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Essentials of Integrated Training - Part 8

One of the many unique qualities the human body displays is it ability to adapt, or adjust its functional capacity to meet the surrounding needs. This is perhaps the root of all training and conditioning. The desire to seek an adaptation, whether it is cosmetic in nature (fat loss and/or muscle gain), health (cardiovascular and/or bone density) or performance related (strength, balance, speed, etc.), is the driving force behind most clients and thus their training programs (Table 1). As such, a good understanding of this phenomenon is of grave importance to the personal trainer (1,2,3).

Table 1 - Adaptive Benefits from Strength Training
  • Improved cardiovascular efficiency
  • Beneficial endocrine and serum lipid adaptations
  • Increased lean body mass
  • Decreased body fat
  • Increased metabolic efficiency
  • Increased tissue tensile strength
  • Increased bone density

The Principle of Specificity: The SAID Principle

The Principle of Specificity is often referred to as the SAID Principle, which stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Essentially, this means that the kinetic chain will specifically adapt to the type of demand placed upon it. For example, if a person repeatedly lifts heavy weights with minimal repetitions and maximal rest periods they will produce higher levels of maximal strength and lower levels of endurance strength.

The degree of adaptation that occurs during training is strongly related to the mechanical specificity (kinematic and kinetic), neuromuscular specificity (motor unit synchronization, rate coding, motor unit recruitment, rate of force production) and metabolic specificity (Bioenergetic Continuum) of the training program. The more similar the exercise is to the actual activity (movement speed, rate of force production, movement pattern specificity, bioenergetic specificity, postural specificity, etc.), the greater the carryover into real-life settings. This is known as the transfer-of-training effect (Dynamic Transference) (6,7).

This is a very important concept for the trainer to understand and employ in their training programs. A client must be trained to meet the needs of their daily life as well as their goal(s). For example, if a client participates in recreational sports (golf, tennis, softball, basketball, etc.) on the weekend, the movements and training demands utilized in their training program must be designed to match that environment. All activities whether in everyday life or in sporting events require acceleration, deceleration and dynamic stabilization of multiple muscle groups (synergies) in all planes of motion at various speeds of contraction. If a training program consistently tries to isolate muscles to work at a slow speed of contraction with maximal rest, the muscles and bioenergetics are being trained in the opposite manner of how the client will be using them in activity. However, placed within a systematic training program NASM’s Optimum Performance Training™, the client can be progressed through the necessary phases of training to obtain their goal and enhance their needs.

Neural Adaption

Muscles, in some form or fashion are the prime focus during a resistance-training program and are under the direct command of the nervous system. Strength is characterized by the ability of the nervous system to activate muscles involved in specific movements. Functional movements are skilled movements that require precise synergy between agonistic, synergistic, stabilizing, neutralizing and antagonistic muscles. Neural control of these muscles during strength training exercises such as the squat or a single-leg squat touchdown (multi-joint movements) can be very intricate. As a result, initial gains noted in strength for a novel movement originate from within the nervous system. This provides one significant rationale for implementing Integrated Stabilization Training at the onset of a training program. (8,9)

For muscles to function they must be appropriately linked to the nervous system. Motor units establish this link between muscles and the nervous system. In order for an agonist muscle to produce maximal force, all of the muscle’s motor units must be recruited (motor unit synchronization)(10,11). This is to ensure that as many possible muscle fibers are involved in the contraction. One means of increasing strength lies in the ability to recruit a maximal amount of motor units. Recruitment of motor units is generally determined by their size, which has been described as the size principle. It has been noted that many clients new to resistance training have not established the ability to recruit a high percentage of their motor units and this ability is a determining factor in the acquisition of strength.

Another mechanism representing neural adaptation is the increase in the firing rate of motor units. This mechanism increases force production when the recruitment of motor units has been maximized (rate coding)(10,11). Increasing the rate of impulses from the nervous system to the motor units can further enhance force and is another example of neural adaptation. This establishes the importance of Integrated Reactive Neuromuscular Training in a properly designed training program.

Neural adaptation is a major concept that is often misunderstood and overlooked when designing training programs. When a client first begins training, the primary adaptation that they will experience is neurological. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that increases in strength and overall adaptation during the initial 4-8 weeks of resistance training are derived from significant neural adaptations and not as the result of increased muscle size (hypertrophy) (12,13).

Morphological Adaptation (Hypertrophy)

Another adaptive mechanism of the kinetic chain is the enlargement of skeletal muscle fibers in response to increased tension, such as that seen in resistance training. This muscle fiber enlargement is better known as muscle hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy is characterized by the increase in the cross sectional area of individual muscle fibers and is believed to result from an increase in the myofibril proteins (myofilaments)(14). While hypertrophy does not occur, or is not externally visible for many weeks in a beginning client, it has been shown that a single bout of resistance training exercise can increase protein synthesis for up to 24-hours. In turn, this increased protein synthesis leads to an increase in contractile proteins (actin, myosin, etc.) that also begins relatively quickly. Therefore, the process of hypertrophy begins in the early stages of training regardless of the intensity, but is not visibly expressed for many weeks. Other important principles vital to establishing muscle hypertrophy, as well as proper training in general include:

Types of Strength

Strength is an essential component of all training programs. Strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce internal tension and exert resistance against an external force (19). Traditionally, training programs have focused on developing absolute strength in individual muscles, emphasizing one plane of motion, and often utilizing linear machines. Since all muscles function eccentrically, isometrically, and concentrically in all three planes of motion, an integrated training program should utilize a multi-dimensional/multi-planar training approach that uses the entire muscle contraction spectrum and velocity contraction spectrum. Strength can be delineated into several categories each defined by the contraction velocity and emphasis on the neuromuscular system. The basic types of strength are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2 - Types of Strength
Maximal Strength The maximum force that a muscle can produce in a single voluntary effort, regardless of the rate of force production.
Speed Strength The ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible force in the shortest possible time.
Relative Strength The maximum force that an individual can generate per unit of bodyweight, irrespective of the time of force development.
Endurance Strength The ability to produce and maintain force over prolonged periods of time.
Stabilization Strength The ability of the kinetic chain’s stabilizing muscles to provide optimal dynamic joint stabilization and maintain postural equilibrium during functional movements.
Functional Strength The ability of the neuromuscular system to produce dynamic, multi-planar eccentric, concentric, and isometric stabilization contractions quickly and efficiently during functional movements.

Resistance Training Systems

There are many training systems that are currently being successfully utilized. We will review several of the most common training systems that are currently used in the health and fitness industry.

The Single-Set System

The single-set system entails performance of one set of each exercise. This is most often used with beginner clients who do not require high amounts of volume in their training (20). This system is advantageous to prevent over-training in the beginning stages of a work out program.

The Multiple-Set System

The multiple-set system of training consists of performing a multiple number of sets for each exercise. This system can be used for any client who has the goal of strength, hypertrophy or power to provide more volume in their program. This can be anywhere from 2 sets per body part to 8-10 sets per body part depending upon the client’s level of ability, goal and training phase (21).

The Pyramid System (Light-to-Heavy/Heavy-to-Light System)

The pyramid system seen in Figure 1 involves a triangle or step approach that either progresses up in weight with each set or decreases weight with each set. Participants who are looking to achieve higher strength levels as well as endurance levels can use this system. It has been proposed in some research that progressing from light to heavy can increase endurance while progressing from heavy to light can increase strength, although this has not been proven (22).

Figure 1. The Pyramid System

The Superset System

The superset system utilizes a couple of exercises performed in rapid succession of one another. This method can be used for a many reasons. One reason this system can be utilized is to maximize training time by eliminating rest periods in between two sets of exercises. This will place a higher cardiovascular demand upon the kinetic chain. Another reason to superset is to receive specific adaptations. For instance to increase stabilization endurance, the superset system can be utilized. The first exercise would be a traditional strength exercise such as a barbell bench press for chest. The second exercise would then be a stabilization exercise such as a push up. Using this method the type II muscle fibers would be reaching fatigue by the end of the first strength set, but the set is prolonged in a controlled unstable environment to fatigue the type I fibers by the end of the second set. This style of training can be used for most novice to advanced clients with manipulations in intensity dependent upon the individual (NASM OPT™ Stabilization Endurance Training Phase) (22).

The Circuit Training System

Circuit training system programs consist of a series of exercises that an individual performs one after the other with minimal rest. This style of training requires that the participant understand all the training techniques of all the exercises that are to be performed in the circuit. The participant also must have an above average cardiovascular threshold to perform all the exercises without rest. This would not include beginners. This is a fantastic style of training to increase cardiovascular fitness. When dealing with clients that have goals that include increasing strength and calorie expenditure, this can be a great alternative to simply breaking up their resistance training and traditional cardiovascular training. By performing this system of training, the participant can also accomplish more volume per training session when compared to 60-120 second rest periods in-between sets (23,24).

The Peripheral Heart Action System

The peripheral heart action system(PHA) is a variation of circuit training that uses different exercises for each set through the circuit. PHA can be used for participants who tend to get bored with the same program. By utilizing this system, the participant will perform a different exercise on each set that is performed for each body part. All the benefits of circuit training will apply as well which included improved cardiovascular fitness, higher calorie expenditure and more volume in less time because of the lack of rest periods (See Table 3) (22).

Table 3 - Peripheral Heart Action System Sample Workout
Sequence 1
Sequence 2
Sequence 3
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Standing 2 Arm DB Press
  • Barbell Squats
  • 2 Arm DB Incline Bench Press
  • Standing 2 Arm Cable Row
  • Standing 2 Arm DB Lateral Raise
  • Lunge (Multi-planar)
  • Ball 1 Arm Dumbbell Chest Press
  • Single-Leg Cable Shoulder Extension
  • Ball Combo I
  • Multiplanar Step-Up and Balance

The Split-Routine System

A split routine system involves breaking the body up into parts to be trained on separate days. This system of training has been popularized by the bodybuilding community for years. The benefit to this style of training is for a participant who may be lacking in total time for their workout program to include all the necessary components (warm up, core, balance, reactive, strength and cool down), so they split their body parts (the strength portion) into different days. This allows the participant to spend the necessary time on all the training components.


The information contained in this article provides the trainer with the essentials to more effectively manipulate their clients programs. Having an understanding of how the body works, different types of strengths, and different ways to train for them allows the trainer to gain insight into the construction of a properly designed integrated training program for strength.


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