Strength: General Principles



The perfect conditioning program for strength, muscular conditioning, a fantastic physique and awesome health….. is there such a thing as a universal program that anyone can follow? NO!

Straight up, there are so many intertwined factors that go into one’s conditioning program, that if a few key elements were missing, you would fall short of your goal for a better body. What factors are we talking about?

  • Proper Workout Structure
  • Adequate Calories and Micronutrients
  • Adequate Protein to Achieve Hypertrophy
  • Effective Stimulus to Elicit the Changes you Want to See
  • Rest and Recovery Techniques

Decades ago, I learned from the Father of Periodization, Theory and Methodology of Training Master, Tudor Bompa.  I invested a year in his course, challenging him every step of the way, developing programs, testing them out on myself, and of course on everyone I could find that was willing to be a Guinea Pig at my workplace as a fitness trainer at Hillcrest Community Centre’s Weight Training Facility as well as in the position of Head Trainer at York University’s state of the art Weight Room. I volunteered my body in numerous exercise physiology lab experiments and questioned Dr. Cafarelli every chance I could about the science of muscular development.  I studied Fred Hatfield and Charles Poliquin’s work like a madman, examined work from Arthur Jones, the father of Nautilus Equipment, read every scientific scholarly article I could find in the library, and of course followed Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, former Mr. Olympia’s, looking for answers.  I took my University Degree to the fullest in all of the areas pertaining to bodybuilding, searching for answers.  A quarter of a century later, I think I’ve forgotten more than most have learned and realized I’m still a student of the science.  Why do I tell you all of this? Hopefully to save you some time, so that you can get on to achieving results versus wasting years of your valuable time

With that said, I want to share with you some key principles that apply to everyone, in layman’s terms. Anything you question, you are free to contact me, and I will debate you  to the fullest. (Smiles)

Principle 1: Proper Workout Structure


You need to work each bodypart you have an intention to build at least TWO times in a week, either directly or indirectly.

When you properly train chest, for example, you create an environment where you break down your muscle fibres, creating tiny micro-tears.  Your body responds to the stimulus by repairing itself so that, the next time its exposed to one of your training onslaughts, you  are better able to handle the training, performing better than the previous time.  However, leave training too long and your body will go right back to it previous state.

You must provide a stimulus again, prior to it returning back to its original state. Not too soon and not too late. 

How intense that stimulus is, how many sets are required, how much volume, etc varies for each individual.  What does not change is the need for CONSISTENT MUSCLE STIMULATION to meet the windows necessary for hypertrophy to occur.

Structuring your training to maximize muscular conditioning is VITAL.

Principle 2: Proper Calories & Nutrients


If you are lacking the proper calories and nutrients, in essence food to fuel growth, you are DEAD IN THE WATER, RESULTS WISE.  It’s that simple. 

Too often I’ve seen people waste away on low calorie diets, with the intent to get “shredded”, destroying their body by doing excess cardio with inadequate calories.  They looked far better when they were 6-8 weeks prior to their contest than when they were 1 week out from competition.

You must feed your muscles to shape them. You want a nice full muscular body, pushing the skin out so that you achieve a great tight, toned appearance? Then get the calories you REQUIRE.  Too little and you break down your body, leading to atrophy and injury. Too many calories and you get pudgy and gain fat.  Along the same lines, too few nutrients and your body will rebel and later revolt against increasing efforts to improve your physique.

Principle 3: Adequate Protein


Protein is the basic building block of your body, very much responsible for cellular repair as well as protein synthesis.  Miss the mark on protein and you will fail to build.

How much protein do you need?

That depends on a lot of factors:

  •  How old are you?
  • How hard do you train?
  • How frequently do you train?
  • What’s your body composition?
  • What are your goals?
  • What is your macronutrient profile?

For example, a person who eats a low carb diet and just enough calories to create an anabolic environment will need more protein than one who has a higher carb profile, whereby the extra carbs have a protein sparing effect.  A person training for long durations, 60-75 minutes per day of strenuous exercise may require significantly more protein, especially if their job is demanding as well.

So what’s the answer? 

The truth is, protein needs vary depending on the individual, hence the reason why cookie cutter diets do not work.  Under the eye of a trained professional who can help determine your needs after a through analysis of your situation, you can move forward confidently.  Until then, its hit and miss, and the consequences could be years of no progress.

As a general rule, I like to have a person eat

0.8-1.5 grams of protein  x their Lean Muscle Mass,

again depending on their UNIQUE GOALS and CIRCUMSTANCES.

Principle 4: Stimulate the Muscles


You are not going to get a suntan in November sun at 4pm in the afternoon in Toronto.  The stimulus is too weak to create the required pigmentation of the skin.  Tanning at 12 noon on an extremely hot day for an hour in the sun in July is going to create the exact opposite effect.  You will burn.

If you want to condition your body, you must provide the proper stimulus. Generally, what’s the most important rep in a set of bicep curls, rep 1? 2? 8? 10? The answer is 11 or 12.

You must go above and beyond what your body can normally handle, stimulus wise, in order for adaptation to occur. 

How many sets and reps depends on the individual once again.  Certain muscle fibres respond better to higher reps.  Some respond better to lower reps.  The best way to determine how many reps you may need for a particular bodypart would be to get a muscle biopsy to determine what types of muscle fibres are predominant in that muscle.  Ok, you are not willing to do that? Neither am I.  A trained professional can approximate pretty closely through observation and a bit of time testing you in a gym setting.

Along the same lines, another key point is time under tension.  You must put your muscle through continuous tension for a certain duration of time to achieve the intended effect.

I am very big on using the heaviest weight you can handle with very good form, full range of motion, for between 30 and 50 seconds depending on the body part.

I don’t like when one rests in between reps, or locks their joints, taking the tension away from the intended effect.  There should be difficulty in squeezing that contraction, with a focus on the muscle being worked.

Over time, muscles need to continually be challenged, with progressively higher weights, strategically increasing weight load and/or reps to further create adaptations to the body. Once again, in line with stimulating muscles continually over time.

Principle 5: Rest your Body


Your body does not grow in the gym.  In fact, its the opposite.  You are breaking it down.  

In order for the muscles to grow, you need to provide adequate rest so that your body repairs itself sufficiently before the next workout onslaught.

This requires proper sleep.  If you have any chance of getting stronger, fitter and feeling better, you need to get decent quality sleep.

Secondly, you need to spend some time outside of the gym strategically recuperating on off days, allowing your nervous system to repair itself, allowing your glycogen stores to replenish themselves, allowing the building process with proper protein intake to occur.

Finally, using techniques to recover quicker is the next frontier.  Rolling out your body, stretching, going for massages, using epsom salts, going into the hot tub, are all strategies to enhance recovery.