No matter what level of participant, beginner, club athlete or elite, you should always aim to monitor your progress. So before you start any exercise regime, the more information you gain at the start, then the better you can do this later. So it always worth having a thorough medical, and take a few baseline measurements in the sport you wish to compete, which can act as performance indicators for the season. Ideally this should be repeated every three to four months, though can be costly if paying yourself.
With regards to the program, whoever designs it should:
- know the athlete
- know the sport
- know the persons goals (i.e. recreational to elite).
All training programs should ideally be reviewed / updated every 6-8 weeks, and always incorporate a ‘rest week’ during this to allow for supercompensation (improvement).
Training programmes can be a fine a balancing act, especially when have a specific target in mind. Train too little and you won’t achieve your goal, or train too hard and pick up an injury which sets you back. Knowing when and how to progress a program can be a bit of a minefield.
The aim of any training regime is to apply a series of stimuli that will displace the homeostasis of an individual’s functional systems, and therefore provide the stimulus for adaptation. Viru, A. (1984).
Improving fitness is all about getting the right balance between training and rest, the term for this is the ‘Overload Principle’:
This states that a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place. The body will adapt to this stimulus. Once the body has adapted then a different stimulus is required to continue the change. In order for a muscle (including the heart) to increase strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to. To increase endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time than they are used to. If this stress is removed or decreased there will be a decrease in that particular component of fitness. A normal amount of exercise will maintain the current fitness level.
Simply stated if you do not achieve “OVERLOAD” during your workout you will not improve.
The best way to achieve this is by constantly monitoring your performance capacity and adjusting it accordingly. If deterioration in performance is indicated, then you need to reduce either the frequency and / or the intensity of training, rest is the best recovery.
The easiest way of controlling overload is by using the acronym ‘F I T T ‘
This will predominantly be decided by someone’s work and other commitments, and how much ‘free’ time they can realistically dedicate to training each week. More frequent the training program the greater will be the fitness benefits, particularly true with respect to any sport requiring endurance training.
This is the most important of the factors, as sets the tone of the whole workout. For cardiovascular exercise intensity is proportional to maximal aerobic power. It is most easily monitored using a heart rate monitor, as is directly proportional to the degree of overload.
For strength training this will be governed by the amount of weight lifted, which in turn will be decided upon by your repetition target (see part 3).
As already stated in previously, quality is far more important than quantity. To help achieve this, preparation can help eliminate a lot of time wasting. Also what you are training for, and the intensity you are training at will also dictate the length of your training sessions. Train don’t strain.
This refers to the method of your training. In cardiovascular examples are; interval, fartlek or long slow duration, in strength training you may employ pyramid, supersets or compound sets.
The purpose of a training program is to:
– Reorganise/ improve the major energy system used in the activity
– Via the overload principle, construct a program to develop that particular energy system
All programs must be specific to developing the energy system predominantly used during performance of the athletes chosen sport. Regardless of event, time of performance (duration) is related to the energy system, i.e. long and slow, or short and explosive, see table below:
|ACTIVITY||EVENT TIME||SPEED ATP/CP (%)||ANAEROBIC (%)||AEROBIC (%)|
All of these four factors will also be governed by what activity you are training for, what part of the season, and if there is a final end / competition date. Therefore it is often a case of working backwards to plan your training schedule.
Lots of sports work in phases and seasons. Be it running, triathlon, football or cycling; most usually have ‘on’ and ‘off’ seasons. Therefore depending on your level and goals, it can be beneficial to plan and adapt your training around this, we’ve all heard of horses ‘peaking’ for the Grand National, this is no different.
The main difference between elite and amateur athletes is their preparation. Amateur athletes tend to train hard all year round, with little or no rest. Elite athletes train to peak. For example if I was to prepare an athlete’s annual planner I would divide it into three main training phases:
1. Off-season (winter)
Training generally non-specific, keeping generally active to maintain body mass near competition mass (adjust calorie intake accordingly).
- Long slow duration activities to increase capillarisation
- Participation in alternative sporting activities for relaxation
2. Pre-season (transition)
- Often 8-12 weeks prior to competition
- Remember ‘train to race, do not race in training’
- High intensity program used specific to the athletes sport, utilising predominant energy system
- Maintain weights / circuit training x 1 per week
- Controlled long slow duration activity 1-3 per week of 2-4hours to enhance lipid metabolism
3. In-season (competition) training
- For those that compete regularly, then competition itself should maintain the increases in energy systems attained in pre- and off-season. Provided that they do not over-compete!
- Plan the season, choose the events where want to be a contender, and some events as a spectator (gain experience)
- Long slow duration sessions x1-2 week
- Sports specific training sets directed towards upcoming targeted races
- If an endurance athlete then should complete one or two threshold sessions per week.
All of these phases should have continuous cycles of monitoring, maintenance and training development. Even during the competition phase, it is still vital to incorporate a rest / low intensity week every 6 weeks to allow for supercompensation.
Final hints / tips:
1. Train with a partner / group / instructor
- Enhanced safety, motivation, quality, monitoring and fun.
2. Quality not quantity
- Use a heart rate monitor and train in prescribed zones
- Train don’t strain, not no pain no gain
- Utilise a coach / instructor whenever possible
3. Test and Race
- Regular tests, either in the lab or basic biometrics at the gym, use as performance indicators to monitor progress
- Incorporate a rest and test week approx. every 6 weeks
- Encourage use of a training diary, can either buy one or make your own personalised spreadsheet. Could include diet, body mass, sleep, mood, fatigue, waking HR as well as training diary of mileage and/or weight lifted
- If score high on fatigue (7+ out of 10) for two consecutive days, take next day off. Is important to recognise when to rest, as well as train. People who are tired are prone to injury.
- Absolutely no training if sick, consult your doctor
5. Correct training Times
- I encourage people to train at 08.30-10.30, 12.00-14.00 or 16.30-19.30, with suitable re-fueling worked around. No high intensity training before 07.00 or after 20.00
6. Core Stability
- Pilates is excellent for posture and prehabilitation
- Don’t neglect the Transverse Abdominus, Obliques and Quadratus Lumborum. So many people focus solely on the Rectus Abdominus (6 pack muscles), but there is so much more to the core than just these.
7. Personnel Organisation
- Plan to train, train to win. Get organised with work / training / family life balance, takes the stress off!!
The best thing about goal setting is that it provides you with a baseline measurement, in order to know what you’ve achieved you need to know where you’ve come from!!