trade off at more elite levels. So, let's discuss a few of them.
Muscle Size Gain (Hypertrophy)
If your program is just to get really strong then there are going to be elements of everything in your program but muscle size and strength must be your main goals. First, let's discuss how to make a muscle bigger. For a muscle to get bigger there are a few things that must take place. The muscle cell must be activated and fatigued. The methods to do this are called the Repetition Method and the Submaximal Method. You're taking a weight that you can move 5-12 repetitions. With the Repetition Method the weight you choose should push you to failure within the repetition range of 5-12. The reason for going to failure is this, your body activates smaller muscle cells before larger ones. When you need more force or the smaller ones get fatigued it activates bigger and bigger muscle cells. These bigger cells produce more force but fatigue quicker. So, if you are not going to failure then those biggest muscle cells are not being activated or fatigued because they are only activated at the very end. This method however is strenuous and shouldn't be used much by less experienced people. The Sub-Maximal Method will be your method of choice. It is the same principle only you will stop just short of actual failure. For example, you might stop with 8 when you could have actually done 10, but not 16. It must still challenge you.
Absolute and Relative Strength
For muscle strength the most effective method is the Maximum Effort Method. This is not for a beginner and someone should have a few years of weight training experience prior to using this method. That is not to say you cannot get stronger using the Repetition Method and or Submaximal Effort Method alone, however once you have the experience, the most effective method, once again is the Maximum Effort Method. The Maximum Effort Method is when you lift the most weight possible for one repetition. This method is used once a week. Two things should be realized when using this method. First, you must switch exercises frequently (once a week preferably). The change needs to make the exercise different but still keeping it close enough to the main movement you want to train so that there is high transfer of the training effect. Second, this is a training max, not a competition max. What this means is this, during a competition your heart rate elevates and you feel adrenaline. This helps you lift more weight, however after competition you are worn out from the adrenaline. During training you should keep your heart rate normal and not psych yourself up. So the actual 1 repetition max, in training, turns out to be about 90% of what you can do in competition, which is where you want to be for strength training. But, since you aren't psyching yourself up to lift the weight there is less chance of suffering from neurological fatigue.
Explosive Power and Jumping Ability
Plyometrics are a great way help produce more force in a short amount of time which a necessary to be able to jump well. Try to perform plyometrics on high quality gym flooring that will help absorb the shock through the joints, limit slipping and provide a consistent flat surface which will limit the chance of turning an ankle etc on landing. There is an explosive strength deficit (ESD) between the maximum amount of force you can lift with no time constraints and a movement (i.e. jumping) which only allows a short time to generate force. The ESD for jumping is around 50% of maximum force without time constraints. "In principle, there are two ways to increase the force output in explosive motions- to increase maximal force without time constraints or decrease ESD. The first method brings good results at the beginning of sport preparation," (Science and Practice of Strength Training). However once achieving a good amount of muscular strength one must also work to lower ESD. An example of someone who does not do this is the very strong person in the gym but he can't jump very well. This is because there simply is not enough time to access all that strength but with plyometrics it will lower ESD and allow you to tap into more of that strength. Although absolute strength is a prerequisite to jumping ability, after that another prerequisite following it is speed strength. This is accomplished by using the Dynamic Effort Method. This method improves the rate of force development and explosive strength. In this method one uses a non-maximal load with the highest speed possible. Typically around 50% of maximum is used with many sets possibly 6 to 12 sets of 1 to 3 repetitions moving as fast as possible.
Local Muscular Endurance
Local muscular endurance is different than cardio endurance in that, it is specific to the muscles involved. Some good examples of this would be how many push-ups or sit-up you can do without stopping. If you need to raise endurance the type of training you will use depends on the difficulty of the task. If the task is greater than 25% of your maximum then strength training will still be beneficial. For instance, doing a push-up on the floor uses about 60% of your body weight, so if someone weighed 150 pounds, 60% of that is 90 pounds, so as long as their bench press is under 360 pounds then strength training can still be beneficial for strength and endurance. The strength training can be alternated with some endurance training to further increase muscular endurance. Now, if the task if less than 25% of maximum, then absolute strength does not play much of a role and one should focus more exclusively on endurance. The typical endurance training protocol for weight training is 15-30 repetitions, 2-3 sets per body part with 30 seconds or less of rest between sets.
When doing cardiovascular training different types of training will elicit different training effects. Here is a list of the different methods: Long Slow Distance Training (LSD), Interval Training, Pace/ Tempo Training, Repetition Training, and Fartlek Training.
Long Slow Distance Training of LSD Training is most likely the method that comes to mind when thinking of cardiovascular training. The protocol here is a steady state training of 20 minutes to several hours with a heart rate no higher than 80% of heart rate maximum. However, depending on the shape of the individual they might need to train at a heart rate even as low as only 30% of maximum. But for the athlete most likely they will train between 70-80% of maximum. The benefits of LSD training include: enhanced cardiovascular and thermoregulatory function, improved mitochondrial energy production and oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle, and increased utilization of fat as a fuel. All that to say your body gets more efficient at moving for longer periods of time. So the same intensity that you used before will seem easier.
Interval Training is when you have harder interval of time between three to five minutes, however they can be much shorter, followed by an easier interval of time of the same duration. Your interval day should not be longer than what you can maintain during LSD training. The benefits of this type of training include: an increased V.O2max (or how efficient your body uptakes oxygen) and an enhanced anaerobic metabolism. This type of training should not be used until a firm base of aerobic endurance training has been established.
Pace/ Tempo Training is performed at an intensity at or slightly higher than what you would do in a competition. The intensity corresponds to the lactate threshold; so it is often called aerobic/ anaerobic interval training. You may perform this type of training steady state (the same speed throughout), or intermittent. This type of training is done for about 20-30 minutes. "The primary objective for this type of training is to develop a sense of race pace and enhance the body systems' ability to sustain exercise at that pace. The benefits derived from this type of training include improved running economy and increased lactate threshold." (Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning) Lactate threshold is when your body is doing more than you can sustain aerobically so lactate starts to pour into the blood stream.
Repetition Training (REPS) is done usually very intense for 30 to 90 seconds. Your rest intervals will be five times as long as the "rep" or work interval. "The benefits of REP training include: improved running speed, enhance running economy, and an increased capacity for and tolerance of anaerobic metabolism. This type of training is also beneficial for the final kick or push of an aerobic endurance race." (Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning)
"Fartlek Training is a combination of several of the previously mentioned types of training. A sample Fartlek run involves easy running (70%) combined with either hill work or short, fast burst of running (85-90%) for short time periods. This type of training is likely to enhance V.O2max, increase the lactate threshold, and improve running economy and fuel utilization." (Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning)
Joint stability is very important in order to stay healthy and injury free. One of the ways to build a more stable joint is by building up all the muscles surrounding that joint. As a side note, disproportional strength or flexibility on one side of a joint leads to a less healthy, less stable joint. You must build up the muscles that stabilize a joint. If those muscles are weak you won't move well, causing undue stress on the joint. One great example is this, step up on a large stair or do a lunge. Did your knee move to the inside? If so, you have unstable knees. You must work the muscles of your outer hip in order to correct the problem. There are other example like the shoulder or back. All are important to take in consideration and fix any imbalances and or weaknesses in order to stay health and have stable joints.
I hope that this article helped you first, decide exactly what are your current goals, whether they be muscle endurance, cardio endurance, muscle size, explosive power or different types of strength. And second what methods are used to get there. Because you must know where you're going in order to start going in the right direction. And you must know the right methods if you ever wish to get to your goals.