Principles Before Methods: Why You're Probably Missing The Big Picture

Length: »1300 Words

Reading Time: 5-6 Minutes

Target Audience: Trainers, Coaches, Intermediate to Advanced Trainees




Key Points:


1. There is no singular “best” approach or method when it comes to training & nutrition.

2. Be clear on the goal (the adaptation) you are trying to achieve with your training or nutritional approach.

3. Understand the principles that must be applied in order to achieve this goal.

4. Once you are very clear on the desired adaptation and understand the principles that must be adhered to, you can then choose the most appropriate method for your individual situation.

5. Principles are relatively rigid, while methods should be fluid and adaptable.



Introduction:

(Skip to framework if you just want the nuts & bolts without the foreplay)


The innate desire to belong to a community is an evolutionary advantage. In a community we feel safe and secure. Being a lone wolf meant you were not afforded the protection of the tribe and could easily fall victim to predators or injury.


This need to align and pledge loyalty to a certain group permeates throughout modern day society also. People identify by religion, social class, sporting or political alliance etc.

This fundamental human motivation is equally evident within the health and fitness community. We proudly wear the colours of our tribe, pledging allegiance to our superior method. This results in the futile arguments we see happen on a daily basis, debating which method is better such as;


The Ketogenic Diet or The Low-Fat Diet

High Reps or Low Reps

HIIT or LISS


The problem with all these debates is that they miss the bigger picture and are systemic of a dogmatic mentality. People spend all their time arguing about the minutia of these methods, when the focus should be on the effective application of the underlying principles.


Below I map out a framework of the thought process I undertake when it comes to designing any training or nutritional intervention. This system can be applied to almost any situation and helps you to have a logical and clear process when designing training or nutrition approaches for yourself or your clients.


Firstly, I must take this opportunity to express that this framework is not unique, nor is it revolutionary. The majority of coaches will already follow this process, either consciously or unknowingly. I will eventually update this piece and dive much deeper in the development of each of these stages but for now the aim of this article is to illustrate and articulate the thought processes I undertake to design any training or nutritional approach in an easy to follow format.


Synapse System Framework:


This is a three-stage process you may undertake whenever designing elements of a training or nutrition protocol.

For any training or nutritional protocol, you should be able to follow the logical process of:


· Adaptation (Goal)

· Principle

· Method



Synapse System: A three-stage framework for training and nutritional program design.

Adaptation (The Goal):


The first question we must ask ourselves is: what is the goal of this training or nutritional protocol? What do we wish to achieve?


Ultimately,our aim is to force an adaptation.

By being extremely clear on the desired goal of our approach, it allows us to be much more focused in our program design.


Common goals (adaptations) include:


· Muscle Hypertrophy (Muscle gain)

· Fat Loss

· Increased Maximal Strength (1RM Strength)

· Increased Anaerobic Capacity

· Increased Sprint Speed


Once we are clear on the desired outcome of our program we must then understand the necessary principles of that adaptation.


Key questions to ask yourself:


What is my goal?

What is the adaptation I am trying to induce?



Principles:


Principles are the elements or components that must be in place in order to achieve our desired goal. Put simply, principles are the rules we must follow to cause the adaptation to occur. Consistently adhering to the underlying principles drives the adaptation.


Common principles include:


· Energy Balance

· Specificity

· Progressive overload


Key questions to ask yourself:


What drives my desired adaptation?

What elements must I ensure are in place in order to achieve my goal?


Now that we are clear on our desired adaptation and the required principles, it’s time to choose our method.


Methods:


Methods are ways of applying principles to drive adaptation. Methods are the actions we actually take i.e. the training we actually do or the diet we actually follow. There is no one “best” method when it comes to training or nutritional approaches. Rather, our chosen method will be dependent on the individual situation and context we find ourselves in.


The method we choose should be the most appropriate way of applying a principle which causes the desired adaptation. The method must also be pragmatic and adherable. The “best” program on paper is useless if it cannot be effectively executed in practice.


The best approach for any training or nutritional program is one which maximizes the potential for an individual to achieve their desired goal, while being adherable, sustainable and considerate to the individuals’ longevity and health.


Key questions to ask yourself:


For this specific situation, what methods can I use to apply the necessary principles?

Does the chosen method effectively apply the principle which drives the desired adaptation?

Is there a better way of achieving this goal?


Application:


Now that you are familiar with the framework, it’s time apply it to a very common real-life scenario: fat loss.


Methods of fat loss are one of the most commonly debated topics we see, and with rising obesity rates this discussion is likely to be at the forefront of future impassioned arguments.


Let’s apply this framework to this scenario.


Adaptation:


Key Question: What is the adaptation I am trying to achieve?


Answer: Fat loss


Our goal is to drive an adaptation that leads to a reduction in stored body fat and/or bodyweight.


Principle:


Key Question: What drives my desired adaption?


Answer: A caloric deficit


In order to induce a reduction in bodyweight and body fat we must adhere to the principles of energy balance. A reduction in body fat is caused by a sustained average caloric deficit i.e. expending more calories than consumed.


Method:


Key Question: For this specific situation, what methods can I use to apply the necessary principles?


Answer: Whichever method is effective, adherable, & sustainable.


This answer is vague but the reality is there are countless methods we can use to induce a sustained calorie deficit.


People get dogmatic about methods of fat loss (keto, intermittent fasting etc.).

If we are to be pragmatic, we must understand there are several ways of achieving the same goal.


If someone enjoys having some pizza and beers at the weekend with friend, is a ketogenic diet going to suit them?


If someone tends to enjoy smaller meals every 2-3 hours, is intermittent fasting the best approach for them?


For fat loss, any approach which allows the individual to adhere to the diet in a healthy and sustainable way is the “best” approach for them.

Do not allow yourself to become blinded by methods, but rather focus on understanding the underlying principles and choosing appropriate methods in a pragmatic way.



Weight Loss: Once you understand the underlying principles, there are several methods of achieving the same goal.

Summary:


Spending time debating the “best” method for training or nutrition is often a fruitless endeavour. Your time is much better spent improving your understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms which cause the adaptation you desire. Once you understand these elements you can become much more focused and pragmatic with your application of program design for training and nutrition.

The best approach for any training or nutritional program is one which maximizes the potential for an individual to achieve their desired goal, while being adherable, sustainable and considerate to the individuals’ longevity and health.


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