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Building the Pragmatic Workout
Program Part II

By University of Pennsylvania’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Rob Wagner

This article was taken from Eclipse's magazine, BodyTalk. Click here if you would like a free copy.

In the last issue of Bodytalk, you were introduced to a new approach in weight training program design. It is called the Pragmatic Workout Program (PWP). Part I of the article provided a scheme for developing a goal setting program that would help guide you in developing the program plan. This goal-setting plan is the foundation of the PWP or in a travel sense our map. As I start to introduce the various components of this program you will better understand why the program is so practical. The first thing that is of importance is that there is a lot of flexibility within the guidelines of the PWP layout. As long as you follow your goals and stay within these guidelines you will have success. In this article, I will address our next step, which will be the choice of a weight training program philosophy for the PWP. As in the first article the planning process for the PWP will be consistent with the idea of planning a trip. The map of the PWP is similar to any other map you may use. It is a tool that will help direct you to a destination, so as we go through this process keep your map handy. Keep in mind as long as you have a map it is hard to get lost. The type of weight training program philosophy you will follow will serve as the vehicle to get you to your goal. Assuming that you have read Part I and laid out your goals we can start to develop plans for travel or more specifically your workout.

Lets look specifically at the different philosophies of weight training. Weight training serves many purposes in an individual’s physical development and it can be utilized as part of a variety of fitness or training program approaches. When you look at weight training itself there are three primary philosophies or focuses for its use. Look at each of these focuses as possible vehicles of travel to get you to your destination. The first philosophy is the development of hypertrophy or the increase in your muscle cross sectional area or size. In initial weight training sessions strength increases are due to enhanced recruitment patterns and neural input to the muscles. Hypertrophy occurs in response to weight training after roughly 16 effective training sessions. From this point it will continue if the intensity levels are appropriate enough to continue forcing this adaptation. Keep in mind for a hypertrophy program to be most effective; it must be partnered with the appropriate nutritional program, supplement usage and in extreme situations pharmacological assistance. The partnering of these entities and the lifting program will ensure that the appropriate calorie base and nutrients are available to allow the individual to continue growth at an optimal rate. This philosophy is a more common goal for male weight trainers. The typical assumption is that this is the approach tailored specifically for bodybuilders. However, a hypertrophy program can serve several other populations very effectively. The first that comes to mind are athletes that need to gain weight for a specific position in a sport such as a football lineman. Another population that this would be appropriate is folks that are just drastically underweight such as someone recovering from an illness. Hypertrophy programs require a lot of attention outside of the lifting aspect to make them work. This approach can be a high maintenance type vehicle that requires not only significant maintenance but also requires more involved means of measurement (bodypart measurements and bodyfat calculation) in order to provide feedback. Hypertrophy will occur if you don’t partner these aspects together but it will occur at a much smaller level and if the stimulus (workout protocol) is not effective it will cease. Hypertrophy programs will develop strength but not efficiently since the intensities used in this type of training will need to stay in a more medium (65%-80% one repetition maximum {1RM}) intensity range in order to allow the appropriate reps to be performed. Typically these rep ranges can run from six reps and upward to sets of 20 or more in one set. It will also develop endurance qualities especially when the higher end repetition schemes are used. This approach is not a bad choice but you must be prepared to deal with the supplement and nutritional needs in order for it to be successful.

The second type of focus that weight training can be used is to train endurance. While this is not the most effective way to develop aerobic type endurance it can be applied in this matter. Typically the use of weights for endurance lends itself more towards the development of anaerobic endurance. This is also called muscular endurance (ME). There are a variety of muscular endurance approaches including power endurance (for activities less than 30 secs) short duration ME (30sec - 2 min), medium duration ME (2-10 min) and long duration ME (10 min and longer). Also consider that these endurance effects are focused more on the muscles involved and not necessarily on the body’s ability to utilize more oxygen. This is due to the higher force levels that are typically required to move weights if the intensity is above 30% of your 1RM for that lift. The physiological changes that will occur in the body such as the enzyme (chemical catalysts) production and increased capilarization (small blood vessel branching) will directly affect endurance. Some of these same endurance type qualities can be developed in hypertrophy weight training programs, especially those that utilize rep ranges of eight reps and above. Strength will also be developed in this type of program but will be limited due to the use of lower intensity (60% and under of 1 RM) weights. Examples of training in this philosophy include circuit training approaches and high repetition training where sets may include repetitions beyond 100 repetitions. This type of philosophy can be seen as a fuel-efficient type vehicle. What you gain in efficiency you lose in comfort. Endurance training with weights can be grueling but it will increase anaerobic type endurance as a benefit.

The final primary focus or philosophy for weight training is the development of strength or power. This approach can be applied to a variety of populations as well. The elderly, athletes and most importantly those that wish to tone can use it. Ladies, I didn’t want to leave you out when I mentioned the men earlier. From my experience the toners of the world (typically female weight trainers) follow a hypertrophy approach without the nutritional and supplement support. That 3x10-12 rep workout you are doing is like driving the high maintenance vehicle without providing the critical care (in terms of calories and supplements) to make it run efficiently. First, understand that seeing cuts or striation in your muscles is not a matter of tone, it is a matter of leanness or body fat loss. Malnourished people can look extremely defined and toned, but this is obviously not a result of weight training. It is basically from poor nutrition or a lack of calories and hence an extreme loss of body fat occurs. The other problem is that the development of tone is not just developed by training with weights. Any lifting program will affect tone, as will sprint or jumping programs. Tone is the by-product of the nervous system’s input on the muscle’s state of readiness, which is directly related to the stresses or stimulus (training or daily activity) that are placed upon the muscles. There really is no one specific workout that will increase tone, all of them will. The other difficult issue is how do you measure tone? Are your muscles more tone today than they were a month ago? How would you know? There is a way to test but do you know how to practice myotonometry?

The reason I am an advocate for the strength and power training approach is that it can improve a variety of life factors and is more goal specific. The other two programs depend on more complicated means of feedback to allow the user to experience achievement. Strength training will give direct feedback every time you train. While both of the other philosophies will develop strength, it will be developed less efficiently since it is not the primary objective of those philosophies. Strength training in its own sense will develop hypertrophy and endurance in the same manner as the hypertrophy and endurance approaches develop strength. This is a positive thing considering those that want to “tone” may not want the added size. In the same light those that want to get in better shape can experience some base level endurance from this training philosophy. As I mentioned, strength training provides immediate feedback based upon the weight you are moving. I feel that strength training takes the best from the high maintenance model and from the high mileage model and puts them into a model that gets good mileag,e but still provides the comfort that you want. My goal in promoting the strength training type program is two fold. First, strength training gives you a functional vehicle or philosophy that you can follow. Secondly, pursuing a strength program will ensure that you are indeed making gains and will have tangible evidence that you are having success. This is key in keeping you motivated throughout the program and getting you to your destination.

Now there are a variety of strengths that can be developed. The initial focus is on using movements that mimic our daily activities and these are typically created by dynamic muscle contractions. More specifically these dynamic contractions are called auxotonic contractions. These are muscle contractions during which there are changes in muscle tension as the weight or object is lifted through a range of motion. This occurs when you both raise your body parts or shorten the muscles and when you lower your body parts or lengthen the muscles. For example, when you lift a can of paint onto a shelf from the floor, the muscles in the shoulder experience varying tensions or forces as the paint moves above your head. You may notice this by recalling that at some point the can felt effortless while at others it seemed to get heavy even though its weight was consistent the whole time. By following this approach we will ensure that our strength development will carry over into our daily or athletic pursuits. The movements that we perform in these arenas can be fast or slow depending on the object we are moving or how we are moving our bodies. The key is that the majority of movements we make during our activities fall into this category of dynamic contractions.

This does not mean you are limited to training only this type of strength. Remember, I stated that there was a significant amount of flexibility in the PWP. There is a large variety of the types of strength that can be developed in a strength-training program. These may include other dynamic strengths, maximal strength, eccentric (lengthening) only or concentric (shortening) only contractions, speed strength (focus on moving lower weight objects faster), strength speed (moving heavy weights quickly) as well as any combination of these. It can also include static contractions where you would hold your body or object in the same position for 3-6 seconds. These are known as isometric (static) contractions and they can occur in similar situations as the dynamic, such as the eccentric (hold in lowering position) or concentric (hold in raising position) isometric contractions.

The presentation of these three philosophies of weight training will hopefully help shed light on the choices available to you in the development of the PWP. The PWP will work using any of the three types of weight training philosophies mentioned. In the following articles I will focus on the strength training philosophy and workout components that will be used in it. The attention to the strength-training vehicle is due to its immediate feedback component and its role in motivation. The other benefit that comes with this training is that you will receive some of the same effects produced by the other two philosophies. The strength training philosophy also has an endless variety of approaches in which it can be used. These benefits, coupled with the variety of populations that can benefit from this training, keeps stride with the PWP’s practical approach. So as we continue our trip on the development of the PWP consider the approach you wish to use and be certain that it fits your goals.

Part III

For further reading on this topic:
Bompa, T.O. (1999). Periodization training for sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Kraemer, W.J., Fleck, S.J., & Evans, W.J., (1996) Strength and power training: physiological mechanisms of adaptation. Exercise and sport science reviews 24, 363-398.
Kurz, T. (2001). Science of sport training: How to control training for peak performance. Island Pond, VT: Stadion.
Siff, M.C. (2000). Supertraining. Denver CO: Supertraining Institute.

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