Wednesday, 23 April 2014

How to Train for Multiple Goals

How do your balance training
for multiple goals?
If you are like most people, you are not looking to set a world record in one particular event. Rather than being a specialist, you are looking to pursue a few different goals in your quest for a well-rounded physique and/or balanced performance. If I asked you about your goals, you might say things like: "I want to lose some fat, build some muscle, get stronger and being in decent shape." Or, perhaps you are a team-sport athlete who needs a balance of different performance qualities such as speed, power, strength and conditioning. While the idea of being a well-rounded athlete or fitness enthusiast is commendable and often necessary, most people go about pursing multiple goals in the wrong way and end up spinning their wheels. Here is how you can successfully train for multiple goals.

The wrong way to pursue multiple goals
When pursuing multiple goals, most people just throw a bunch of different stuff into the same program and create a big, sloppy mess. For example, they find a vertical jump program, then they add an arm specialization blitz, try the Soviet Squat cycle, start doing some metabolic circuits for fast fat loss, attempt some of the body-weight calisthenics that they saw on YouTube (because it looks soooo cool) all while training to run their first marathon. A bit of a stretch I know, but you get the idea. Trying to throw a bunch of different things into one program leaves you with the following two problems: 

Problem # 1: Specificity
The first problem with the "all at once" approach has to do with the fundamental training principle known as  specificity. The idea behind this principle is that the body adapts the way you train it. The type of stress = type of change. If you throw a bunch of different stresses at the body, how is it supposed to know what to adapt to?

Problem # 2: You are a human being 
As a human being you have a limited amount of time and energy. You can only pursue so much before it becomes too much and you run out of training time or the ability to recover from that training.

Therefore, you need a better approach...

How to Effectively Address and Train for Multiple Goals
Prioritize your goals
To start, make a list of all the goals you would like to achieve. Then, after you have made this list, prioritize these goals in order of importance - right now. Also, because you can only do so much, really try to separate the "must haves" from the "it would be nice ifs" goals.

Identify complimentary goals and conflicting goals.
Sometimes different goals will nicely compliment other goals. For example, trying to get stronger and improving power are complimentary goals. Hint: complimentary goals tend to fall into the same energy system (e.g. the ATP-CP system is used for strength, speed and power). However, trying to improve your vertical jump and training for the Boston marathon are conflicting goals. Also, note that some goals such as muscle gain are difficult to achieve while pursuing other goals (some time spent getting stronger would be an exception).

Decide the balance you need
For those few individuals who truly want to be the best in the world at something, they need to recognize that they will stink at almost everything else. However, for most people who need to pursue multiple training goals (e.g. team sport athlete or military personal) it is really about finding the right balance of power, strength and conditioning. When you are trying to have this balance of goals, remember that you will not be elite at any of them, but the correct combination of different fitness/performance qualities is what you need to get you to your ultimate goal.

Employ effective training strategies to address your multiple goals
  • Get stronger: Strength can be a limiter to almost any goal. Most people can get stronger without a huge amount of time or energy and doing so will help you get to your other goals. Being stronger makes any task easier. For more info on this, check out a previous post HERE. Note: if getting really strong is your number one goal, you again will a have to let go of other goals to pursue it.
  • Have one main focus per training block: For each block of training (e.g. 3-6 weeks), have one main focus. A great illustration I heard (and I'm sorry I cannot remember where I heard this) is to think of a stove with 3 simmer burners and one power burner. When you want to put one pot onto the power burner, you have to move the others to the simmer burners. While you focus on one particular goal at a time, you can do a small amount of maintenance training for a few other things. However, just like the stove, you still have a limit, so do not try to have too much stuff going at any one time.
  • Consider block periodization: to pick up on the previous point, with block periodization, you could flip back and forth between different training focuses. For example, in one block you could do higher reps for hypertrophy or endurance and in the second block you could do lower reps for strength. 
  • A have logical sequence to different fitness/performance qualities: If you are an athlete, you might sequence different qualities in the following order: early off-season: fat loss/muscle gain, main off-season: strength, late off-season: power, pre-season: conditioning. Each phase gets a singular focus while things worked on in earlier phases (e.g. strength, muscle mass) are given enough focus to maintain as you move into the later phases (e.g. power, conditioning). The non-athlete who wants to look and feel like an athlete could go in the following sequence: fat loss, strength, lean muscle and possibly speed & power (or just go back to strength or fat loss).
  • Do intervals: for those of you needing to really work on your conditioning, interval training is a great way to do it. High intensity interval training is a time-efficient, effective way to get in great shape with less interference to strength, power and lean muscle than traditional long, slow aerobic training. 
  • Have a logical sequence in your training sessions: if you need to train multiple qualities together (and again you are being careful to give one top priority), then go in the following order: 1) speed, strength or power work, 2) hypertrophy or higher rep work and 3) conditioning.
  • Try non-linear periodization: With non-linear periodization, you train multiple fitness/performance qualities within the same week. For example, you could create a different full-body program for the following goals: power, strength, hypertrophy and light recovery. Then, you could rotate between the different days throughout the week. Also, in keeping with the theme of one major focus per block, in a given block of training, you could hit the most important quality 2-3 times a week while hitting the others 1 time per week.  
The bottom line
Despite what the commercials tell say, you can't have it all. However with these strategies, you can effectively address a few different goals to find the best balance for you. Remember that success with training as with anything in life depends on saying "no" to the good so you can say "yes" to the best. 

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