The Application of Training Programs to Match Desired Adaptations


Every coach in the sports performance realm has likely heard the phrase “There are a million ways to skin a cat” in regards to implemented training. In all honesty this is not far from the truth. Depending on the athlete’s training age, almost any coach can get an athlete “strong”. It takes one with a deeper understanding of what is occurring within the athlete’s organism in order for performance to be increased to the greatest extent. The aim of this post is to force coaches to consider and implement training “concepts” or “primary goals”, rather than just a set, rep, or loading scheme.

As the internship coordinator, I have had the ability to ask countless applicants their processes of improving various aspects of performance through training, such as strength. Depending upon how well read the applicant may be, common answers range from set and rep schemes, weekly training set up, to even methodologies (triphasic, tier, 1x20, etc.). Based on the terminology of the question, all of these responses would be correct. As long as the loading scheme includes progressive overload and stresses the athlete being trained, any methodology has the potential to improve strength. However, when the applicant is asked to further explain their rationale behind implementing a methodology, more times than not their answers are unclear and spoken without much confidence. Please understand I am in no way knocking any applicant or intern that has gone through our application process, but this consistent finding exemplifies one of the bigger problems in our field. Too many coaches can spit out a set and rep scheme, use an intensity chart, or quote a system, while failing to understand the changes or adaptations being induced by the described training methodology. As coaches continue to develop a greater understanding of the human body, the more in-depth their training systems can become.

Peak performance, transfer of training, training specificity, etc. are all common buzz words coaches utilize when discussing training methodologies. However, what do those mean at the root of their usage? In regards to the programming of physical performance training, two aspects arise as being critical for continued improvement, development, and the achievement of peak performance. These aspects must be considered for sustained performance improvement. Although basic at their foundation, these aspects should be considered and extremely well understood when a program is created for an athlete. These two aspects are physiology and biomechanics.

Physiological adaptations are the changes that occur within the body as stress is applied through training. These adaptations include  neural changes, muscle fiber tissue improvements, changes within the cardio-respiratory system, and many others. The number of potential adaptations that can occur are vast, particularly when they are “stacked” upon each other within a training session. This occurs in nearly every training session completed due to the complex nature of the human organism. Each of these adaptations can be achieved through the implementation of specific training variables.

The biomechanical piece of training is how the athlete is moving through space to complete the prescribed exercise. At the most basic level, changes such as double leg vs. single leg exercises, push vs. pull exercises in the horizontal or vertical plane, multi-planar training are readily available to all coaches. Each of these training exercises require an individual skill set from the athlete in order to complete them both appropriately and effectively. These biomechanical aspects are considered throughout the annual program implemented and are applied in a manner that progresses from general to more specific as the competitive season approaches.

This post will not go into extreme depth in regard to either of these aspects, but rather demonstrate some of the “primary goals”, or adaptations, that are achievable through programming and that these two components (Physiology and biomechanics) serve as the foundation for improved training progression and implementation of these “primary goals”. At the very least, coaches must understand these aspects at a basic level. In the past few years coaches have exponentially increased their understanding of these two aspects in performance. However, many still many get caught up in the use of specific exercises or an individual loading scheme or methodology. This is not to say that having the knowledge of those training methods is not beneficial for a coach, but the problem lies in blind implementation without thorough understanding some of the basic physiology and biomechanical demands of the implemented methodology.

Exercises utilized in a program are merely an acute means to achieve a chronic adaptation that will assist in performance at a later time within the annual plan. There are few exercises that are truly capable of mimicking the requirements of a sport movement in both regards to the biomechanics as well as the velocity of the competition movements. By understanding your individual “primary goals” of each training phase, the implementation of exercises, loads, rep schemes, and training days all becomes much simpler, and yet at the same time more complex. As a coach understands the system the selection of what is appropriate to achieve the desired outcome becomes much easier, while the program itself continues to expand in complexity.

Each year I create a simplified annual plan that ultimately involves five training phases, or “primary goals”. I utilize these five phases to create specific adaptations within my athletes to aid in their on-field performance while also reducing the likelihood of injury. The training phases selected will ultimately determine the programming implemented throughout the annual phase. Therefore, I select those appropriate according to the athlete’s sport requirements. These five training phases are listed out below:

  1. Increase fitness and function
  2. Improve basic strength
  3. Improve reactive strength
  4. Increase power and speed
  5. Maintain (at the very least) physical attributes throughout competitive season

Before going in to any more explanation of MY annual training phases, it is critical to mention that these are merely that. They are my selection, as well as timing of the training my teams will experience bases on the desired physiological and biomechanical adaptations. If you have different “primary goals” that is completely alright, just understand your implementation will look much different than mine. This is critical to realize as I explain the training I utilize to complete each of these phases. Further reading on each of the five “primary goals” is available through hyperlinks below.

The first “primary goal” consists of training to increase my athletes’ fitness and function. This approach is, of course, developed with physiology and biomechanics in mind. In regard to physiology, I develop the athlete’s capacity in all three energy systems (Aerobic, glycolytic, and alactic). When an energy system is overlooked or underdeveloped, an athlete will never be able to function at their highest potential. Biomechanically, I aim to reduce compensation patterns and increase athlete efficiency. If the biomechanical side is overlooked then my athletes would compensate and never be capable of efficient movement. Ultimately, this first phase is designed and implemented with the goal of creating the most efficient athlete possible.

  • Energy System & Movement Efficiency Training: click here
  • Energy System & Movement Efficiency Training: click here
  • Energy System Training: click here

After the energy systems are developed and the athlete can move properly without compensation, I shift into my second phase. This primary goal consists of getting my athletes as strong as possible. If proper implementation occurs, there may come a time where an athlete is at a level where adding strength will no longer benefit their performance. For many coaches, particularly at the college level, do not have this issue. However, there are still times in which an athlete can become overdeveloped in strength. If a an athlete competing in volleyball is trained for strength at all times, they may achieve a point that increased size (due to the hypertrophic effect of the strength training) may actually hider her jump height, thus reducing performance. This is an important aspect for coaches to consider in their programming. During this phase I attempt to make adaptations to both the nervous system as well as the muscle tissue itself, while forcing an athlete’s ability to express these abilities in different biomechanical movements, or exercises.

  • Basic Strength Training: click here

*Although the hyperlink below does discuss tier (and we are discussing concepts), note the color coded cells demonstrating the basic biomechanical demands for each exercise.

In the third “primary goal” I have listed, my aim becomes to take the newly developed force producing capabilities and increase the use of that strength in a reactive fashion. It is in this phase the three muscle action phases are individually trained as this continues to allow adaptation to both the nervous system muscle tissue as well as the biomechanical efficiency of that movement. 

  • Reactive Strength Training: click here
  • Reactive Strength Training: click here
  • Reactive Strength Training: click here
  • Reactive Strength Training: click here
  • Reactive Strength Training: click here

My fourth phase is the final off-season “primary goal”, which consists of the implementation of training that improves my athlete’s power and speed. I believe this is the most critical aspect for the transfer of training onto the competitive field in many sports as they are completed at the highest velocities available.

  • Power and Speed Training: click here
  • Power and Speed Training: click here
  • Rate of Force Development Adaptations: click here

Finally, my fifth phase occurs throughout the competitive season. At this time my goal becomes to, at the very least, retain all of the previously trained physical aspects and ensure the safety and well-being of my athletes is maintained.

  • In-Season Training Approach: click here

Overall these “primary goals” should not be new information to many coaches and I understand that the majority of you reading this already have a set up similar to this or one that is set up based on your personal background and philosophies. However, many coaches run into issues when a new exercise or rep/loading scheme is seen for the first time as they attempt to immediately implement it into their training. This is all done prior to asking the critical question, “how does this exercise or rep/load scheme fit into my currently existing primary goals?”

There are so many methods available to complete the five “primary goals” I utilize throughout my annual plan. It is up to me though, as the performance coach, to review each of these potential applications and select the most appropriate version for my athlete population. Whenever I see an exercise, method, etc. I immediately ask myself “how/when can this fit into my annual plan, or does it not fit at all?” An understanding of the underlying physiology and biomechanics will further allow coaches to select appropriate training means to increase the likelihood of achieving their desired results.