We have all experienced a plateau in our training gains or momentum toward health goals. This results from getting something wrong in our recovery, nutrition, or training. In this article, we explore the most common mistakes most of us are prone to making in our training and how the information from a metabolic test can help us avoid them.
The pillars of effective training
To understand what mistakes we may be making in our training, we must first understand the constituents of a training plan and how each affects a particular area of our body or “trains” a specific physiological attribute.
Types of training
A training plan consists of three training types: Endurance, Interval, and Resistance training. Here’s what each is and how it affects our physiology.
Endurance training: Includes steady-state cardio training in a specific training zone. Depending on the zone you exercise, endurance training may be considered Based (zone 2), Medium (zone 3), or Heavy (zone 4).
Interval training: Includes cardio training that alternates between a specific zone and recovery. Depending on the work zone used, intervals can be Short (zone 5), Medium (zone 4), or Long (zone 3).
Resistance training includes applying resistance to the working muscles through the use of weights or our own body. Depending on how the resistance is applied, resistance training can be categorized in Hypertrophy, Strength, and Muscle Endurance training.
The optimal exercise program almost always contains at least one session from each main category (i.e., Endurance, Interval, Resistance) and at the subtypes that correspond to your goal (i.e., hypertrophy in case one looks to increase muscle volume). When crafting the optimal exercise program, one should consider the following parameters that determine how the above training types are structured within the overall program.
Exercise intensity refers to how much effort is exerted per unit of time. Intensity is measured differently depending on the type of training. In the case of Endurance and Interval training, it’s determined based on the training zone in which the bout is conducted. In the case of Resistance training, it’s determined based on how many repetitions at the end of the set could complete before reaching total failure. This concept is also known as Reps in Reserve (i.e., RIR) and means how many reps are left in the tank.
Exercise volume refers to the amount of exercise one completes per unit of time. Volume is measured differently depending on the type of training. In the case of Endurance and Interval training, it’s determined based on the time spent in each training zone within the span of a week (e.g., 165 minutes in zone 2). In the case of Resistance training, it’s determined for every muscle group based on the total amount of weight lifted within the span of a week. The total amount of weight is calculated by multiplying the number of sets, repetitions, and weights used in each exercise targeting each muscle group. For example, if the two exercises targeting your quads are squats and leg presses, the volume they sustain within the week can be calculated by:
Total volume = Squat (Reps x Sets x Weigh) + Leg press (Reps x Sets x Weigh)
Exercise frequency refers to the number of sessions one completes for each type of training (e.g., 3 x resistance training, 2 x interval training, 1 x endurance training.
The work-to-rest ratio refers to the amount of rest you should complete per unit of workout time. For example, when completing Short intervals, a typical work-to-rest ratio is 1 – 2, meaning that one should complete 2 minutes of rest for every minute of work.
The effects of training on health and performance
Each type of training affects health and performance differently. The following graph summarizes the impact that each type of training has on health and performance areas.
The most common training mistakes
Lack of recovery in between workout sessions
Too high work-to-rest ratios (AKA not taking long enough breaks when doing resistance training or spending too little time in the recovery zone when doing intervals) will keep you from effectively performing in each working set and thus achieving lower exercise intensities. Less intensity leads to lower levels of the desired stimulus the particular exercise induces (i.e., muscle growth in the case of hypertrophy) and risk of injury.
Lack of recovery in between sets
Completing similar workout sessions very close to each other or not taking enough breaks between any type of exercise leads to lower levels of the desired adaptation since these are achieved during the resting phase in-between workout sessions. Lack of recovery is also likely to result in injuries.
Lack of progressive overload and periodization
The increase in exercise volume over time is the desired effect of every workout program since it is the foundational sign of physiological improvement. For example, being able to move more volume weekly in a specific muscle group is equivalent to muscle growth, or running more time in zone 2 within the week’s span is equivalent to greater endurance and mitochondrial density. Conversely, the inability to increase volume in any type of training is equivalent to plateauing. The absence of consistency, ignorance of this principle, or simply lack of tracking are the most common reasons novice and intermediate trainees are mindful of their workout volumes and thus fail to focus on increasing volume.
Overly intense base training
On the other hand, progressing volume too fast can be as equally problematic, if not more. Rapid and unsustainable progressive overload leaves no room for your system to adapt and heal, thus causing you to hit the ceiling fast. Moreover, injury is almost a likely scenario. Overall, a well-paced progressive overload schedule is the most foundational principle that any training plan should embrace.
Each training zone will elicit a specific physiological response, as shown in the tables above. Therefore, determining the zones where you need to spend the most time during your endurance and interval training sessions will depend on the physiological limitations you need to overcome. Not knowing your training zones can lead to spending time in the wrong training zone and thus not getting the physiological adaptations you need, or in some cases, impeding progression in other areas. An example of a common problem resulting from inaccurate zoning is spending time in a wrongly calculated zone 2, which may be zone 3. Spending excessive time in zone 3 can lead to overtraining and reduction in testosterone levels, and thus hamper potential muscle gains you are pursuing while also delivering significantly less increase in fat-burning efficiency. On the other hand, a wrongly identified zone 4 can lead many to conduct heavy endurance training sessions (continuous training in zone 4) at a lower intensity than what they should and thus elicit significantly lower VO2max increase.
Training is one of the three foundational levers of health and performance. Misguided training will inevitably lead to a plateau and failure to achieve any health and performance goal. Understanding the physiological limitations that are preventing you from attaining your goal and determining the required frequency, volume, and intensity of resistance, interval, and endurance training is the only process that can ensure success and mitigation of injury risk. Breath analysis provides the most scientifically established method for determining the fundamental limitations that may be preventing you from achieving your fitness goal and choosing the optimal exercise program that’s geared to address them.