Training discussions often turn into debates about which method or program is the best, and there are many programs out there. So deciding which program or method can generate progress can sometimes be a daunting task. Even if it isn’t that bad for you, figuring out how to apply it or figuring out whether there’s a better way can be a challenge even to seasoned coaches.

Whenever we evaluate programs to decide how good they are, we can always come back to the seven fundamental principles to help point us in the right direction. These aren’t the only principles and they also aren’t always applied equally. However, we can use them as a yardstick of sorts to measure programs. I didn’t invent these principles. They’re based in scientific observation collected over the last sixty or more years.

What I would like to do is go through each principle, discuss it, and show you some practical applications. If you think this is too elementary for you, you aren’t looking deep enough.

#1: Overload principle
Most powerlifters will be familiar with this one. If you want to improve your performance, you must overload past what you’ve already done. This means training stress gradually climbs over time. Greater volumes, intensities, and frequencies all will happen over the years in a
well-programmed training plan. If it’s done correctly, this should pose little problem to recovery because your recuperative systems will be strengthened as you develop.

The only time when recovery becomes excessively difficult is when either the body isn’t properly prepared for advanced training or the athlete is so advanced that his body can’t keep up with the training demands. The latter is actually a very rare case among powerlifters.

#2: Overcompensation principle
This principle states that if your body is stressed, it will recover to a higher state of fitness than it was previously at once given the chance to repair itself. This is how we go from benching 300 lbs to 400 lbs and so on. Over time, our bodies overcompensate in an attempt to
make training less “stressful.”

Let’s say your 1RM is 350 lbs. If you lift 90 percent of your max (315 lbs), your body sees that as stressful. So it increases your maximum capability to 355 lbs. Now 315 lbs is only 88 percent…less stressful than before. This principle goes hand in hand with the overload principle because at this point, you would need to increase the training load in order to continue making progress.

#3: Use/Disuse principle
If you’ve ever heard someone say, “Use it or lose it” then this is probably what they were talking about. It’s pretty simple yet also rather profound. This has the obvious implications that if you want to keep the size of the muscles you’ve worked hard to achieve, you’d better continue to train them. But it also applies to skills and strengths as well.

If you develop good squat technique, you’d better continue to use it or else it will fade away just like any other physical trait. If you put in time to develop superb jumping ability, you will lose that too if you stop jump training.

#4 Specificity principle
Again, a relatively simple concept. Your body will develop skills and abilities in a specific manner to the way in which you’re trained. What this means is if you want to be a better runner, run. Don’t bike. If you want to be a better lifter, lift. Don’t rely on aerobics. Pretty simple, right?

This applies to iron sports in a way that hits home for many guys. If you want to be a better deadlifter, deadlift. Don’t rely on squats or good mornings. Your body will develop the skills that you train it to develop, not the skills that you don’t train it to develop.

#5 SAID principle
SAID stands for specific adaptation to imposed demands. This is highly related to the specificity principle, though SAID focuses more on the physiological structures. That means that if you want to be more explosive, train explosively. This will lead to a host of cellular adaptations and modifications that will help you become more explosive. The same goes for aerobic endurance, maximum strength, and any other physical ability that can be trained.

#6 GAS principle
GAS stands for general adaptation syndrome. It is an application of Hans Seyle’s research on the stress response. He found that there are three stages in response to stress. The initial stage is the alarm stage where functional abilities decline for a brief period. This stage is followed by resistance, where the body resists the stressor. Then if the stressor persists, the body falls into exhaustion and in extreme circumstances death.

This applies to training in that when we stress our bodies (train), it must be followed by low stress periods to allow for recovery. If we don’t, we continue to push past “resistance” and into exhaustion.

#7 Individual differences
This principle states that each individual will respond somewhat differently to the training process. What is high volume to one person may be low volume to another and so on. This is a specialty of RTS—catering to the law of individual differences. Recognize these differences and
systematize a way to account for them and this principle has been optimized.

So how does your favorite program stack up? Give it an honest assessment. Has your program adhered to the specificity and SAID principles? Has it respected the GAS principle? If so, then you’re off to a good start. It is at this time that you could look to more advanced principles such as accommodation, laws of diminishing returns, and periodization. But those more advanced principles won’t have much of an effect if you don’t have your foundation in order.

These principles do need to be accounted for in the training process or everything is just left to chance. And in that case, chances are it will end up wrong. If the application of these principles seems a little too high-minded for you, ask some questions on the forum. After all, we’re trying to create better training methods and that hinges on our understanding of the training principles.