Be Strong, Be Kind

Strength coach, trainer educator, writer, mom to three awesome kids, pie enthusiast. Creating monsters since 2009.

Training Effects

Sara Fleming

In the fitness profession, there is a lot of discussion and debate over the multitude of training methods employed by various “experts” and which one reigns supreme.  The truth is, however, that no single training method is going to be effective for every individual.  When working with people in a training environment, instead of pushing a particular brand of exercise, we should be concerned with how we are going to achieve our goal for the individuals we are training.  The question we must ask ourselves as trainers and coaches is what qualities of fitness does my client/athlete need to improve in order to improve performance?  

When you consider that a single training method will affect individuals differently depending on their fitness level and genetic variation, the task of designing a training plan becomes a bit complicated. In order to take an individual’s current abilities from point A to point B you have to not only consider your methodology, but the individual differences of the person you are training.  Having a solid understanding of how training effects work will contribute a great deal to your ability to do this.  Training effects can be classified into four major categories:  Neurological, Metabolic, Structural, and Cardiorespiratory.  We’ll begin with what is probably one of the most complex and comprehensive training effects:  neurological adaptations. 

The reason that a new movement feels “hard” or that lifting more weight feels “heavy” is because you are uncoordinated.  You are uncoordinated because your brain and nervous system have not yet figured out how to efficiently recruit muscle fibers to master a new complex movement or move a heavy load.  It is a well-established that most strength gains early in a training program are the result of increased neurological coordination.  As you practice lifting heavy loads with consistent form, your nervous system adapts to be able to recruit more muscle fiber units with less stimulation.  In other words, it becomes more efficient. 

Other training methods also take advantage of neurological adaptations.  Increased speed, agility, coordination, and reaction time are the result of practicing complex movements at their required intensities.  Cardiorespiratory, structural, and metabolic adaptations also support these training effects while increased neurological efficiency plays a dominant role in muscle fiber recruitment.  Neurological adaptations are also responsible for spatial awareness and proprioception; one’s ability to react and adjust to one’s environment.  For example a cross country runner needs to be able to use visual and sensory cues to adjust to obstacles and uneven surfaces. 

The take-home lesson here is that a large number of training adaptations result simply from learning how to move correctly at the required intensities.  In other words, whether you are developing strength, speed, agility, or balance, practice makes perfect. 
Neural coordination allows proper movement and recruitment to take place, but there are other training effects that support the efforts of the nervous system.  Efficient muscle fiber recruitment makes one stronger, but the body must also adapt structural changes to withstand increased loads, intensities, and multi-directional forces that are a part of advanced training methods and sport.  Structural changes include:  increased bone density, connective tissue proliferation around individual muscle fibers, strengthening of supportive tendons, ligaments, and fascia, and an increase in the number of capillaries within the muscle.  The muscle fibers themselves can also increase in size and convert from one type to another to support different types of efforts.     

In addition to structural changes, the muscles must be able to efficiently use oxygen and nutrients to fuel efforts at the required intensities.   Muscle cells conditioned to strength or power training will develop an increased ability to store glycogen.  Muscle cells adapted to endurance training have a greater capacity to take in a utilize oxygen (VO2 max) through increases in enzymes used for aerobic metabolism.  This enables the cells to use fat as a substrate at higher exercise intensities.  An adaptation associated with this increase in VO2 max is an increase in the number of mitochondria within the muscle fiber.  Mitochondria are the cellular structures responsible for converting cellular nutrients into ATP via aerobic metabolism.  Simply put, the muscle fibers are able to supply and utilize more fuel for long-term efforts.


Lastly, cardiorespiratory adaptations include:  Diaphragm endurance, circulatory efficiency and blood volume increases, increase in vital capacity and efficiency of lungs, and physiological (not pathological) hypertrophy or enlargement of the heart.  This means that the heart actually becomes bigger and stronger and can pump larger volumes of blood. 

All four of these adaptations occur in individuals participating in training programs.  However, the most dramatic adaptations occur in untrained individuals in the first few months, or even years of training.  Strength, power, coordination, and endurance all improve dramatically with the simplest of training input in the untrained person.  Your average untrained, or undertrained, individual will benefit from increased cardiovascular conditioning, muscular endurance, strength, and coordination from participating in a training program.  However, the less intelligent the programming, the more rapidly the individual may plateau and/or begin to experience overuse injuries and strength imbalances.  So, even though “everything works for a while”, its always good to have a well-thought out plan.  It is also necessary to consider that the structural changes that support increased coordination take longer to develop and be sufficient to support dramatic increases in training load and volume.   

As individuals become more advanced in their training, more advanced training methods are required.  How exactly does one shave a second off their 100 m sprint time?  Or take 10 minutes off their marathon time?  Or increase their clean and jerk after being somewhat plateaued for several months?  Or get better at competing at wrestling or judo?  

There is no single answer to these questions.  It requires that one have a full understanding of the individual’s abilities and his or her training history.  Deficiencies in speed, power, endurance, coordination, etc. can be addressed a number of ways.    

Does the individual need to get stronger?  Moving loads, whether it is your own bodyweight, an opponent, or an external weight all require that you have the capacity to move the load at the speeds required.  Strength training, speed training, power training, all contribute to improvements in the ability to move loads.  However, if the movement is fairly complex, practice and adjustment of technique may be all that is required.

Does the individual need to develop more endurance?  The ability to sustain an effort at the required intensity longer than one’s competitors can determine the outcome of a competition. The ability to continue to make 1 rep max efforts on the platform, hold one’s opponent down on the mat, or continue to run a 6 minute mile for 2.5 hours are all different kinds of endurance.  Again, sport specific practice may be all one requires, but for higher intensity and longer duration efforts, interval training as well as volume training are usually required in one form or another.

Does the individual need to practice more?  Specific endurance and strength can be developed while developing better coordination simply through practice. Practice can mean anything from shooting a bow to simply learning to squat correctly.  Performing multiple repetitions of a single exercise makes you stronger and more coordinated simply because your body learns how to efficiently and correctly perform the movement.  

Once you determine what the deficiencies are, you can then think about your training methods more completely and understand how they may or may not benefit your client.  In fact, you may find yourself applying methods in an atypical although correct and beneficial manner to achieve the desired training effect.  Some examples:

Low intensity agility training can benefit older folks who have lost some of their balance, joint stability, and coordination.  Although these qualities can be improved simply through resistance training, they can be enhanced by adding in agility work which puts stress on the joints and supporting muscles in multiple directions.

Strongman and odd object training can be used to condition strength athletes to give them more endurance in competitions where they may be attempting mutliple maximum efforts over several hours.  This kind of endurance requires metabolic adaptations to occur in the muscle fiber as well as increased cardiorespiratory endurance without overstressing individual joints or muscle groups.

Everyone can benefit from cardiovascular training even if it is simply walking around the block for 20 minutes a day.  In your untrained couch potato, simply walking at a brisk pace will increase leg strength, balance, cardiorespiratory and musuclar endurance.  For those of us who strength train or endurance train regularly, a long walk on our rest days can simply increase blood flow to ease sore muscles and restore some range of motion.

Learning how to effectively evaluate yourself and the individuals you train is the first step in being an effective trainer.  From there, the challenge lies in being able to see what is needed and how you can address these needs based on the equipment and expertise you have available.  Experience is certainly the best teacher, but learning to think about training methods and goals objectively is a good start. 


Alcaraz, Pedro, Jorge Sanches-Lorente, and Anthony Blazevich. “Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Responses to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training versus Traditional Strength Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 667-671.
Amann, Markus, Marlowe, Lovering, Andrew Eldridge, Michael Stickland, David Pegelow, and Jerome Dempsey. “Arterial oxygenation influences central motor output and exercise performance via effects on peripheral locomotor muscle fatigue in humans.” Journal of Physiology, 2006: 937-952.
Bergman, Ronald, Adel Afifi, and Ryosuke Myauchi. Illustrated Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation. On-line: Anatomy Atlases, 2006.
Bircher, S, and B Knechtle. “Relationship between fat oxidation and lactate threshold in athletes and obese women and men.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2004: 174-181.
Bompa, Tudor, and Michael Carrera. Periodization Training for Sports. 2nd. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2005.
Burgomaster, Kristen, et al. “Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans.” Journal of Physiology, 2008: 151-160.
Burgomaster, Kristen, Scott Hughes, George Heigenhauser, Suzanne Bradwell, and Martin Gibala. “Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycling endurance capacity in humans.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005: 1985-1990.
Chandler, TJ, and MH Stone. “Position Statement: The Squat Exercise in Athletic Conditioning.” National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 1991: 51-58.
Chodzko-Zajko, WJ, et al. “Exercise and physical activity of older adults.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2009: 1510-1530.
Conley, MS, and R Rozenek. “Health aspects of resistance exercise and training.” Strength and Conditioning Journal, 2001: 9-20.
DiStefano, L, M Clark, and D Padua. “Evidence supporting balance training in healthy individuals: A systemic review.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009: 2719-2731.
Gotshalk, L.A., R.A. Berger, and W.J. and Kraemer. “Cardiovascular responses to a high-volume continuous circuit resistance training protocol.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004: 760-764.
Granacher, U, T Muelbauer, B Doerflinger, and R Stromeier. “Promoting strength and balance in adolescents during physical education: Effects of a short term resistance training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010: 1-10.
Hatfield, Frederick. Fitness: The Complete Guide. 8.6.6. Carpinteria: International Sports Sciences Association, 2004.
Holloszy, J.O. “Regulation by exercise of skeletal muscle content of mitochondria and glut4.” Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2008: 5-18.
Ivy, J. “Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis, and repair following exercise.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2004: 131-138.
Katula, JA, WJ Rejeski, and AP Marsh. “Enhancing quality of life in older adults: A comparison of muscular strength and power training.” Health Qual Life Outcomes, 2008: 45.
Komi, P.V. (editor). Strength and Power in Sport. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science, Ltd., 2003.
Kraemer, William, and Steven Fleck. Optimizing Strength Training. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2007.
Little, Jonathan, Adeel Safdar, Geoffrey Wilkin, Mark Tarnopolsky, and Martin Gibala. “A practical model of low-volume high intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle.” Journal of Physiology, 2010: 1011-1022.
McArdle, William, Frank Katch, and Victor Katch. Exercise Physiology. Sixth. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.
Miszko, TA, ME Cress, JM Slade, CJ Covey, SK Agrawal, and CE Doerr. “Effect of strength and powe rtrianing on physical function in community-dwelling older adults.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2003: 171-175.
Pollock, ML, et al. “ACSM Position Stand: The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, ad flexibility in healthy adults.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1998: 975-991.
Ratamess, NA, et al. “Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2009: 687-708.
Rhoades, Rodney, and Richard Pflanzer. Human Physiology. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 1989.
Rippetoe, Mark. “The Novice Effect.” Starting Strength. The Aasgard Company. January 4, 2010. (accessed August 31, 2010).
Rippetoe, Mark, and Lon Kilgore. Practical Programming for Strength Training. Wichita Falls, TX: Aasgard Company, 2006.
Shephard, R.J (editor), and P.O. (editor) Astrand. Endurance in Sport. 2nd. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science, Ltd., 2000.
Spennewyn, K. “Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 75-81.
St Clair Gibson, A, and TD Noakes. “Evidence for complex system integration and dynamic neural regulation of skeletal muscle recrutiment during exercise in humans.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2004: 797-806.
Verkhoshansky, Yuri, and Mel Siff. Supertraining. 6th. Rome: Verkhoshansky, 2009.
von Stengel, S, W Kemmler, WA Kalender, K Engelke, and D Lauber. “Differential effects of strength versus power training on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: a 2-year longitudinal study.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2007: 649-655.

Zatsiorsky, Vladimir, and William Kraemer. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2006.  

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s