We’ve covered a lot of ground so far on our trek through the principles. These were just pieces of the story though, and like the movies in the MCU all culminated under one massive story arc, the Power Athlete principles all fall under one overarching, umbrella principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands, better known as SAID. SAID can be summarized by saying the results in your clients and athletes are directly correlated to the training you put them through.
In this article we’ll be exploring the SAID principle, teasing out some of the intricacies that can get confusing. We’ll also be comparing this to a similar concept that’s unique to the GenPop world, which we’ve termed the “GAID” principle, or “General Adaptation to Imposed Demands”, and discussing what it means for you as a GenPop coach or gym owner.
Hint: Optimal strength program is about the effective dose, not the excessive dose, and you’re probably making things harder for yourself than you need to be.
Everything is SAID. EVERYTHING.
Most of the confusion with SAID comes in because people only view imposed demand as what you have your athletes doing, which conceptually makes sense. You impose the demand of heavy weight or more repetitions, and the body adapts to handle the load. You impose the demand of sprinting, the body adapts to get more neurologically efficient, aka faster.
But guess what...it’s not just what your athletes and clients are doing, but what they aren’t doing, that drives adaptation.
If you don’t overload them enough, they might suffer the effects of Reversibility. That’s SAID.
If you only have them move in the X-axis and Sagittal plane, they lose proficiency in moving in the two other axes and planes. That’s SAID.
Power Athlete Block One Ben Skutnik used a great analogy of a soundboard and it’s sliders to describe programming for an athlete or client. You, as the producer (coach), have control over all of the sliders (principles); you may want some hard hitting guitar, followed by a thick bass line, capped off with a drum solo. You turn the sliders up and down throughout the songwriting process (periodization and specificity), all of the inputs go through the soundboard (SAID), and your finished product of a hit Nickelback tune (badass athlete/client) comes out the other side.
The big takeaway to remember here is that, regardless of what you are or are not doing, SAID is always at play. Always.
The SAID principle makes sense when you have a specific picture of what the finished product should look like. But what happens when you’re dealing with a population who just wants to improve general health and wellness, where there is no “end” per se? Power Athlete director of training and boat shoe expert Tex McQuilkin has termed these individuals “health athletes”...aka the GenPop. They don’t seek to #bethehammer on anyone on the field. They just want to lose some weight, look better naked, get stronger, and feel better. The good news is, you have a much wider margin to work with when programming for them.
Generally Specific: General Adaptations to Imposed Demand
In the mid 2000s, Canadian exercise scientist Dr. Tudor Bompa developed his idea of “biomotor abilities” as the foundational traits for all sport (1). He determined that all activity consisted of three primary components: strength (force), speed, and endurance. The picture above displays three different athletic profiles, with the athlete being the circle in the center; they are biased towards the traits which will help them dominate their sport. It’s easy to see how SAID would come in to play here.
When talking about the GenPop though, we don’t want this bias. Our goal is to take that circle, and grow it as large as possible, without it moving much one direction or the other.
Enter the GAID principle. With SAID, you’re going to figure out how to get your wide receiver to run a 4.4 40-yard dash. With GAID, you’re just going to get your clients to sprint. SAID will determine the rep ranges your athletes will be doing for their major lifts to drive the needed adaptation, while GAID says that you just need them to squat, press, and pull.
Will reps of five work? Absolutely, Bedrock has demonstrated this to be the most effective rep range for the Novice athlete. But, will sets of ten also work? You bet. We’re not as concerned with finding the perfect rep ranges here, just more focused on getting them to move some weight. Remember, a good portion of your GenPop have no training background, meaning anything you have them doing will move the needle in the right direction.
Don’t Burst the Bubble
One of the biggest pitfalls seen in GenPop programming comes from a heavy reliance on percentages to dial in weights. On the surface, it makes sense why people use them; if someone has a calculator, they know exactly what weight to use, without wiggle or misinterpretation. But, they come with a few pitfalls.
Firstly, most GenPop folks have NO idea what their true one-rep maximum. Even if they have some solid time under the bar, they most likely still really don’t know what it is, and that’s not their fault. A one-rep maximum is very reliant on central nervous system efficiency, not just strength; this efficiency is something that, frankly, many people haven’t truly developed. Telling a brand new person to use their 85% literally means nothing.
Second, a large portion of percentage work relies on a reference tool known as “Prilepin’s Chart”, which was developed in the mid-1970’s by the Soviet Olympic lifting coach Alexander Prilepin. He determined the optimal reps per set, and the total number of reps, for his lifters at different percentages. At first glance, it sounds like a one-stop shop to know exactly how heavy to program certain lifts. But, people often forget the other side of the coin.
Prilepin’s athletes were just that. Professional athletes, practicing their sport (Olympic weightlifting). These percentages were built solely around Olympic weightlifting and maximizing power output. Also...these lifters were juiced to the gills.
Percentages are great for athletes who have a long training age, and truly understand what their one rep max is. For everyone else, throw them out; they are just muddying the waters.
Lots of Roads, One Destination
People have a tendency to conflate basic with easy. If you’re just working “the basics”, some use it as an excuse half-ass the effort. But, if you listened to Episode 315 of the Power Athlete Podcast, then you know the basics never truly get “easy”, and even the best athletes in the world still refine them daily. In fact, one of the things that make them the best is their constant pursuit of mastery of the basics.
A fellow Block One Coach told me the following phrase was uttered at a seminar he attended: “program for the best, scale for the rest”. I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say that is some of the worst advice anyone can give. If the majority of your gym just needs to squat, press, pull, and get sweaty, turn your focus there. For that leftover bit that might need the percentage work and specialized movements, that’s where discussions of personal training and more individualized programming can come into play.
A jiggy program with percentages and fancy advanced training is “hard” and will work. You know what else is hard? Putting a heavy weight on your back and taking it for a ride. When working with the GenPop, the key to remember is what will get you the biggest bang for the buck, with the largest number of people. Build your program around the basics, and you can’t go wrong.
- Bompa, Tudor O & Buzzichelli, Carlo. Periodizaton: Theory and Methodology of Training, 6th Edition, Human Kinetics, 2018
He currently coaches at two gyms in San Diego, applying the principles from the Power Athlete Methodology to both general population and field sport athletes.