So many new designer training programs have arisen in the past several years that it’s nearly impossible for the average lifter to determine what is best, and which they should be following. Every one of them is completely different but at the same time, exactly the same. What is meant by that? Well, some preach light weight, some heavy weight, some super sets, some straight sets, short rest/long rest, fast reps/slow reps, 3-a-week/6-a-week, 30 minute workouts/90 minute workouts, etc. etc. etc. Most however, are a hybrid of some or all of the aforementioned. That is, they walk you through a plan that changes as the workout progresses and evolves as time progresses. All these different plans are the same (all the good ones) in that they all possess three main characteristics. They all focus on training intensity, consistency, and progression of workouts. If these three principles are emphasized, the program will most certainly be effective. That is not to say that all the other details are not important, they are, but intensity, consistency, and progression are the steak, potatoes and vegetables of the meal and all the other details are the seasonings and sauces you put on them. So why are these three so important?
Intensity: Muscle growth is almost entirely due to stimulus in the form of muscle overload. That is, when you lift weight that is beyond your capacity, your muscles adapt by regenerating bigger and stronger as a response to their new requirements. As we get further along in our lifting, it becomes harder and harder to overload the muscles and subsequently stimulate further growth. This is in part a result of the muscles becoming accustomed to higher levels of stress and overload. The way to circumvent this is to push harder, or, to create a greater strain on the muscle. This can be accomplished in numerous ways. More weight, more reps, more sets, etc. The goal is to always be at the very peak level of your physical capabilities.
Consistency: The human body is constantly adapting to its circumstances and environment. From sweating when we get hot to sneezing when we get irritants in our nose to learning to ride a bicycle; all are adaptations to what the body and mind are exposed to. Further, train with weights every day and become stronger and more muscular. Stop training or train less, and lose the muscle, eventually. The body is efficient in that it will do the exact minimum it is required to do. The body does not want to carry extra muscle. It is a reaction out of necessity not unlike shaking when we are extremely cold. So in order to maintain and continue to grow muscle, it is necessary to constantly stimulate the body to do so. Rest periods are required for proper recovery and healing. However, it is essential that you not only train regularly, but train intensely regularly. Overloading the body constantly is required for continued muscle growth. Once we stop or break, our gains will immediately begin to disappear as an adaptation to less stimulation.
Progression: Not to be confused with intensity, progression is the constant advancement of your training. You can train intensely every day, but if you train with the same level of intensity (even is very high) every day, ultimately your body will adapt to it and gains will stall. Progression is all about variation and change to a workout program. As your body adapts to one training, you modify it to push to the next level. Either by altering training splits, rep count, rep speed, drop sets, or virtually anything to shock the body out of its rhythm.
If all three of these principles are employed fully, continued gains over the long term are assured. Do any two without the other two and you will get short term or minimal gains. It is important to be honest with yourself about exactly what these are, as everyone will have a different definition of what is intense, what is consistent and what is progressive. However, results will let you know if you are doing them or not. Hit a plateau in your gains and try upping one or all of these and you will assuredly break the plateau.