Constructing a Training Programme - The Basics


‘If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.’
Lewis Carroll

There is no standard solution to producing a training programme because of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and differing abilities to tolerate, and positively respond to, training loads. Unfortunately, many sports performers fail to plan their training programme properly; or, worse still, try and follow the programme of an established star.

Every programme design should consider the component parts of physical performance: endurance, power, skill, speed (being one of the components of power alongside strength), strength & suppleness. We must also consider spirit: the will to succeed. How does a correct mixture of those components contribute towards success in our chosen events? Would the amount of power generated by a high jumper at the point of take-off be necessary for a marathon runner?  It would seem unlikely: yet a marathon runner may need to generate power to propel his body forward faster to overtake another athlete. It is the ratio of each of the physical fitness components and the how the ratio alters, depending how close it is to an individual’s competitive season, that gives the necessary ingredients for success. If one component is incorrectly over emphasised a ‘peak’ of performance might not be reached. For example, a middle distance runner who maintained high mileages, but had limited pure speed or speed endurance work, in his schedule during the pre -competitive period would be plodding like a carthorse during the competitive season. Whilst most likely his more ‘savvy’ competitors would have reduced their mileage and increased speed and speed endurance to replicate, and adapt to, the specific physiological challenges experienced during an 800/1500m race.  Does that mean that it is wrong to have high mileage periods in a middle-distance athlete’s schedule? No. It just means they should be utilised earlier in their training programme when background endurance is being established.

There’s three things I consider when constructing a programme: injury prevention, specificity and maintenance. Why in this order? Firstly, it’s pointless undertaking a training programme and have to stop because of preventable injury. So an assessment by a physiotherapist to look at joint alignment, mobility and soft tissue problems is essential. They might recommend preventative exercises, stretches or manual therapy (foam-roller work or deep-tissue massage, etc). You could also try a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) where faulty movement patterns that could lead to injury are identified and ‘corrective’ exercises are introduced to reduce the chances of future injuries. Check out Gray Cook’s user-friendly book Movement-Functional Movement Systems for more information.

Specificity is emphasising a component of training to improve that component of training. The weight lifter lifts weights to get strong; the marathon runner runs long-distances to improve his endurance and aerobic capacity. However, that’s just part of the story- heavy weight training correctly applied can improve an endurance athlete’s performance; as muscle groups becomes stronger less muscle fibres, within muscle groups, are recruited to produce the same pre-training force output – giving the muscle groups a greater capacity to endure for longer post training. Also mobility and stretching exercises can improve a marathon runner’s stride length and running efficiency or a weight lifter’s ability to safely squat. So it would be wise to consider including those modes of training in the overall programme.

To understand how the physical training components: strength training, mobility, speed, etc, integrate within a programme; imagine a training programme as a cake and all those components are slices of that cake. Each slice would vary in size depending on the stage of the training programme. But note that every training component would continue to be represented in the complete cake, even if it’s just a tiny piece. This is the art and science of constructing a training programme: getting the mix right so the performer hits a peak when it counts. But always bearing in mind- the closer an performer comes to their competitive period the principle of specificity; where the largest slice of the cake would represent the physiological fitness or skill requirements of a chosen event.

Finally, maintenance is where the programme tends to reduce in volume, but not necessarily intensity. This occurs during the competitive period where the performer has hopefully realised a peak of performance and the events themselves act as a stimulus to maintain performance standards and keep the performer ‘ticking over’.

Successful training programmes have to be planned, monitored closely, and tweaked if performance objectives are not being achieved. A training diary is essential and will inform the performer as to what works and what needs to be altered. Don’t rely on memory! It’s highly selective and results in the performer doing what they enjoy most rather than working on their weaknesses. Some training programmes will get you to the finishing line. But only a carefully planned and implemented training programme will give you the physiological and psychological edge on your opponents.smiley