Each side of the square is influenced, and influences, the others. As strength improves, so does conditioning (or work capacity if you would prefer to think of it on those terms), nutrition needs to improve to support both, as does recovery.
Strength is the easiest improvement to make if you are new to training, with early improvements in strength largely coming from getting better at new movements and your body becoming more efficient at performing them. This is why, as you get stronger, adding strength becomes a slower and slower process.
Nutrition supports everything. Without good nutrition, recovery is inadequate, muscle building is poorly supported due to insufficient protein intake and conditioning is tougher without the fuel to drive it. Get this side of the square growing and the rest becomes easier.
Recovery ties in closely with nutrition and allows the adaptions training forces, to happen. Adequate sleep, rest time between sessions, massage, foam rolling and mobility work, as well as good nutritional habits, all help you recovery from the stresses of day to day life and training and allow good things to happen.
Conditioning is the “just want to get fitter” part of the equation. What most people say to me when I ask them why they are training is, ” I want to get fitter.” Part of the goal setting process, is to start to define what that means. Most think it’s getting better at plodding out miles on the treadmill with no intention of actually using this to run a race because the long boring run has been pushed as how to get slimmer. Whilst low intensity is a valuable tool, it doesn’t really help with what many people actually mean by getting fitter. The ability to get through your day, lifting, carrying and moving for the whole day without feeling like your gonna keel over from exertion.
For each of these sides of the comfort zone square, progress has to happen, some are easier to deal with than others, but the process for each is the same.
Making small improvements consistently, will over time, add up to massive improvement.
Strength gains come from a few extra reps over the course of your sets, or a couple of extra kilos on the bar. For example, you have 3 sets of 12 on a goblet squat at 16kg. First time at this weight, you go 10, 8,8, the next time you go 12, 10 8. The next time it’s 12,12,10. Thats almost a 33% increase in volume on your first attempt, and you are now at the top of required rep range and the process begins again at a higher load.
Conditioning improvements again come from the same process. I remember a new client starting with me, really strong but no real conditioning base, the first attempt on a simple conditioning circuit took them to pieces and we had to break it down to an easier version. Gradually over time, the loads used increased, more reps per round were added, and more rounds were added until conditioning levels improved to the point where anything can be thrown at this guy and he handles it as he has the base to support it.
Recovery is a tough one for a lot of people to get to grips with. The more is better idea of being in the gym all the time must lead to better results is widespread, unfortunately this only ends up with a lot of people being unable to maintain the impossibly high amount of gym time and then inevitably dropping off completely. 3 – 5 sessions per week for 45 to 60 minutes each is enough for most people to achieve 90% of the goals they have. Endurance event training will take more time each week due to the nature of the event.
Improvements in sleep quality and length, as well as the other tools mentioned above all will help in this area, make small improvements in 1 area at a time and make them habits.
Nutrition is the big one. The area most people struggle with. The over reliance on processed foods, serving sizes that are too big, poor ratios of protein, fat and carbs, all result in poor energy levels, shoddy recovery and weight gain. I could do a whoel series of posts on this topic but for this one, I’ll give you 3 tips to improve your nutrition:
- Eat protein at every meal. Higher protein intake supports better protein synthesis, resulting in higher metabolism, better body composition and better satiety, making you less likely to snack due to hunger pangs.
- Cut down on cardboard carbs. That is anything that comes in a cardboard box. These tend to be highly processed carbs with little or no nutritional value. Great for filling you up, but with the lack of energy demands, these carbs just get stored for future energy demands that you are unlikely to provide, and they get stored as fat. Swap the processed carbs for whole food sources, which will provide vitamins, minerals and fibre which will mean the sugars are processed differently and as a whole will be of more use to your body and it’s functions.
- Monitor your total calorie intake, at least for a while. You’ll probably be surprised. In order to drop body fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit. It’s a simple matter of calories in versus calories out. (Except there is more to it than that, but at it’s heart, this is what fat loss comes down to, again I could do a series of post on this topic…) You don’t need to track forever, but until you get a handle on the amount of calories that work for you, are at a a maintainable level in the long term, tracking is a must in my opinion.
Again small changes, maintained over time, are the key to success.
The simple rule to making these changes is this:
Be consistent, and do a little better than last time.