The 7 Laws of Training According to Dr. Fred Hatfield

The 7 Laws of Training According to Dr. Fred Hatfield

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I recently read an interview with Dr. Fred Hatfield, also known as Dr. Squat, to discuss his views on strength and conditioning and how they fit into modern training systems. For those of you unfamiliar, Dr. Hatfield was a great college gymnast and bodybuilder (he was Mr. Mid America, but he didn’t compete in the Mr. America competition because of a powerlifting meet). Dr. Hatfield is probably best known for his world record squat of 1,014 lbs (460 kg!!!) set in 1987 when he was the age of 45. He was also the founder of Men’s Fitness magazine and the International Sports Sciences Association, and he has written over 60 books. He knows squat and a whole lot more.

The 7 Laws of Training

Let’s see what we should know about the 7 laws Dr. Fred Hatfield found in successful training programs.

“If something is called a law then it’s called a law for a reason. If you break the law you go to jail or whatever; or you pay the consequences. Many years ago, twenty-five or thirty years ago, people began to write about training a lot more than they had in the past, and I’m saying to myself: how am I going to judge whether this training program is any good? I scoured the research literature and all of the popular literature for some kind of a yardstick to use to judge the efficacy of these training programs, because Lord knows I didn’t have the time or the energy to go on all of those programs.”

The 7 Laws of Training

In reading the works of many sports scientists, Hatfield boiled down their thoughts to seven fundamental laws that apply to all training (although some sports might have additional laws). These are the seven principles that guided him to squat 1,000 lbs (I didn’t write kilograms because this is a pretty round number in pounds; by the way, it is 453 kg) without the supportive suit technology available now for powerlifters. Dr. Hatfield indicated that these laws apply to ALL types of training (weightlifting, bodybuilding etc.) and not only powerlifting.

1. The Law of Individual Differences:

Everyone has different strengths and weakness, which need to be taken into consideration for the training program. No program fits all individuals. This realization really hits when looking at hip structure. Needless to say how many differences there are; not only between men and women but also between two men, and these may be decisive in squat performance, mobility etc. The balls of femurs are of different sizes and they extend very differently. These all have an impact on an individual’s movement. The law extends beyond form and technique as people will have different levels of strength, coordination and mobility to name a few.

2. The Overcompensation Principle:

Our body reacts to stress by overcompensating, so that it can handle stress again in the future. This principle is why beginners at any sport see great improvement when starting their programs.

3. The Overcompensation Principle:

In order for your body to overcompensate, you must load it with a greater amount than was already encountered. This principle is the reason that people plateau in their gains over time. It becomes more and more difficult to stress the body to a point where it has not been stressed before.

4. The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle:

If you want to squat with a huge weight, you should squat with a huge weight.

The basic tenet of this principle is that you must tax your body in the same way that you want to improve. If you want to squat with a huge weight, you should squat with a huge weight. If you want to be strong, then you must train for strength. A simple example is the oft criticized high-rep Olympic lifts in CrossFit. These high-rep lifts may help in building aerobic or glycolytic capacity, but they will not assist in building Olympic weightlifting strength.

5. The Use/Disuse Principle and Law of Reversibility:

The first part of this principle is that we must continue train the skill or we will lose that capacity (“use it or lose it”). However, the second part of this principle is that once it has been trained and lost, the skill (or strength) will be much easier to recover than it was to originally train. The idea is that we have laid a neurological foundation that makes it easier to recover the function after we have lost it.

A simple example is the skill of riding a bicycle. We may not have done if for years, but we can pretty much get back on the bicycle and relearn it quickly. For strength training, it can take a little longer to recover to previous levels, but recovery is still at a faster rate than for people who are untrained.

6. The Specificity Principle:

Pavel Tsatsouline calls this principle “greasing the groove.” If you want to get better at something, you must do that something. If you want to get better at pull ups, do pull ups.

However, this principle doesn’t mean you don’t need to do additional exercises. For example, it is a good idea to strengthen your grip for the pull ups. But you should not rely solely on the additional exercises, because it’s the main exercise that will train your nervous system the best.

7. The General Adaption Syndrome:

This principle might subsume the others as it contains three stages that overlap with other principles:

- The first stage is called the alarm stage, which is when the body reacts to the application of training stress (similar to the overload principle).

- The second stage is the resistance stage, which is when our muscles adapt to increasing amounts of stress (similar to the overcompensation principle).

- The final stage is the exhaustion stage, where if we continue to train we will be forced to stop from too much stress.

The workout is made up by these 3 stages in a 1-2-3 order, but the length of each stage varies for each individual.

This syndrome has been revised and renamed the fitness-fatigue model. Much of the revised model is due to individual differences in how novice and elite athletes respond. For novice athletes, exhaustion is easier to reach and thus, stage 3 is longer than in the case of an individual who is in a better shape. Elite athletes fatigue differently and it takes a great deal more stressor to lead to stage 2, the resistance stage (or overcompensation).

Dr. Hatfield is squatting

Dr. Hatfield’s Perspective on CrossFit

Dr. Hatfield was a multifaceted athlete during college and after. If CrossFit were around, he probably would have excelled (participating in national-level events as a college gymnast and being a strong Olympic and power lifter). However, he had some concerns with the current CrossFit training methods:

“I like everything about Cross Fit, but it’s not a system of training. By putting together all those different sports and activities… it doesn’t make any sense because what you do in one sphere is going to take away in another sphere. For example, you cannot become a great Marathon runner and an Olympic weightlifter of note all at the same time.

It’s not going to work because the kind of training it takes to create great endurance removes from your ability to lift heavy weights.”

True, there is a way to achieve outstanding results in several sports, but it takes a lot of work and a precisely organized training plan with micro and macro cycles and the right proportion of training and rest. As we can see, CrossFitters can make it, even though they are not the best in everything either (as the slogan of CrossFit says: “Be the best in everything”). It is rather a matter of smart tactics, sustainable energy levels, excellent recovery abilities and good results in some of the basic sports. Let’s take a look at the results of last year’s CrossFit Games winner Rich Froning: At first he was in the middle. Then, in the 3rd WOD he started to come up: first he approached the leader, then he overtook him. That’s what competing is about: brains matter at least as much as muscles.

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