Training principles to improve athletic performance

by frank-stuart
17SEP

Follow these eight cardinal training principles and you will be well on your way to designing effective fitness programs.

Specificity Principle

The specificity principle asserts that the best way to develop physical fitness for your sport is to train the energy systems and muscles as closely as possible to the way they are used in your sport. Thus, the best way to train for running is to run, for swimming is to swim, and for weightlifting is to lift. In sports such as basketball, baseball, and soccer, the training program should not only overload the energy systems and muscles used in that sport, but should also duplicate similar movement patterns. For example, in strengthening a quarterback’s throwing arm, design the exercise to simulate the throwing movement. Warning: This principle can be taken too far. Ample evidence suggests that cross training, or doing another sport or activity, can help improve performance (see the variation principle).

Overload Principle

To improve fitness levels, you must do more than what your body is used to doing. When more is demanded, within reason, the body adapts to the increased demand. You can apply overload in duration, intensity, or both. As a runner, if you increase a long-distance run by five minutes, you’ve added an overload of duration. If instead, you run your normal distance, but in a shorter amount of time, you’ve added an overload of intensity.

Progression Principle

To steadily improve your fitness levels, you must continually increase the physical demands to overload your systems. If the training demand is increased too quickly, you will be unable to adapt and may break down. If the demand is not adequate, you will not achieve your optimal fitness levels.

Diminishing Returns Principle

When someone unfit begins a training regime, fitness levels improve rapidly, but as they become fitter, the returns diminish. That is, as you become fitter, the amount of improvement is less as you approach your genetic limits (figure 13.9). A corollary to this principle is that as your fitness levels increase, more work or training is needed to make the same gains. As you’re designing training programs, remember that fitness levels will not continue to improve at the same rate as you become fitter. Remember, when you first start training, improvements in fitness are large and happen quickly however, the closer you get to your maximum fitness level, the harder you must work to achieve smaller increases in your fitness levels. This same principle applies when trying to lose body mass.

Variation Principle

This principle has several meanings. After you have trained hard for several days, you should train lightly to give your body a chance to recover. Over the course of the year, use training cycles (periodisation) to vary the intensity and volume of training to help achieve peak levels of fitness. This principle also means that you should change the exercises or activities regularly so that you do not overstress a part of the body. Of course changing activities also maintains your level of interest in training.

Reversibility Principle

We all know the following saying: Use it or lose it. When you stop training, your hard-won fitness gains disappear, usually faster than they were gained. The actual rate of decline depends on the length of the training period before training ceased, the specific muscle group, and other factors. A person confined to complete bed rest is estimated to lose cardiovascular fitness at the rate of 10 percent a week. It’s important to recognise that maintaining a moderately high level of fitness year-round is easier than detraining at the end of the season and then retraining at the beginning of the next.

Moderation Principle

Here is another familiar saying: All things in moderation. Remember that training is a slow, gradual process. Give yourself time to progress! Don’t be impatient! Stick to a training program that progresses slowly, using the principles just discussed. You want to gently coax your body into superior condition, not beat it up by overtraining. Your body adapts when you are resting, so sleep and down time is as equally important as training. Training hard for 7 days of the week will do you more harm than good.

Make training fun. Design games and activities that challenges yourself to do the same work but without the drudgery of monotonous exercises. Training should be encouraging and promote a positive attitude. It might hurt – but it can be fun too!

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