Designing training programs for athletes and athletic teams can be a daunting task for a novice or beginner in the field. It can also be a challenge for coaches who don’t have the training that a strength and conditioning coach may have. Most high school teams and lower level college athletic programs have coaches with very limited knowledge of strength and conditioning principles. Often times these teams rely on the head coach or a position coach to perform double duty as the strength and conditioning coach. As a coach who is put in this situation, how do you use strength and conditioning principles, bioenergetic systems of energy, and biomechanics of sports skills to design training programs for your athletes?

First, we should understand a basic principle you can apply for any goal. That principle is the principle of specificity. The principle of specificity loosely means you should train with the end goal in mind. For example, if you are a powerlifter, training like a marathon runner isn’t specific to your goal and will actually be detrimental to your performance. Obviously, this principle requires you to understand what your end goal is. The more specific you want your training to be, the more specific your end goal needs to be.

Let’s look at a sports example and analyze the skill sets required to help make things more clear. American football is one of the most popular sports in the United States today and is a great example of how the principle of specificity should be applied. American football has a wide array of positions that involve very different skill sets. It is easy to see when watching a game that a 350-pound lineman requires a much different skill set than a 200-pound running back or a 185-pound defensive back. So how can we achieve training goals specific to the demands of our position during offseason training and during in-season practice? We need to first look at what each position is required to do throughout the course of a game.

If you were to show up at nearly any high school during training camp or offseason workouts, I feel extremely confident saying that you would see football coaches all over the US requiring athletes to perform mile runs as conditioning. This is the exact opposite stimulus required for this specific sport. How long is an average NFL play? The average NFL play is roughly 3-5 seconds in duration. What relevance does the ability to run an 8-minutes have to do with performing 3-5 second 100% maximum effort bursts? The answer… absolutely nothing.

Exercise physiology tells us that there are three main energy systems used to perform all movement. These systems include the phosphagen system (short term energy), glycolysis (moderate energy), and the oxidative system (long term energy). The phosphagen energy system will act first and provide energy for about 10-15 seconds. Following this, glycolysis will take over and last roughly 2-5 minutes, depending on your conditioning level. Lastly, the oxidative system will be the main method for long term energy production. We do not need to get into specifics of each system but we should understand that our training needs to replicate the energy system used during competition because how we train, dictates our bodies adaptation to training. Training the phosphagen system and the fast glycolytic system has the most carry over to our example, American football. Not only this, but when we train outside of our required energy system, we become less and less efficient at making the adaptations needed to become better at our sport. [2] A meta-analysis by Wilson et al. 2012 demonstrated endurance training and concurrent training, which is the simultaneous inclusion of both resistance training and endurance training, has significantly negative effects on the ability to produce strength in both the lower body and upper body. [2]

WILSON 2012 Concurrent_Training___A_Meta_Analysis_Examining
Figure 1. Overall effect sizes for strength, endurance, and concurrent training: the mean overall ES (mean 6SE) for lower-body strength, lower-body hypertrophy, power, _ VO2max, and body fat. *Significant difference at p , 0.05 from strength training. &Significant difference at p , 0.05 from endurance training.

In addition to knowing that the average play lasts roughly 3-5 seconds in duration, we also know that the play clock is set to 40 seconds in the NFL. Meaning that for every 40 seconds of rest, there is approximately 3-5 seconds of exercise. If we wanted to perform conditioning that would replicate an NFL play, one example might be to have our athletes perform sprints for 3-5 seconds (30-50 yards) and rest for 30-40 seconds between. At this point, we should be able to see that performing sprints in an interval fashion has much more application to football than mile runs.

To conclude the bioenergetic aspect of this topic: observe your sport and position, understand the length of time the athlete must perform the skill and how often the athlete must perform this skill. Then replicate those concepts in your training. Training with the end goal in mind will make you more efficient come game time.

In addition to bioenergetics, biomechanics, the study of human movement, plays a huge role in exercise selection and training. When deciding what exercises to include or not to include in your training program, you’ll need to analyze the movement patterns of the sport and position that you are programming for. What does this position require to be successful and how can we replicate those movements within the weight room? Start by:

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