3 Training Principles that Determine Your Gains

Cathe Friedrich training principles

Who doesn’t want to see results, preferably lots of results, from their strength-training efforts? Yet fitness gains require patience; you won’t see results overnight or even in a few weeks. Strength training requires discipline, and consistency to maximize the return you get on your training time.

Muscles grow and become stronger in response to consistent training in a way that challenges them. Unless you understand and follow certain principles, you won’t make the gains you expect or any gains at all. Let’s look at three of the most important principles of strength training, and how violating them can limit your gains.


Overload is a stressor placed upon the body’s systems, causing them to adapt and become stronger. Fitness involves pushing your body beyond its comfort zone. In response, your body adapts in a way that makes it more capable of meeting the added challenge.

Overload is one of the most basic principles of muscle gains. Overloading a muscle means placing a greater workload on a muscle than it’s accustomed to. The most common way is to increase the resistance or force you ask a muscle to work against by adding weight. Another way is to increase the number of repetitions or sets of an exercise you do.

These aren’t the only ways to apply overload. You can also change the tempo with which you do an exercise, adjust the rest period between sets, add more exercises, train more frequently, or change the exercises you do. So, there’s more than one way to increase the overload on a muscle during a training session.

You can also use more advanced techniques. For example, with strength training, you can do supersets. You won’t make progress if you work with weights that feel too “comfortable.” Some people get into a rut where they don’t challenge themselves with a weight that fatigues their muscles. Therefore, they don’t maximally recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, which limits strength gains. Without overload, change will be limited.


Another principle of strength training that relates to overload is that training is progressive. This means you increase the overload on a group of muscles over time. As your muscles adapt to the force or load you put on them, they need a higher workload to continue to make further strength or hypertrophy gains. Otherwise, strength and hypertrophy gains stall.

Most people need to add more overload after a few weeks or once a workout becomes less challenging. Not doing so will maintain your current strength and fitness level but won’t lead to new gains. However, you don’t want to progress too rapidly and add additional overload before your muscles are ready. If you do this, you may fatigue the muscle beyond its ability to recover and limit your gains. As you progress, it’s important to give your muscles adequate recovery time between training sessions.

Progression applies to any form of fitness training, including aerobic exercise. If you run or cycle, to continue to improve your aerobic capacity or perform better when you run or cycle, you must challenge yourself over time to run faster or cover a longer distance, depending on your goals. Otherwise, you’ll reach a plateau, and your gains will slow. Progression means increasing the challenge in a controlled manner.


Specificity means working out in a manner that pertains to your specific goal. If you’re trying to develop more power, focus on moving a weight or other resistance quickly through space. If your goal is to maximize strength, lift using a resistance heavy enough that you can only complete 4 or 5 reps before your muscles fatigue. With strength, moving the weight quickly isn’t important. What matters is that you maximize the weight you lift, even if you must lift it slowly. You won’t develop power by using a slow lifting tempo. If you’re trying to increase muscle size or build muscle endurance, lighten up on the weights and do more repetitions. The way you strength train should be specific to your goals.

Fitness gains are specific to the activity you do or the technique you use. Here’s another example. Long-distance running won’t maximize your speed as a cyclist. Cycling is different from running, and if you’re trying to improve your speed as a cyclist, the slower speeds you run during a long-distance won’t give you the strength and power capabilities you need to optimize your cycling speed.

You may get some improvement in your cycling speed because running made your legs a little stronger and more powerful, but the gains won’t be comparable to what you’ll get if you jump on a bike and cycle at a brisk clip. Don’t assume you can become better at one activity by doing another. The best approach is to do more of what you’re trying to become better at without overtraining. That’s what specificity is about.

Specificity is the foundation of strength and conditioning. It is impossible to train for any sport or skill if you don’t know specific movement patterns. The more you know about the muscles and the more closely controlled your training, the more likely you’ll adapt and improve.

‘The Bottom Line

Keep your focus on the fundamentals. If you apply these principles of fitness training, you’ll move toward your fitness goals and do it in a time-efficient manner. These are the basic principles coaches and fitness trainers use when designing workouts and getting athletes into top shape.

Keep a fitness journal too, so you can monitor your progress and tweak your approach to maximize your gains. In the absence of data, you can’t know whether you’re making progress or need to change your routine. Record the weight you’re using, the number of repetitions, and the exercises. If you aren’t noticing improvements in your performance, you may be violating one of these principles. Likely in this case, you’re not progressing your training to increase the overload on your muscles.

Give it time too! Gaining strength and muscle size requires patience and persistence. Keep at it! Good things take time.


  • “Strength training: overloading to increase muscle mass.” sportsperformancebulletin.com/endurance-training/strength-conditioning-and-flexibility/strength-training-overloading-increase-muscle-mass/.
  • Hortobágyi T, Devita P, Money J, Barrier J. Effects of standard and eccentric overload strength training in young women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jul;33(7):1206-12. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200107000-00020. PMID: 11445770.”Specificity Principle (Specificity of Exercise Training or ….” 29 Jun. 2018, strengthminded.com/specificity-principle-specificity-of-exercise-training-or-said/.

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4 Fitness Training Principles: Are You Following Them All?

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