Priority training is an old bodybuilding concept, made famous by Joe Weider, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Its use is in weak point training when a body part is not developing at the same rate as the rest of the body. In such a circumstance, priority training would mean training that weak point, or lagging body part as a priority above the rest of the body through its placement in the workout plan, frequency, and so on.
Its use, however, does not have to be limited to bodybuilding training, and it can, therefore, be applied across all forms of athleticism and training. The weak point, therefore, does not necessarily have to be a muscle, or strength in an exercise. Rather, the weak point could be a weak finishing shot in football or a shoddy left uppercut in boxing. The priority training principle is a way to address these weaknesses in an intensive way so that you gain the strength or skill required quickly, and can then proceed back to a balanced training regime. There is an art to priority training, however, which involves the balancing between overtraining, and being counter-productive and training the weak point to its absolute maximum.
In terms of a body part, priority training would result in you exercising that body part anywhere between 3 and 7 days a week, depending on how you train it. In addition to that, you would complete the exercises aimed at that body part at the beginning of your workout. How frequently you train the body part is dependent on two factors – how you are training it, and how you are healing. Of course, if it is your quads, you cannot afford to have a gruelling legs session seven days a week, but arguably, you might be able to get in 3 substantial workouts a week.
Alternatively, some would argue, you keep the workouts quite easy – just a few sets of squats every day and so on. Under this thought path, seven days a week of legs might be justified. With regards to healing, you might find that calves are your weak point, and they heal very quickly. This means that you could give them a gruelling workout four to seven days a week if you chose to. In terms of priority training in relation to other thoughts, you apply the same idea. So if it’s a kick that you are not getting right, train that kick at the beginning of every session, taking account of the muscular damage it results in, and making sure that you are healing adequately.
The physical benefits of priority training are obvious. You are overloading your muscles with work, which results in the body rushing to restore and accommodate for that overload. Whereas with one of your stronger body parts, one workout a week is satisfactory for your desired results, with you weak body part you have to force your body to adapt to being constantly put under pressure which will result in growth and, hopefully, satisfactory results.
When your body does eventually adapt to such a state of work, it anticipates more of the same. This means that your muscle will grow, and as long as you keep it stimulated, you will not lose the gains. This, therefore, means that weak point training is not a lifetime commitment. Rather, it requires a brief intensive workout program, after which maintenance can be more moderate, and the weak point can start to be treated like the rest of your body. In terms of sports specific training, it’s the same concept. Generally, your lagging technique is the result of a muscular weakness. Putting such muscles under constant pressure will, therefore, result in this weakness turning into a strength.
Of course, it is possible that neither your weak body part, or your weak technique is not necessarily the result of a lagging muscle, but rather inadequate focus, and mind to muscle connection. This is where the second aspect of the priority training comes into play – addressing the weak body part or technique at the beginning of your workout. This means that you are not addressing your weak point when you are already fatigued and tired from your workout. Rather, you are fresh, focused, and ready to dominate your training.
The result is a more absorbed and intensive training session, specifically aimed at that weak point, which means better results. This is probably more important in relating to technique based weak points because most of the technique comes from the mind being focused, but it still applies to bodybuilding. You will also then find that you are stronger, because your energy stores have not already been depleted by prior training, which means you can lift heavier, hit harder, and move faster, which means growth, progression, and results.
The moderation in weak point training is still important. If your body does not get a chance to rest and repair the damage you have done through your workout, then your training becomes useless. Every workout involves placing muscle fibre under tension. Some workouts your body can heal from quicker – an average runner can heal from a fair jog within 24 hours, which means they can run every day. But if for example, you were wanting to deadlift heavy every day, you would probably run into problems.
The point then is to be aware of how your body reacts to the training, and how it heals. If you are waking up in more pain each and every day, then you are not resting enough. Further, if you find that you are getting weaker with each workout then you probably are not resting enough either. Your workout is to stimulate your results. But your results occur after your workout – when your body gets to work on fixing the damage you have done. If you are not resting then this process will not happen, and you will not get the results that you desire for. Further, you want to be pushing your strength, and if you are not making any gains in terms of strength, then you probably will not make any gains in terms of your weak area.
With all the above in mind, priority training is highly beneficial, and useful tool to any athlete. Once you understand how to use it, both in the gym and during rest, it is a principle that I highly advise you exploit. To constantly better ourselves is the reason we train, and that is the principle at the heart of priority training.