4 Fundamental Principles of Resistance Training

These days, people make resistance training far more complicated than it is. They obsess over reps, sets and most of the time spend far too long in the gym.

As a result, the progress of the average trainee is mediocre, so they become frustrated and inconsistent with their training. And sometimes, they give it up altogether. 

But as long as you understand some of the most fundamental principles of resistance training, you will always make progress.

In this article we'll look at four of these principles and how you can apply them to your training. This article is an excerpt taken from a chapter in mine and Jay Campbell's book, Living a Fully Optimized Life.

Principle #1: Training is relative to your age and goals.

This one is very simple. If you’re older than 50, your body will not be able to withstand tissue trauma (from training) the same way a 20 year old can.

Yet so many older men train classic bodybuilding style, four to five days per week, not recognizing their bodies and recovery ability have changed.  

Your recovery is very much dependent on your age. By and large, younger trainees will recover faster than older ones.

If you are an older trainee, you won't to focus on training smart instead of busting your balls every time you go to the gym. I wrote an article on this subject: 16 Weight Training Tips For Men Over 50.

As an older trainee, you should also ensure your cardiovascular efficiency (CE) and heart rate variability (HRV) are consistently being measured over time.

Daniel Kelly weight training

Principle #2:  You MUST maximally contract your muscle fibers while simultaneously removing ego and momentum from every aspect of your training.

This is arguably the most important principle out of the three, so pay close attention!If there is only one thing you take away from this book and apply to your training, let it be this principle

In your pursuit of an amazing physique, what others do in the gym is MEANINGLESS.  Removing EGO from your training will massively benefit you as you age.  You’ll also avoid injury from lifting too much weight to keep up with the Jones’ in the gym.

Never forget: The only REAL reason you should go to a gym is to grow muscle and look better naked.  And, if you don’t know how to properly contract muscle fibers while also training to positive muscular failure (PMF), you’re wasting your time.

Why? 

Because you’ll never grow muscle and look the same as 90% of the people who go to gyms for 30-40 years and never change the way they look . I can’t be more serious... 

If you don’t know how to maximally contract your muscle fibers by blasting the targeted muscle to complete and total exhaustion, you will NEVER BUILD MUSCLE and ultimately change your physique.

Blasting a muscle to total and complete exhaustion is what we call “positive muscular failure” (PMF).  Better defined, PMF is training a muscle or body part to a point where you cannot lift another rep without help from a spotter or some form of machine assistance.

If anything, training to positive muscle failure teaches you the training intensity required to get real results. We can talk about the best workout program all day long. But the truth is that most people simply do not train hard enough to see results in the gym.

They live a life of comfort, devoid of pain. They have no concept of the brutal intensity and focus necessary to build muscle.

Another thing people tend to overlook when they learn how to contract their muscle fibers is “time under tension” (TUT). TUT is defined as the amount of time under which your muscles are maximally contracting. 

Increased TT adds to the overall volume (work performed) of the workout, ultimately leading to greater training adaptations and results.  Logically speaking, then, wouldn’t you want your muscles to be under as much tension for as long as it took to fully fatigue them?

Of course you would. But most people have no idea what no idea what time under tension is, let alone think about applying it in their training.

Rather than take the time to brutally contract their muscle fibers, they rush through every rep and set in the hope of being able to lift heavier weight through the force of momentum.

The greatest enemy to your progress in the gym is allowing momentum to dictate the flow and speed of your intended muscular contractions.

Think of it this way: If you do not maximally recruit muscle fibers, you are not working the muscle to its fullest extent.  In other words, you are not developing your physique to its maximum capacity. 

And this is precisely what happens when you train with ego and use momentum to jerk the weight around.

One interesting study, “Does Tempo of Resistance Exercise Impact Training Volume”, examined how merely changing the “rhythm” or tempo of each rep (i.e. fast, medium, slow) dramatically impacted how many reps subjects were able to perform, AND the total time spent under tension:

“The results of the study indicated that even a small (few seconds) modification in terms of tempo or cadence of particular movement phases can impact maximal number of performed repetitions, time under tension and, importantly, exercise volume in a set and in the whole training session. 

Movement tempo impacts training volume and, consequently, the level of post-exercise fatigue and adaptation patterns”

Long story short:

Maximal muscle fiber contraction via perfectly controlled reps executed with perfect technique is the secret to building a physique worthy of showing off. 

If you learn how to consistently train in this fashion, you can train the targeted muscle for two sets to complete and total exhaustion. That’s right: When you know what you’re doing, two sets is all you need.

What about novice trainees, though? A novice trainee has minimal neurological efficiency (i.e nervous system adaptation) and minimal muscle mass. By neurological efficiency, we refer to a fully functional central nervous system which has adapted to intense training over time. 

The best way to picture or understand this is when you see a young lifter violently shaking to execute a rep or specific training technique.

Lifting at the gym

If you are a newbie, you must train for at least a year to reach a point where you’ve built an appreciable level of muscle mass and neuromuscular efficiency.

Once a minimum of neuromuscular efficiency is achieved, there’s never a reason to stay in the gym for too long because you already understand how to stimulate maximum fiber recruitment and force production. 

If you follow the instructions in this book, you will be training intensely and maximally contracting your muscle fibers. 

Due to training in this manner, you will have a limited amount of natural growth hormone and muscle glycogen at your disposal to get you through more than 45 minutes (if training alone).

That means no more marathon workouts. They are unnecessary and counterproductive.

If you are truly serious about building a world-class physique and mastering your training, everything we’ve just told you won’t be enough. There are no shortcuts to success. You will need to consistently apply these principles for YEARS, and often decades.

Due to the influence of social media and living in an instant gratification world, many are deluded and believe they can acquire their dream physique in 12 weeks. These expectations are not grounded in reality. 

Philosopher Manly Hall said it best: 

“An unhealthy mind, even in a healthy body, will ultimately destroy health."

In addition, watching training videos online will not get you the body of your dreams. At some point you must get out there and train. Hone and master your craft. Learn from guys who are more experienced than you and work on refining your technique. 

There's a rhythm to all of this, and learning how to train with weights properly is a lot like learning how to dance.  (As an interesting aside, learning how to dance, or playing sports for that matter, is a great way to develop neurological coordination)

For your physique to work as a fully functional unit, you must be neurologically coordinated. The easiest way to summarize all we’ve just said is that you have to seek out a master and learn at their feet. 

Even if it's for a week, or a few days, it is an absolute must. Indeed, I can attest to this. I spent significant time in the past training with Jay Campbell, which dramatically improved his knowledge and shortened his learning curve with regard to training.

Jay himself learned from masters (i.e. pro bodybuilders) like Jim Brown and Markus Reinhardt.

Incidentally, I am a huge fan of Jim Brown's (another mentor of mine) Forged training program. If you're looking to learn how to brutally contract your muscle fibers and train to positive muscle failure, then Forged will show you how. I wrote an article about my experience training the Forged way here

Principle #3: You MUST engage in regular resistance training to build skeletal muscle mass.

Muscle is the single greatest deterrent to the diseases of aging.  Sadly, 95% of people who go to the gym have absolutely no idea how to build muscle. 

They have no real awareness of why they are there to begin with, because they are so focused on following an exact amount of sets and reps for a specific set of exercises. 

Muscle is a lot more than a storage depot for glycogen and an enhancer of bodily aesthetics.

Look at all the amazing things skeletal muscle mass does:

  • Increases insulin sensitivity via lowering blood sugar
  • Anti-inflammatory, strengthening your immune system
  • Significantly improves your odds of survival for dangerous surgeries 
  • Protects against sarcopenia, i.e. muscle wasting that comes with old age
  • Gives you a greater chance of survival against accidents
  • Protects against osteopenia (bone loss) by improving bone mineral density

You must lift weights if you want to live long and prosper. In the same way being lean is essential for far more than vanity, building muscle does far more for your health outside of looking good in the mirror...

Building muscle helps you live a fully optimized life that allows you to age gracefully, while keeping your mind and your body dialed in. It’s important to understand that people who become frail as they get older don’t do so because of age. 

It's because they haven't looked after their body by performing resistance training to maintain muscle mass and bone mineral density (BMD), both of which confer protection against age-related disease. 

Principle #4: You MUST Do Cardiovascular Exercise

Regardless whether you are hormonally optimized or not, you cannot afford to skip cardiovascular training. This is essential for training your organs to process and breakdown the food you eat. 

Regular and consistent cardiovascular training will also help scavenge free radicals found in your body that lead to inflammation and age-related disease. 

Cardiovascular training allows your body to effectively dispose of waste products that build up in your body and metabolize the nutrients you consume. 

Some people process food and macronutrients differently, but regardless of your unique biochemistry, your metabolism will change and slow down as you age. 

By performing regular cardiovascular training, you can offset - to a great degree - the slowdown in metabolism that comes from aging. Cardiovascular training becomes doubly important if you are on injectable therapeutic testosterone. 

As discussed in mine and Jay Campbell's books, injectable testosterone is heavily oxygenated.  Subsequently, your blood often becomes thicker (via a process called erythrocytosis), sometimes resulting in higher hemoglobin and higher hematocrit levels. 

This is a common occurrence, although contrary to what physicians used to believe, therapeutic phlebotomy is not required in most cases.  

The reason why cardio training is so important when you’re on injectable testosterone is because it helps push out the thicker blood and the metabolic and cellular waste produced by training with weights at high intensity. 

If you don’t perform regular cardio training, you’ll likely find yourself feeling winded and tired more often. 

Despite what the bros say on the Internet, weight training alone is NOT a sufficient form of cardiovascular training. So make sure you’re doing cardio on a regular basis! 

Final Thoughts

Your training must be designed relative to your age and goals. Older trainees will not recover at the same rate as younger trainees do from resistance training and cardio.

Learning how to maximally contract your muscle fibers while removing ego and momentum from your training is CRITICAL to forging an amazing physique. As you age, it is also imperative you understand how to manipulate time under tension (TUT).

If you are uncoordinated, unathletic, or devoid of any sport background, it is IMPERATIVE you hire a master teacher to coach you on how to utilize proper form and technique when training with weights. Watching videos on the Internet won’t cut it.

Your primary goal as you age is building muscle to resist the diseases of aging. The more muscle you possess, the better your insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial function, and an improved basal metabolic rate (BMR) while at rest.

Cardiovascular training allows your body to effectively dispose of waste products that build up in your body and metabolize the nutrients you consume. It becomes doubly important if you are on injectable therapeutic testosterone. 

If you enjoyed this chapter excerpt from mine and Jay Campbell's book, Living a Fully Optimized Life, you can get your copy here.