By: Josh Bryant
If designing and evaluating strength training “systems” was a steak dinner—the seven granddaddy laws would be the steak and uh…..the potatoes!
Organized and put on paper by my mentor, Dr. Fred Hatfield, in the mid-1990s, it is an absolute charade the granddaddy laws have not spread like wild fire.
Great strength training systems adhere to the granddaddy laws, all else is folly.
We will examine the seven Granddaddy Laws and how they apply to us in the trenches.
The Principle of Individual Differences:
This principle is an acknowledgement that we all have different genetic blueprints. We all will have similar responses and adaptations to the stimulus of exercise, but the rate and magnitude of these changes will be limited by our differing genetics. Some are fast responders and others are slow responders.
Not everyone should perform the same exercise program; they will not receive the same benefits at the same rate or to the same extent.
This is why I love prescribing rest-pause training (Shown in Jailhouse Strong HERE.
The Overcompensation Principle:
Callus builds up on your hands as an adaptive response to friction, muscle fibers grow in size and strength in response to training, and lacerated tissue develops “scar” tissue. All involve Mother Nature’s law of overcompensation as a stress response. Putting it another way, it’s nothing more than a survival mechanism built into the genetic code of (at least) this species.
People grow in size and strength from lifting heavy pig iron!
The Overload Principle:
To gain in strength, muscle size or endurance from any training, you must exercise against a resistance greater than that normally encountered. If you use the same amount of resistance for the same number of repetitions every workout, there will be no continued improvement beyond the point to which your body has already adapted.
Bodybuilders using the exact same exercises, sets, reps and weights every workout will not grow because of the repeated bout effect; in other words, they never overload. If they do grow, it’s because of sound nutritional practice and a nice dose of super supplements you can’t buy at your local GNC.
Sure, you can use the same exercises for many weeks in a row and make progress but you have to incrementally increase intensity by increasing volume, intensity, density, tempo or changing hand placement, foot placement or implementing a double split, adding in EMS or pile on more pig iron on the bar. One piece of advice: don’t continually add time on the workout—make them denser, i.e., get more done in the same time or even less time.
The conundrum lies, when does changing exercises become a circus? One simple way for size and strength is to keep the core lifts constant (squat, bench press, deadlift) and switch accessory/supplementary movements every 3-6 weeks. Do not constantly switch core lifts if strength is the goal. For pure advanced bodybuilding, you can, but track your core lifts so when you switch core lifts and rotate the same one back in the mix, you overload it.
The SAID Principle: (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands)
You have one ass so you can’t ride two horses!
Ever wonder why no one has bench pressed 500 pounds and run a 5-minute mile?
Your muscles and their respective subcellular components will adapt in highly specific ways to the demands (adaptive stress) you impose upon them in your training. This applies as well to various bodily systems and tissues other than your muscles.
Study after study show that intense aerobic training interferes with strength gains. Regardless of your intentions to concurrently try to maximize limit strength and aerobic capacity, it is defying science. One Finnish study showed that training upper body aerobics made the lower body slower—it’s not just the muscle—it’s the Central Nervous System.
Want to get strong—train heavy.
Want to get explosive—train explosive.
Want to increase aerobic capacity—train aerobically.
As Hatfield pointed it out in the ISSA text, to throw a monkey wrench into this basic tenet, your specific adaptive responses to exercise can change dramatically over time, particularly with age. But it’s also true if you’ve successfully improved your body’s recovery abilities. Clearly, this can be accomplished through the use of (illegal and often dangerous) drugs or through the use of certain nutritional supplements. Simply, with improved recovery ability, your body has become a different body!
The Use/Disuse Principle:
The principle of use/disuse applies to both training and detraining (cessation of training). Putting it another way, “use it or lose it.” If you stress your body and its systems enough, it will adapt to meet the stress. For example, in a bodybuilding program, hypertrophy, or increase in size, occurs in the trained muscle.
If you stop training for maximal hypertrophy, you will shrivel up like your beef bayonet skinny dipping in Antarctica.
You can destroy a building that took years to build in milliseconds with dynamite; it takes more time to build strength than to lose it, it takes more time to become lean than to get fat.
The good news is some training-related changes in your neuromuscular system remain over long periods (muscle memory) which allows you to regain your strength or size more quickly than it took to gain it in the first place.
The Specificity Principle:
This principle relates to factors involved in both neuromuscular adaptation as well as a system or technique’s “functionality.” Neuromuscular adaptation will occur over time as an adaptation to repetitively “grooving” on a specific movement pattern. For example, you’ll get stronger in squats by doing squats as opposed to leg presses. Being a good boxer does not guarantee success in MMA, competitive male dancers don’t necessarily rake in the dough at Chippendales….you get the idea
Functionality refers to whether your system or training technique is specific to your ultimate training objective(s), or whether it has more “general” applicability. You get better skill-wise, boxing by boxing. You can develop the speed, strength and agility needed in strength and conditioning training BUT you only get better by intense sparring and competitive bouts.
From nerves to technique under fire—you get better in the ring!
Top boxing trainer, Emmanuel Steward, says it best, “there is no substitute for bone on bone sparring.”
A great program synergistically develops the biomotor abilities needed to succeed in competition and the actual skills in the contested event.
The GAS Principle:
GAS is the acronym for General Adaptation Syndrome.
Stage 1 is the “alarm stage” caused by the application of intense training stress (The Overload Principle), 2) the “resistance stage” when our muscles adapt in order to resist the stressful weights more efficiently (the Overcompensation, SAID and Use/Disuse Principles), and 3) the “exhaustion stage” where, if we persist in applying stress, we’ll exhaust our “reserves” and then be forced to stop training from the sheer collapse of the bodily systems involved, or even when death occurs as a result of severe overstress.
The reason for this is that the stress you’ve applied is a traumatic episode of sorts, forcing your “injured” muscles to heal and then adapt. The recovery and overcompensation time must be taken so that further stress doesn’t continue the downward spiral caused by repetitive bouts of trauma.
In street talk, the GAS law states that there must be a period of low intensity training or complete rest following periods of high intensity training. This why we deload!
This is how purposeful overreaching (not overtrain) works—stay slightly under recovered, rest, and then voila, you are stronger the when you started.
The GAS Principle must be managed with fitness fatigue (something we will cover at a later date). In essence, stress is not just measured by total volume (sets x reps x weight).
When heavy negative training is performed, much rest is needed because this form of training is highly traumatic to your muscles. On the other hand, if the same exercise were done with the same resistance and speed but the eccentric stress is removed, the rest period needed would be far less.
Bench press 45 pounds x 20 reps and it’s 900 pounds of volume—so is benching 450 twice—the 450 twice is much more stressful.
Remember, fatigue is cumulative. If you deadlift with maximum weight today and bench press with heavy eccentrics tomorrow, both induce fatigue—fatigue is not just localized to the muscle group worked.
Hatfield’s teachings should not be forgotten!
Programs need to be measured against the Sseven Granddaddy Laws. If the principles seem to overlap—they do.
To answer the question on how I initially design and evaluate programs, it all comes back to the seven Granddaddy Laws.
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This post was written by JoshStrength