The Four Strength Training Principles

Last year I laid out the basic strength training principles because I like to mix in basic exercises and explanations with the actual concrete reasoning on why strength training programs work….and others fail.

I still get a lot of basic questions, so hopefully this expanded version of the original article will help clear things up!


Often we talk about certain exercises on Synergy, but it is important to understand the WHY not just the HOW.

First, the golden rule, or better the golden law of training is adapting to physical demands.

Adaption, defined by Zatsiorsky “In the broad sense it means the adjustment of an organism to its environment. If the environment chances, the organism changes to better survive the new conditions. In biology, adaption is considered one of the main features of living species.”

Right after a workout do you feel stronger or weaker? If you did it right, chances are the fatigue has made you feel weaker. So why does doing this repeatidly yeild a stronger person? Adaption to the increased training loads.

Also, adaptation does not only apply to adding an external load, it also applies to other aspects of training including mobility, flexibility, and tissue quality.

There are 4 primary features of adaption that are important to real world and sport training.

  1. Overload
  2. Accommodation
  3. Specificity
  4. Individualization


The training load – the weight used – must be heavier than what the person uses on a regular basis. After adaption due to overload occurs in a new athlete, the gains will be lost within 7-10 days if that person stops the exercise.

This principle changes in well trained athletes. If you workout all the time for years (the right ways), expect to see your gains diminish within 3-5 days if exercise is halted. Does this mean your squat will drop from 500 to 100 lbs? No way, but it will diminish.

The above statement brought up some controversy in the original article so let me expand by first qouting Science and Practice of Strength Training,  “In elite athletes many training improvements are lost within several weeks, even days, if an athlete stops exercising. During the competition period, elite athletes cannot afford complete passive rest for more than 3 days in a row(typically only 1 or 2 days).”

So if you stop exercising, how fast can you see a diminished strength level?  Elite athletes as soon as 3-5 days, a regular lifter in 7-10 days.   It happens FAST.   I’ve witnessed this first hand with a number of athletes that go on vacations and miss over a week of training.  They never come back stronger, rarely hit the same numbers, and often drop off slightly.  For example, a 275 bencher might come back and get 270 lbs.

This is why I recommend an active deload (lower volume, bodyweight exercises, etc) to keep the muscles firing as opposed to taking an entire week off and sitting on the couch.

The only case of this principle not applying is in over trained individuals (which happens less often than people think).   If their bodies have been pushed passed their limits and completely diminished of strength and energy stores a break may be beneficial.


If the same training load is used for an extended period of time, the body accommodates to the movement and the gains decrease.

Most of you probably don’t know this, but I also teach high school Economics, and this principle is referred to as the Law of Diminishing Returns. Here is the lesson I use in the classroom to make sure the student’s get this concept.

I have a student come up to the front of the classroom and eat a Reese’s PB Cup and rank it on a scale of 1 to 10 on how tasty it was. Then I pull another one out and repeat. Eat, rank, repeat. The student’s eyes always get big when I pull out 20 of them and tell him/her we will be continuing for awhile.

Usually after the 5th one, the student likes them less and less. Same goes for training. If you repeat the same load over and over, the gains will diminish.

Due to accommodation, it is extremely inefficient to use the same training program over a length of time.

Here is the difficult part, an good training program will be both variable, to avoid accommodation, andstable to satisfy the demand for specificity.


This refers to the distinct adaptations that come from a training program. These adaptations are LIMITED TO the physiological systems trained – ie the muscles, aerobic abilities, etc that are used during training.

And important part of specificity is to decide which exercise improvements will equal the best gains for your goals – such as which exercises is best for real world strength, or football, or basketball, etc.


Leg extensions will improve your ability to perform leg extensions. Now, do leg extensions improve your ability to sprint if you are a football player? Not really.

Additionally, can we specificy SPEED of a movement?  Yes.  While there is some strength carryover, strength at low velocity do not mean an increase in high velocity strength.  Speed is a very specific skill to be trained.


People are different. An exercise program for one athlete may give different results when used by two different people. I’ll quote Zatsiorsky again as he stated something I’ve been saying for years:

“Innumerable attempts to mimic the training routines of famous athletes have proven unsuccessful.”

That is why any good training program will allow for variation. In the Bull Strength Program, there is a specific template, but different exercises to choose from once you find out what works best for you. No program should be written in stone and each person will respond differently do imposed demands.

===>However general principles and concepts will remain the same in good workout programs!


Every person strength trains to acheive certain adaptations. Strength training will yeild results through the person’s body accomdating to being overloaded (loaded greater than normal daily activities). If you bench more than you normally lift, then you will get better at the bench press.


After performing the same training program, your body will get used to the movement and adapt to that specific training loads. It is important to include variety AFTER getting goals from the program.


In less than 2 weeks I will be releasing my new Powerful Muscle Recovery Manual!  In the meantime, stay tuned for tons of free content in the meantime including “Life Beyond The Foam Roller!”

- Joe Hashey, CSCS -

PS.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please post them up in the comments.


  1. Hashey, Joe. Bull Strength Training Manual. Synergy-Athletics 2008
  2. Zatisiorsky, V. and Kraemer, W. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd Edition. Human Kinetics 2006.
  3. Baechle, T. and Earle, R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. NSCA 2000.


Synergy Facebook Comments


  • Michael M

    Reply Reply April 18, 2011

    Great article Joe, THANKS!

    I had an experience last year I wanted to get your thoughts on. Mid-summer I got sick. I am not sure exactly what happened but I think it was mainly allergy related. Anyhow, for almost two months I could barely do the minimum; which, for me was get to work. I did not workout (I keep a detailed journal) or do much at all. Finally I felt better so I decided to go back to the gym. I do most of my max effort lifting based on a certain percentages of my 1RM. I figured my strength and my 1RM went down so to know where I was at I tested myself. The results where not what I expected: my bench went down 10lb, my squat was the same (no change), but my deadlift went up 20lb (new PR).

    The only thing I could link of is that maybe my body really just needed some major time off to recover and heal. Mind you I am not an ectomorph (fyi: at that time: 35yr, 195lb, 20%BF). But still, two months of inactivity and no significant strength (or muscle) loss.

    Your thoughts???

    ps I saw a pic of a guy (coworker) right before he stopped working out for about 3 months and he was significantly smaller after that long of a layoff. He was your typical ectomorph. So I know what you said in the article is spot on for most people/situations.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for taking the time to write that up! There are a lot of factors that including training age, training status prior to the rest, form progression, etc. It could be any of that or just a replishment of the body’s energy stores.

      Glad to hear things are going well Mike!


      • BSF,

        I’d have to agree with your CNS idea. During a deload I don’t get up to an RM, but only deal with moderate weights. The CNS needs just as much rest as the muscles.


  • BSF

    Reply Reply April 18, 2011

    well, so it makes sense to not take complete week off training? how about keeping strength gains with brief fullbody isometric workouts during deload phase? or is it counter productive as it places big stress on CNS?

  • Joe

    Reply Reply April 18, 2011

    As always Joe you are right on! Coaches, Trainers, dont look for short cuts. I promise you there are none. What there is are programs designed by Bull Strength that have proven to be very effective!


  • pauly

    Reply Reply April 19, 2011

    thank you for your INTENT and giving..would be helpful to me if the use of abreviations where not so my age group, it interupts the flow, but possible that’s what i may find useful?! love being wrong.

    • Pauly – I went through the article and only saw that pounds were abbreviated lbs? Was there a different abbreviation I missed that you need further explaining? Thanks.


  • David

    Reply Reply April 22, 2011


    Great post and spot on. This is something every young athlete needs to read and I wish I had known this at an earlier age! You are right that progressive overload is crucial…this is why I require all my trainees to keep detailed training logs so that we can see how they are progressing.

    Great point on “active rest” as well. This is something I will definitely be incorporating into my de-load weeks a lot more.


  • Ken Black

    Reply Reply March 11, 2012

    Nice right up Joe Hashey! Always good reads, back to basics with this one!

  • Isaac

    Reply Reply March 11, 2012

    So in other words, I need someone around who knows what they’re talking about. Makes sense. Thanks for all of the tips and general knowledge. I learn something from everything you post.

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