Anthony Ditillo, The Adaptation Principle in Strength Training


Finally, we come to the Theory of Adaptation, which will close out this section on useful training principles in the quest for physical strength. What we are going to try to do here is to show you how to adapt to continued increases in both training intensity and volume, for an overall increase in body power and muscular development. As you progress from beginner to intermediate and finally from intermediate to advanced trainee, it will become necessary for you to learn how to use this Principle of Physical Adaptation for continued training success. The reality of the situation lies within the premise that in order to reach your maximum potential, you will have to learn how to increase your overall workload so that more training will become an acceptable responsibility that you will have to deal with, no matter how you may wish there were another way to go. Be assured, the top men in our field of endeavor did not get there by an easygoing methodology. The only exceptions to this rule would be the “easy gainers,” the kind of men who can do literally anything and still progress and grow. For the rest of us, hard work and increased training time will become an athletic necessity.

We must begin with the physical stress, if given enough time and period of relaxation, in order to be given adequate stimulation to further increase physical capabilities. Your body is not your enemy. It wants to do whatever you ask it to do. We are built this way. Only time and patience are required for us to reach the zenith ort bodies are capable of.

By learning how to coax our bodies into greater physical abilities, we will be able to grasp the most important facet of advanced training terminology. We will literally learn how to “take it” and still come back for more. Without adaptability we would reach a stalemate in physical strength and development and only an increase in overall bodyweight and size would make further gains possible. But what if we do not want to gain any more bodyweight? To be sure, it is quite easy to keep a certain workload, gradually bodyweight and at the same time register strength gains. But how much of this is due to the added bodyweight? To be sure, in most cases, the heavier we get, the less functional our bodyweight-strength ratio becomes.

In order to gain additional strength, once past the beginner’s stage, our training tenacity and dedication must increase thrice fold! To do this without increasing bodyweight becomes quite an accomplishment within itself. To try and do this without increasing our training volume becomes quite ludicrous, if not downright impossible! There comes a time when we have to face facts. If we are going to force ourselves to increase our workout intensity and volume, we are going to have to learn how to do it in a measured out, systematic way so that overtraining and physical trauma will be kept to a minimum. This is where the Principle of Adaptation comes into play.

The success of the Bulgarian Olympic training system is based solely upon this psycho-physical theory: the more we make ourselves used to doing (in a physical sense), the more we can do! The secret of their lifters’ success lies within their ability to take vast workloads on a daily basis, continuously, all year round. You only have to compare their physical appearance to our men to see what truly being in shape looks like. Even their heavier lifters, the ones who usually carry the most adipose tissue (myself included), even these men on their teams look like a million compared to ours. And while I fully understand that their lifestyles are different than ours and they are funded by the government to literally do nothing except train, you can’t argue with success. The way their men are trained is far superior to ours.

While it would be almost impossible for us to fully embrace their training system, we can make use of its basic points to further our own gains. The methodology of this training scheme will at first seem hard and complicated, but with resolution and a belief in ourselves and what it is we want to do, we can and should incorporate this system into our training routines. The end result will be a more well conditioned body, less training injuries due to increased muscular proficiency and finally, an excess of strength reserve, capable of being called upon should we ever need it.

One of the basic rules of this type of training is to make haste slowly and train, do not strain. It is not necessary to continually try our limits for an increase in training poundages to take place. There are other ways to go about this and to rely only on continuously heavy single attempts (possible ego problems here) is not only self defeating but it can also be downright dangerous with continued application. To be sure, heavy singles and doubles are quite necessary, for formulating future training percentages and when peaking out for a contest or just to occasionally see where our strength levels are at. But to rely primarily upon these heavy, grinding attempts will not build the explosiveness so necessary in competition, nor will they build an increase of muscle size or conditioning. This is because singles and doubles place no real strain upon the muscle fibers, only upon the muscle attachments and ligaments, and it is here where the trouble begins to show itself in the way of physical trauma (injuries). How many of you have been injured when training on that too close to maximum Bench Press or Squat. Many of you, I’d bet. This has happened to me also and I know the feeling of frustration that ensues. This is one reason why this system of training is so great – you are constantly trying to add to your physical proficiency without taxing your body to the physical limits that excessive single and double attempts carry with them. By using this system, your conditioning improves as well.

It is important to bear in mind that when we speak of increasing your over-workload we are talking about increasing the “functional” weights within our training scheme. I would advise most sets to be done with close to 75% of your one repetition limit and try to stick to this percentile as much as possible. Compound sets may also be used with this system, with the overall result being an increase in strength registered when such compound type of training is eliminated and a breaking in period is undertaken so as to give the muscles full time to fully recuperate, for an increased strength gain to be registered at the point of peaking. If you wish to use compound sets, then by all means do so. Try to use movements which compliment both the competitive lift you are ultimately training to increase, and the selected themselves. Try to keep the blood in the area being worked this way as long as possible for complete muscular anabolism to take place. Actually, you will be training quite like a bodybuilder, except that the weights will be somewhat heavier and the rep scheme somewhat lower than actual bodybuilding entails. Once again, try to use weights which are at the 75% limit of your one repetition poundage. For the compound sets only, I would advise from time to time a lessening of the training poundages until the overall physical effect has been given time to become used to. These compound sets can be quite fatiguing if you do not warm yourself into them. In the beginning, try to get at least six to eight repetitions with these compound movements, going for a full muscular stimulating pump. Later on, you can toughen the movements up by increasing the weights of the bars so that a more meaningful amount of weight can be handled regularly and competently. The closer you come to the point of peaking out, the heavier you try to get these training poundages to become. This will enable you to toughen up sufficiently so that when in the peaking season your strength will increase by leaps and bounds!

At this point in our discussion, I shall endeavor to outline for you various ways in which you can use this physical adaptation theory in your training schedules. To begin with, we shall first outline the basic intermediate routine which is used by most trainees the lifting world over. We shall not concern ourselves with the competitive trainee, since this aspect of physical conditioning shall be fully outlined in the proceeding chapter. What we shall do, however, is concern ourselves with the average lifter of around 200 lbs. bodyweight who has been training faithfully for the past few years and has registered the following basic strength lifts: Bench Press 370 lbs., Power Squat 450 lbs., and Deadlift 540 lbs. This is the present state of our chosen trainee’ present capabilities. In order for him to go beyond this stage, he will have to begin to incorporate the adaptation phase of his training.

Let us suppose, for the purpose of giving a viable example, that our lifter is training four days peer week for approximately two hours per workout. He performs Bench Presses twice per week, once heavy and once light. On his heavy days he works up to two or three singles with around 90% if his one repetition limit. He then drops down and does four or five keys of medium repetitions, with steadily decreasing weight. He may or may not have an additional movement to supplement his Benches. If he does, more than likely it is done on his light training day, in which he will Bench for around seven of eight sets using lighter weights (60 or 70%) for six to eight repetitions per set. On this day if he decides to use an assistance movement, he will use primarily the same set and repetition scheme as he does on his light training days. Does this type of bench training sound familiar to any of you? It should. From the majority of letters I have received this is exactly the type of workout most of you are doing. Now let us try to incorporate our Adaptation to Stress theory to this type of workout scheme. First of all, we shall keep the one heavy day of training as well as the second light day. However, on our heavy day we shall work up to three singles with a weight we could get one double with if we really gutted it out! Our first goal is to systematically add one single with this weight, as time and energy permits, until we are doing five singles with this same training poundage. Now drop the bar by 20 or 30 lbs. and try to get in three doubles. Your goal is to get five sets of doubles with this weight whenever you are able. Finally, drop the bar by another 20 or 30 lbs. and try to get in three triples. Your goal with this weight would be to get to five sets of triples. This type of heavy training will greatly develop your ability to work much and hard, Joe Buck.  Do you know of any champion who can’t work much and hard?!!

On your light day begin with five sets of between five and seven repetitions using around 65 or 70% of your one rep maximum poundage. What you want to do is to someday get eight or ten sets of between five and seven repetitions with this weight. If you wish to include any assistance movements, by all means do so. Begin with three to five sets of five to seven reps and stay with this weight until six to eight sets of these reps can be done. By increasing this workload, you are simultaneously increasing both your physical condition and your muscular development and strength. What more could you want?

Contrary to what many people believe, it is quite hard to become overtrained with this system. This is because you choose the weights right from the beginning and you merely add greater volume as your body becomes adjusted to the workload. This makes far more sense to me than to be going up and down in your training programs, due to injury from trying to heavy too often or staleness from over-exhaustion due to overworking with weights too heavy to handle regularly from week to week. The beauty of this type of adaptation training is that the mental stress of not knowing what you will be capable of handling today as compared to what you were able to work up to last week is alleviated. You are under no pressure to perform beyond your present physical limitation. In this type of training you are in complete control as to how heavy and how much work you will be doing and you do not have to increase the weight of the bar until you feel ready for it. All the while you will be experiencing increased resiliency due to increasing your physical conditioning and the muscles will begin to take on a dense, well-trained look. The overall effect will be quite enjoyable, I can assure you.

With the Power Squat, we shall endeavor to follow a somewhat different course of action, although the adaptability to the increased stress will be of the utmost concern and importance. Let us assume that you are following the same set and repetition scheme as previously outlined for the Bench Press. This means one heavy day working up to a few singles and one light day using mainly fives and threes with lighter weight. Let us try and change this methodology in the following manner. On your light day begin with three of four sets of tens using 50% of your one repetition limit. For these tens try to use a medium stance and try to keep the back flat and on the descending motion allow the thighs to fold up over the calves so that when you are in the bottom position, you will assume the position of an Olympic lifter doing a Squat Clean, only in your case the bar will be behind your neck, not racked on your chest. On this light day your training goal would be ultimately to do six or seven sets of ten repetitions, done in the strict style I just outlined. When this is possible, merely increase the weight of the bar sufficiently and resume with three of four sets of tens once again.

On your heavy day for Squatting, warm up sufficiently and go up to three doubles with a weight you could squeeze out one triple with if you really had to. Stay with this weight until you can get five sets of threes with this weight. When this happens it is time to add weight to the bar once again.

So let us assume you are capable of squatting 405 for three doubles. Now you drop the bar down to around 365 and try to get in three triples (eventually working up to five triples). Finally, drop the bar down to 315 and try for three sets of fives, increasing to five sets of five after appropriate training time and experience. Remember that on this day you would be using the conventional power squat style so that the entire gluteal, hip, and lower back region could be brought into play eventually increasing your overall competitive squatting proficiency.

This type of leg training will develop your entire lower body to an extant it had never reached previously. This is because of the two contrary styles used in your training scheme. There will be little chance of injury since you are not forcing your physical limits to any degree. Here again, as in the Bench Press, you are merely getting your body used to more and more work. Should you wish to either peak out or go into competition, merely go back to a normal week by week peaking routine and you will find that all this hard work you have been doing in the months previous gas been more than worth it, because your limit squat is really going to climb!

In the next chapter we will be discussing the general training of a powerlifter and I shall go into the various details concerning “peaking out” and “intensity” and “volume” and the value of these various terms and principles in our general training for physical strength. We will be outlining more routines with various workloads for the all-around home trainee as well as for the would-be competitor and I am sure you will find our discussions stimulating since we all fit into one category or another and we all want to get better developed and stronger.

If I could name the main value of the Adaptation Principle, it would be that it allows the trainee the freedom to train and not strain and in the process of such training, to become a better conditioned athlete.