Principles of Training

Mastering the basic principles of training is always our first strategy when working with a client. New training protocols will always arise, some may be great and others may be seen as gimmicks as time goes on, but the basic principles of training will always be around and they will be continue to be executed by the best personal trainers and coaches as long as there are people weight training.

I was lucky enough when I started in the fitness industry to be introduced to the teachings of the late Charles Poliquin, who has had a massive positive influence on the fitness industry and the way programming is structured. Years ago I attended a course by his protege and one time head lecturer Andre Benoit. The biggest learning point for me from attending the course was that the most important thing about training is obsessing over the basic principles, as without those in place true long term success wont happen.

“Train hard, train smart, recover and recover smart” Andre Benoit

The following principles are not listed in order of importance, as in my opinion order of importance is partially case specific.


Training principles



The best training programme in the world wont get you a result if you don’t approach training with intensity. At the Cut we don’t promote throwing weights around and unnecessary screaming, however if you want to grow muscle or burn fat you will need to leave your comfort zone.



When we refer to tempo we are talking about the speed at which we are lifting the weight. For individuals new to lifting or just new to this principle it can be extremely difficult to apply. The tempo of a lift includes 4 numbers, representing the time (in seconds) spent at each part of the lift.

Fore Example 4-1-1-1 means:-

4 Seconds in the eccentric/lowering component of the lift

1 Second as an isometric/pause at the bottom part of the lift

1 Second is the concentric/lifting component

1 Second a pause at the top of the lift, before starting the next rep

Lifting with slow tempo really does burn, so you would be forgiven for thinking it is an advance training principle. However, I would say tempo is even more important for beginners to learn how to lift with perfect control through their full range of motion. It is also safer as every part of the rep is stabilised, under control and with no bouncing at the bottom part of the lift, which your joints really don’t like.


Reps & Sets

The Reps lifted and amount of sets performed comes down to a few factors. What is your goal? How often do you train? How experienced are you? 

The amount of reps performed in a set has a training effect:-

1-5 Reps- Strength

6-8 Reps- Functional Hypertrophy  (Functional– designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive. Hypertrophy-the enlargement of a muscle)

9-12 Reps- Hypertrophy

12-25 Reps- Strength Endurance

For most clients we will start on higher rep schemes of 3 or 4 sets, which is considered higher volume but less load, this is safer and less physically taxing. As a client becomes more experienced we may look to reduce the reps and increase the sets. Even if a client has the goal of getting stronger we must apply the appropriate rep scheme.


Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is often an under utilised tool in many gyms. You see people going onto the gym floor and just lift, which is obviously better than doing nothing, but one of the keys to success in weight lifting is to progressively overload the muscle. In basic terms that means to make the muscle work harder or do more than it has previously.

This training principle can only be applied if you have structure to your training and follow a programme as the idea is to “beat” your previous workout. There are a few ways you can look to overload your muscles:-

-More resistance/weight

-More reps

-More sets

-Slow the tempo/Increase the time under tension

All of the above ways to overload would NOT come at the expense of form, range and execution/safety of the exercise. If you don’t have a personal trainer logging your workouts for you, then I strongly recommend you do yourself.


Rest & Recovery

Rest in between sets is important in order to maintain composure and to  both mentally and physically prepare for the next set. Whilst we prescribe rest intervals into our programmes based on the particular rep scheme we adopt, humans are not robots and sometimes we need to be intuitive here and consider external factors such as a bad nights sleep, stress or poor nutrition etc. An extra 10-15 seconds may be needed in order to get the most out of the upcoming set.

Generally lighter weights/more reps= shorter break.

Stress is stress, whether it is brought on by training, poor sleep or your fast approaching deadlines. You can only train hard consistently if you have adequate time to recover. Whilst it is great to be inspired by athletes, we have to remember we are not athletes and we don’t have people preparing our meals for us and sports therapists on call for every need. More often than not, we see clients with poor recovery due to “city life” as oppose to over training. There are some signs of poor recovery such as poor performance, mental fatigue, lack of enthusiasm to train and extreme soreness.

Generally we try to encourage our clients lift weights 3x a week with some supplementary cardio and a step target.


Exercise Selection

Selecting the right exercises may seem obvious, yet you still see people choosing exercises that may not be in line with their goals. When writing programmes for our clients we consider what they can safely perform well. When you perform an exercise with good execution it allows us to apply other principles such as intensity and progressive overload.

When selecting exercises we also need to consider the goal of the client and training frequency. For example if a clients primary goal is fat loss and can only commit to 2 hours of training a week, then the focus would be on the bigger compound lifts such as deadlift/squat/bench press/row variations and we would skip past calf raises and ab crunches.


All of these basic principles of training are simply pieces in a puzzle. Without one the puzzle is incomplete and compromises your potential results.

Article written By Steve Wise

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