How to Train Like a Professional


This is a breakdown of exercise training principles: How to train like a professional. The exercise training principles are a guide for how health professionals program and optimize workouts; there’s no secret recipe for a perfect plan that works universally. Everyone has individual needs and goals, which is why we understand and apply these principles in every case. These principles also follow a hierarchy, meaning some are more important to follow than others; utilizing all of them can greatly expedite your progress toward any goal. 

Overload and Periodization

Overload is undoubtedly the most important principle to understand because, without it, we would never get stronger. It suggests that we work our muscles beyond the point of normal function so that they can adapt to function normally at a higher capacity. In other words, working out is never easy, it needs to become more challenging in order to get stronger. When we overload our muscles, our bodies recognize it as a new stimulus and respond to manage that stimulus again. The new stimulus could be adding weight, adding repetitions, altering the movement, or changing the frequency of workouts. However, it takes time in order for the body to acclimate to new stimuli just like anything else.

Periodization comes into play by planning and tracking your body during this time. Periodization programs can be microcycles (week by week), mesocycles (month by month), or macrocycles (year to year). They all serve the purpose to make sure you are overloading your body in a smart and healthy way. It’s never healthy to keep overloading the body without proper rest and recovery. Part of the planning in periodization is spacing out your workouts and allowing your body enough time to heal. In more serious programs, we dedicate a week or month to lowering intensity workouts in order to peak or break through a plateau in the next cycle. Planning out the exercises for each workout and how many sets or reps of exercises is just as important so you can measure the volume and intensity of the workout in each muscle group.


In terms of the hierarchy principles, recovery is just as important as overload because they work hand in hand with each other for optimal progress. Recovery starts as soon as those muscles become overloaded; which puts our body in an anabolic state to rebuild and strengthen the strained muscle in response to the added stimulus.

Many people get injured because the recovery time is too short and the body never fully heals before being strained again. It can happen chronically over time or acutely if a stimulus is too much. However, we can avoid it by spacing out workouts or improving recovery through sleep, nutrition, and active therapies. 

Adaptation and Variation

Adaptation refers to the body undergoing physiological changes in response to new stimuli as discussed before. Not only will our muscles get stronger, but our resting and working heart rate will change, lung capacity and VO2max will increase, and in some cases, joint and bone structure can alter all depending on the stimuli or activity we do. Obviously, these changes won’t occur overnight but we should account them for from a holistic perspective over time.

As our bodies adapt over time, the specific movements we practice become harder to overload because our bodies are now fully equipped to handle them. In some cases, we can actually develop unhealthy adaptations by repeating movements so often in the same way that hunching over a computer every day contributes to poor posture overall.

Variation allows us to challenge the body in new ways which then works to physiologically adapt to the new stimuli or movement. For functional wellness and fitness, we highly encourage to involve multiple movement patterns in a workout and vary the movements each week or month even depending on your goals and comfortability with learning new movements. The new stimuli could be a completely new movement or it can be a modified version of the same movement. We can find a healthy balance that suits our goals by keeping the body guessing so to speak.


On the other side of recovery is reversibility where too much rest leads to a decrease in strength. Rest and recovery are important, but we still have to overload our bodies to get good results after recovery. Taking too much time between workouts will cause our body to forget the movement we practiced; it will break down the extra muscle after it deems unnecessary. It’ll take a few days/weeks for noticeable effects to happen, but it’ll slow down training progress in the meantime. Reversibility is unavoidable such as when you’re injured and require long periods of rest time to fully recover.

For higher trained athletes, reversibility occurs slower compared to a beginner. It actually becomes easier to maintain overall fitness once you reach a certain threshold. But you can think of reversibility as your savings account. You keep depositing money by working out to slowly build up a cushion for the future, and stopping the deposits will gradually weaken the cushion…aka your body.


What is your goal and what is the focus of the workout? These are important questions to answer with regard to specificity because there are more effective and efficient ways to work out depending on the goal in mind. You can think of working out as practicing for a competition. Athletes, for example, want to strengthen the movements and muscle groups specific to their sport and position. In this way, they can either perform that movement better or more powerfully in competition.

Think of how volleyball players strengthen their vertical jump or how baseball player strengthens their throw and swing. It is done most effectively and efficiently by mimicking the intended movement as closely as possible under heavier load and proper body mechanics. Volleyball players might do weighted box jumps whereas baseball players might do resisted rotations.

Specificity also applies to the general population as well if you think about your daily movements in life as the competition. We want to strengthen the specific movements we need to perform day-to-day so that we can keep doing them long-term.

For example, if your job requires you to lift heavy objects then you may want to practice your squat and hinge patterns specifically. If you stay at home, then practicing gait or weighted carry exercises may be best. We can even prepare for movements we don’t perform a whole lot during daily living but might unexpectedly require to do from time to time; which is often accounted for in programs and is an important aspect of injury prevention still related to specificity.


Progression refers to the complexity of the movement similar to how overload refers to the amount/intensity of the movement. Just as we need to keep adding repetitions or adding weight to strengthen a movement, we add complexity to a movement for variation or advancement in body mechanics. In most cases, we never start by adding weight right away to a movement such as push-ups. If you’ve never done a push-up before you start on the wall, then work your way to an elevated surface, followed by going down to the ground. This is a standard push-up progression for a beginner exerciser, but if the movement mechanics are mastered; then compounding movements can further progress the complexity.

For example, you can turn a push-up into a burpee by adding a squat and hinge movement. However, you’d always want to perfect the squat movements before combining them just as you did for the push-up. This will ensure safety and proper mechanics. 


Since everyone has different goals and various restrictions, there is no universal workout for optimal results. Although goals and restrictions should always be accounted for, there are other variables that can be taken into consideration when building a personalized program to make sure that you are optimizing your workout. Age, weight, sex, body type, genetics, exercise history, and health history. These are all factors that play into the exercise selection, volume, and intensity of a workout. In other words, we can individualize exercises by adjusting the number of reps or sets, and training load.

As our bodies adapt to exercise, it becomes more important to adjust these exercise variables to keep progressing optimally. Traditional and generic workouts are still effective and shouldn’t be completely tossed out the window. Still, individualization allows us to modify and variate workouts so we can better utilize our body’s advantages and disadvantages.

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