Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Zone of Proximal Development

In social learning psychology circles, the idea of the "Zone of Proximal Development" is a popular one. In simple terms, the zone of proximal development (or "ZPD") consists of tasks and skills that are a little beyond a learner's current level of competence that can be done with assistance. Tasks and skills in the zone of proximal development generally are very difficult for the learner to do by themselves. The goal of an educator then would be to provide learners with experiences within their individual ZPDs (challenging, but not TOO challenging) and giving the necessary assistance to help the learner progress and develop.

What does this have to do with resistance training? A lot really. It's pretty common to see new trainees do much more than what is necessary (of the wrong things to boot!) as they begin training. Trying to exceed the limits of the newbie "zone" very quickly accelerates the development of bad habits. The reverse is also true for some perpetual plateauers - trainees who never train hard enough stimulate growth.

The million dollar questions then are "Where is my ZPD?" and "How do I know if I'm over or under-shooting it?" Not easy questions to answer but, generally, manipulation of the following training parameters are key:

*Recovery (Am I getting enough rest? Am I getting too much?)
*Diet (Am I eating enough? Am I eating right?)
*Training Volume (Am I pushing the reps enough or too much? Is the total amount of weight moved in training too much or not enough?)
*Training Intensity (Is the weight challenging enough or am I coasting through reps? Is every rep gut-bustingly hard? Do I need to back off?)
*Training Density (Is the rest between exertions appropriate? Could I rest less? Should I rest more?)
*Training Frequency (Do I train frequently enough? Is every workout like a weekend-warrior-sore-for-a-week event? Do I train too often?)
*Exercise Selection (Am I doing the right exercises? Will these exercises strengthen what needs to be strengthened?)
*Exercise Order (Am I doing the important things first? Does the sequence of exercises every vary? ...Should it?)

It's not a list to obsess about. Make adjustments as necessary, but stay the path and do your best to find the "zone".

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