Training the Athlete: Program Design – Part 1

Strength training for athletes is an extremely complex system that involves careful design, organization, and a long look at a needs analysis. 

Despite what some people may think, strength and conditioning for high-level athletes is not just throwing a barbell on one’s back, slamming medicine balls, and loud music. Your average personal trainer is simply not trained extensively enough to be able to properly train an athlete looking to make significant gains in their respective sport. 

Now, that is not a knock on regular-Joe certified personal trainers, but a large compliment to personal trainers, strength and conditioning professionals, and other certified individuals who go above and beyond to be the best at their craft. After all, that’s what this is–an art form. 

In part one of this series, I am aiming to explain the first “period” of Periodization, why professionals use it, how it works, and what it is comprised of. 

Periodization is the gradual cycling (maybe days, weeks, or months) of specificity, intensity, and volume of training to achieve peak levels of fitness for the most important competitions. Training shifts from non-sport-specific activities of high volume and low intensity to sport-specific activities of low volume and high intensity over a period of many weeks. 

A macrocycle (usually a year’s training) is divided into two or more mesocycles that revolve around dates of major competitions. Each mesocycle is subdivided into periods of preparation, competition, and transition. Ideally, an athlete will complete a mesocycle of training prior to each major competition, with variations for lengthy competitive periods. 

Periodization for athletes should start with a prep period in which there are three main phases.

Preparatory Period

Phase 1: Hypertrophy/Endurance

The hypertrophy/endurance phase occurs during the early stages of off-season prep. It may last from 1-6 weeks, depending on the condition of the athlete. This stage starts at a low intensity with high volume. In other words, it should involve a lot of sets and reps with lower weight. The goal for this phase of training is to develop an endurance base for future, more intense training. 

Training days can be full-body routines or split (upper body day and lower body day) routines. Exercises should be on the simpler side, and should not be highly tasking (i.e. no snatches, power cleans, or other movements that are highly complex in nature). 

Phase 2: Strength

In this phase, running programs progress to interval sprints of moderate distance, plyometrics activities become more complex, jumping activities can be introduced, and weight training becomes more specific to the event. Intensity level is gradually increased to loads of over 80% of the athlete’s 1RM (rep maximum), or in the 5RM to 8RM range, and only a moderate volume of training is performed. 

Phase 3: Power

As the cycle progresses, load increases to over 90% of 1RM (2Rm-4RM), and speed work intensifies to near contest pace (I prefer barefoot sprints on FLAT grass fields; but, always check your path for any unwanted surprises). Full recovery is allowed between bouts of exercise, and speed training drills, which may include sled towing, sprints against resistance, and uphill and downhill sprints, are incorporated. Prowler sprints and sled towing will forever be my favorite power exercise. There is nothing more challenging to the mind than trying to convince yourself you can do ONE MORE sprint when you are completely gassed. 

Next week—-Part 3: Competition Period, Flexibility Training, and Plyometrics.

 

“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”  

                                                                                 –Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

Move to the beat of your own drum.

Jared

 

 

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Power Training = Power Athlete

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Most of the athletes I come across are looking to be more powerful. They want to be stronger, faster, and more explosive. 

First, let’s get down to the cellular level.

The primary adaptation to anaerobic (intense, short duration) exercise, strength and/or power training, is an increase in muscle cross-sectional area, known as muscle hypertrophy. Muscle fibers both increase in size and in quantity in response to the high intensity contractions of weight training and/or sprint training. 

Nutrition is critical to hypertrophy gains…without adequate food intake or protein intake, amino acid availability and/or surplus energy won’t be available to stimulate this process. But, that’s another topic for another day…

In addition to changes in cross-sectional area, anaerobic exercise can enhance the activity of ATP-PCr (immediate short-burst energy stores) system enzymes and the glycolytic system enzymes. These changes help to increase the rate of energy transfer within the muscle, allowing for more rapid responses to energy demands in the future. 

Training

Most athletes have some kind of pre-season, competition season, and off-season. We will assume the athlete is using proper periodization when training during each of these seasons. 

The “power athlete” can cover a broad spectrum of athletes out there: baseball, football, shot-putter, 100m sprinter, high/long jumper, etc…

The training philosophy is simple: use powerful movement in the weight room to get power results in your sport. It’s not just a mindset, it is physically training your brain to recruit your fast-twitch muscle fibers, and training each of those fibers to fire at a high rate of speed. The meat of your off-season should be spent in the power/strength phases of training. We don’t want anyone coming right out of the competition season and throwing stacks of plates on the barbell and maxing out within a week or two. That’s foolish. Spending the entire off-season in power training will lead to the athlete over-training and regressing in just about every category. Today, we are only addressing that heart of the off-season, where the athlete is spending his/her time gaining power and strength. 

The goal of the strength/power phase is to first maximize strength gains with an increase in training intensity and decreased volume. You should start focusing on moving the weight a little faster through your range of motion. Each set should be heavier than the previous. After a few weeks of that, the goal is then to maximize power output. Exercises should be performed quickly, with proper weight. There should be an increase in time between sets. The power phase is extremely taxing on the neuromuscular system and will completely drain you without proper rest periods. 

Similar exercises can be used for both the strength and power phases. The only difference is going to be a drop in weight and doing the movements quicker or adding a plyometric touch when in the power phase.

For example: Strength phase – Heavy DB box stepups —–> Power phase – DB box stepups with a hop

Strength phases will typically entail sets of 4-6, with the reps being between 3-6.

Power phases will primarily be sets of 3-5, with reps of 2-4. 

So, the volume decrease in the power phase, but the movements will be much more difficult for your body to keep up with. 

**Obviously, serious athletes should always try and seek out a trainer in the off-season (or sometimes even year-round, if possible). But, for some it’s just not an option due to various factors. For those with a trainer, you may never have to worry about all this complex stuff. More power to you!

Be a beast. 

 

Jared

 

Move to the beat of your own drum.