The four principles of training help you get the best out of the gym

One way to maximise your training results and ensure that you break through plateaus is to understand the general adaptation syndrome.

There are four principles of training: periodisation, specificity, overload, and overtraining. The results you want are related to your goals. You need to specifically train to reach those goals, using periodisation and overload, while avoiding overtraining. If it's that simple, why do so many people fail?

There's one more piece to the puzzle. If you want results, the body must adapt in the manner you want it to, but it can adapt in positive and not-so-positive ways. Here's why:

Prior to a workout, your body has a certain level of adaptation. After a workout when overload is achieved, the body actually goes into a “shock phase” for a period of time, and adaptation decreases. But, you must achieve overload in order to see gains.

However, as time progresses, the body adapts to stress, and enters what is called a super-compensation phase.

The timing of this is different for everyone, as some people recover quicker than others. So, you make your gains when you rest, not when you train. The whole idea of training is to simply place overload on the body, and then allow it to rest to see results.

If you train again too soon, your body would not have had enough time to recover, and your adaptation will decline. And soon, you have a classic case of overtraining. If you are able to train again during your super-compensation phase, you will see improvements.

If you were to not train again for a while, you will see another decline in adaptation from your original state. It's important to continue to place an overload on the body if you want to continue to see gains or at least train in a manner that will maintain your current level of adaptation. Further, make sure your programme specifically places an overload on the system you want to adapt.

For trained individuals, the super-compensation phase is relatively short, and there is a relatively small adaptation. For beginners, the opposite is true. This is why beginners see relatively big gains at the beginning of a programme, and less as time goes on.

A well-designed, periodised programme can keep you from hitting plateaus. Knowing the optimum time to rest between workouts for each individual can keep you seeing results. Often, this is found out through trial and error, and by keeping detailed training logs. To continue to place overload on the body, you have to change your workouts often, every four to six weeks for beginners and anywhere from two to four weeks for experienced lifters.

(The author is CSCS (NSCA), C.H.E.K. and expert trainer)