Training Plans for Athletes: 6 Key Ingredients
Are you training or just exercising? Find out the difference, why it matters, and ultimately what makes an athletic training program EFFECTIVE!
For many athletes, the idea that you have to do training outside of your sport to get better at that sport is common knowledge. Unfortunately, many have never actually experienced a proper athletic strength and conditioning program. What many think is training amounts to no more than just random exercises and ultimately won't bring them much success in the sporting arena. So what's the difference? What separates athletic training programs from what most other people do at the gym? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and ultimately what creates an effective athletic training program!
1. Training plans have initial and follow-up assessments
How can you get to where you want to go if you don't know where you are? It's like punching a destination into Google Maps without a starting point and expecting it to give you directions on how to get there. How you train all depends on where you are currently. That's where a comprehensive athlete assessment is key. A high quality assessment will give athletes concrete information on where they stand in terms of athletic performance, weaknesses that need to be addressed, and what level they're at from a physical development perspective. From here, a plan can be created that provides the appropriate starting point for the athlete and addresses their specific needs in order to improve athletic performance.
Also crucial to an athletic training plan is the follow-up assessment. It is important to revisit the tests performed in the initial assessment to monitor progression and to see if there are any new needs that have presented themselves. For instance, an athlete might perform very poorly on the movement portion of an initial assessment. The coach designs a program that focuses heavily on developing proficiency in fundamental movements. Upon reassessment if the coach sees a drastic improvement in movement scores, they may decide to start loading these movements with weights in the athlete's program to build more strength.
An assessment can give valuable information for program design.
2. Training sessions have FOCUS and STRUCTURE
For many, what constitutes a workout is a hodge-podge of their favourite exercises or ones they've seen other people do on Instagram. Often there is very little-to-no focus or structure to the program. After all, as long as you're feeling the BURN that means you're getting somewhere right?...
This may be fine if you're just looking to keep fit and stay healthy, but if you want to train to improve sport performance this just won't cut it. Training is all about adaptation. Any type of training you do is sending a message to your body about how it needs to adapt to the surrounding environment. If you lift weights, you're telling your body it needs to build muscle and get stronger. If you do a lot of speed work, you're telling your body that you need to be able to produce force at high speeds. The message to the body needs to be clear. There is also an optimal sequence for this message to be delivered to the body. Exercises that appear early in the program receive more of the training adaptation. These should generally also be the exercises that require the highest neurological demand (e.g. advanced plyometrics, heavy compound lifts). When there is no FOCUS or STRUCTURE to a program, the message gets muddled and the body doesn't know how to adapt. It's like walking into a room full of people and having all of them start talking to you all at once. The message gets lost.
Daily training plans should have a clear focus and structure.
3. Training has short-, medium- and long-term planning
Once the initial assessment is completed, and the starting point and destination for the training plan have been established, it is now time to build the road map. Not only do you need a road map to the final destination but you also need to be able to "zoom in" and see smaller chunks of the road trip along the way. In the training world, this is known as "periodization." Most periodization models generally break training down into three main "cycles." Macrocycles form the largest training unit for most athletes (e.g. yearly training plan), followed by mesocycles (e.g. 4 week training block), and "microcycles" (e.g. the training days and sessions that constitute a week of training). A periodized plan provides the general road map for your training and ensures you are staying on course towards your athletic performance goals.
4. Training is tracked
"You can't track what you don't measure," is how the saying goes. While many who go to the gym judge the effectiveness of a workout based on how much their muscles burn and if they get out of breath or not, this simply doesn't cut it for high performance athletic training. We've already established that you need to follow a plan. How do you know if the plan is working? How do you know if something needs to be adjusted? Are you even following the plan? None of these questions can be answered effectively without keeping track of training data. Not to mention, watching numbers improve over time can be extremely motivating and creates buy-in from athletes. Training data provided in-session can also be a great source of feedback for athletes to understand how their level of technical execution, or intent, has on performance of a task. It can also stoke the competitive fires and pull out higher levels of effort and performance in training.
It's important to track training data to monitor athlete progression.
5. Training is guided by a strength and conditioning professional
The best athletes in the world have coaches that manage and plan their training. A qualified strength and conditioning professional will be able to design a training plan that contains up-to-date methods and tools and will keep you accountable to it. They will also be able to make appropriate adjustments when inevitable bumps in the road come up. Another key thing to consider is the time and energy freed up by handing over the task of programming to a professional. Rather than stressing about what you're going to do each session and whether you're doing all the right stuff, you can hand it over to someone whose job it is to assess athletes, make training plans, and stay on top of the latest training tools and methods. One less thing to worry about so you'll be able to put more of your physical and mental energy into training and performance.
Even the best program is only as good as what the athlete puts into it. Motivation wavers over the course of time. This is true for everyone. Unfortunately, for many this also applies to their commitment to the plan. For athletes, it's the ability to remained committed and apply consistent effort over time that will lead to the success of a training plan. This is where goal setting and a strong understanding of WHY you're training comes into play. Having a vision of where you want to get to and how training fits in with your values as a person will pull you through the inevitable valleys that you will experience on your athletic journey.
Commitment is crucial to the success of a training plan.
By now it should be very clear that athletic training programs have specific criteria that separate them from general exercise programs and are crucial to long-term success in athletic development. Athletes may be able to 'get by' in the early stages of their careers with talent and basic fitness training, but ultimately if they want to reach higher levels of sport and realize their true potential, much more will be required and is possible with a PLAN!