PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
This is a comprehensive set of guidelines for training objectives and an overall plan to be applied to all training programs. The 601 provides comprehensive information on how to approach training for any given objective. It runs from completely new athlete to the most advanced level and covers fitness components, phases of training and guidelines for training for each period of time within a season.
Every training program, regardless of type, scale or the experience level of the athlete, has given training objectives. Without a training objective there is no purpose for constructing a training program in the first place. In order to achieve the established training objectives there must be progression. This progression must be purposely planned, with a session by session action plan implemented. Progression is a simple concept in principle. Put simply, progression refers to improvement of specific components of fitness. For progression to be useful it must be measurable and easy to track.
Training objectives pertaining to a training program are specifically stated components of fitness that are to be improved to a measurable and trackable degree. A training objective must be…
Specific - Training objectives must be clear and concise. Broad training objectives provide little value because they are not clear, hence the target is not as precise. Without being clear and specific it is harder to produce a given result because the desired result is vague.
Measurable - What gets measured gets managed. If an athlete is not measuring results at regular intervals then progress is unclear. In order to achieve a specific training objective there needs to be a clear distinction between one point in time and another. If this is not established then necessary changes can’t take place.
Trackable (a trend) - Something trackable is a result of being measured. The difference lies in noticing and pinpointing trends. The purpose of tracking results and trends allows the coach and athlete to notice what is working, what is not working and why. This information is used to design the next phase of a program.
Relevant - If you need to improve swimming the best way to do it is through swimming. If you’re a cyclist then you need to cycle. In addition to these primary activities there are secondary and tertiary activities that aid in improving the main components. Everything an athlete does is done for a specific purpose. The purpose needs to be relevant to the task at hand.
Consistent - If something is worth doing it is worth doing regularly. Incorporating elements of training you would not normally use just to mix things serves no purpose and only results in wasted time and effort. Consistency of tasks and training objectives is necessary to a) establish what is working and what is not, based on trackable training data, and b) maintain an improvable training element, meaning if something is done regularly and consistently then it can be progressively improved upon.
Progressive - The long term purpose of all training is quite obvious. In simple terms the purpose and objective is always progression. That is, becoming gradually better at a specific skill or physical attribute over a period of time. For training objectives to be effective they need to take the athlete from one level of skill or proficiency to a higher level of skill or proficiency over a specified time. Progressive training objectives involve things such as lifting more in a specific lift, sprinting faster times over a previously established distance etc. Collectively, if all progressive training objectives are achieved then the athlete can be expected to perform to a greater level in their sport.
Progression is the simplest and most obvious component of coaching and training. Progression is the gradual improvement of one or more fitness elements or skills. The following guidelines pertain to the best-practice implementation of progression within an athletic training program.
Linear progression refers to gradual improvement in a linear, upwards pattern. Linear progression is what is meant by the principle of progressive overload. Using strength training as an example, linear progression involves adding a small amount of extra weight to each lift every workout or every few workouts.
NOTE - Indefinite linear progression is not possible or realistic. Linear progression can occur for a given period of time, depending on the phase of training that the athlete is in. After a certain amount of time the athlete experiences the law of diminishing returns. Eventually progression comes to a halt and the athlete is unable to add extra weight to the bar. This is where effective programming principles come in.
WHEN TO USE LINEAR PROGRESSION - Athletes that have just started training for the first time are highly responsive to any training stimulus. For this reason brand new strength training athletes will respond to any form of training and will experience rapid improvement.
After an initial period of training the progressive improvement will begin to slow down. At this point the program must be broken down into phases of recovery, alteration of volume, intensity and training type. For instance, if the athlete has been working on the back squat, they may alter the program to focus first on a recovery phase of lower volume and intensity, followed by a complete change in the actual program itself. Instead of maximum strength training using maximal loads the athlete may focus on velocity, with lighter lifts performed at a fast pace, swapping back squats with something like cleans for a period of 12-16 weeks. The period of doing cleans will, in itself, involve linear progression, a peak, followed by recovery phase and then back to the original program of max strength involving back squats. The back squat ability of the athlete will be at least 10% lower than when they ended their last max strength phase. However over the next 16-20 weeks they will work on building it back up using linear progression to a point that is 20% or more above their previous max.
This form of programming allows the athlete to build various skills and abilities in phases without lingering on a plateau. The above is simply an example. Programming depends on the athlete’s specific training objectives and will be structured accordingly.
We have discovered why linear progression works only for a set length of time before the law of diminishing returns takes hold and stalls results. For this reason the program needs to be structured intelligently to cater to this. However this form of programming is not the only way to ensure long term and continuous forward progression.
Undulating progression refers to the regular shifting and variation of a training program from one training week to the next. Each training week, or mini cycle, is directed towards a different focus from the last. This has to be structured intelligently in order to ensure that each training cycle compliments the others and leads to a specific objective. Methods such as CrossFit and p90x aim to use this method of undulating progression by making each and every workout randomised and varied. However this is a misunderstanding of the principle and how the human body responds to stimuli.
In order for a specific training result to be experienced there must be a plan in place. Athletes and coaches set specific objectives, not random and broad goals such as “get fitter”. The objective is usually to increase sprint speed by a specific amount or to lift a certain amount of specified lifts by a given date or something to that effect. Getting even more specific to the sport, it is usually a set of objectives that leads to an overall broad objective pertaining to actual performance of the sport itself.
HOW IT WORKS - We will, once again, use the example of a strength training program, as strength is the common training factor pertaining to all athletes, regardless of sport.
A training phase is broken down into several training cycles. A cycle generally being a training week. The objective of the overall phase is to produce a specific strength objective, which will be stated and recorded. For this reason all training needs to pertain to that objective. To get a better understanding, we will look at sample training cycles that will work to produce an undulating progression effect. For ease of understanding, each cycle is seven days duration.
Cycle one - Mid-range reps using a heavy weight. Reps are in the range of 5 per set, with intensity being high. The exercises used are simple compound movements.
Cycle two - Low reps using maximum weight. This training cycle is geared towards reps of 1-3 reps per set. During this cycle the athlete is lifting above 90% of their absolute max, often testing their max. Major compound movements are used with the addition of partial reps.
Cycle three - Cycle three focuses on maximum velocity. The amount of weight used is reduced and the goal of every exercise is speed. Reps are kept between 1-5 per set and lifts begin to include Olympic lifts, which are naturally geared towards velocity.
Cycle four - Cycle four is designed for volume. In this cycle reps are varied from 5-15 reps per set. Everything from maximum velocity to high volume compound lifts are used. The goal here is volume, performing a greater number of sets and reps per workout with less rest between sets. This cycle will result in greater work capacity and muscle growth.
Cycle five - The last cycle is a recovery cycle. Here the athlete will do little or no training. This resets the muscular and nervous systems so that the process can begin again at cycle one.
During each cycle the goal is progression for each training type. Every time the athlete starts each cycle they are aiming to lift more weight than they did the last time they did the same cycle. Due to the variation and changing protocols an athlete is able to continue to progress on a continuous basis. Note that all of the training involved in each cycle is geared towards the same objective. Unlike popular training trends such as CrossFit and p90x, undulating progression is not randomness for the sake of randomness. There are solid and rational principles being implemented with a clearly marked path of progression.
WHY IT WORKS - Undulating progression works due to the weekly variation of stimuli. All training types will lead to improvement of the athletic objective of increased strength and power. Training is varied from one cycle to the next to focus on a specific element of strength and power. The body will only just be starting to get used to performing the training type of one cycle before it is introduced to a stimulus that has not surfaced in at least five weeks. So gains within each cycle are somewhat as strong as the initial gains of a beginner. Each training type of each cycle is related to and supported by the training type in the previous cycle.
The non-linear approach utilises a sawtooth pattern of progression. This method was popular in the 1980s with weightlifting teams and track and field athletes from Bulgaria and Russia and other neighbouring countries. The basic premise is still the same, an athlete simply can’t progress in a linear fashion without hitting a plateau. For this reason training is structured in a building and peaking patterns. The athlete trains progressively up to a peak, which generally coincides with a major competition, then allows a period of detraining, where they will fall behind and actually decrease their strength by a small amount. This is then followed again by forward progression until the next peak is required.
To look at this simply we will look at the basic and simplified training pattern of the Bulgarian weightlifting team in the 80s.
A loading phase includes a progressively more intense and higher volume training program over the period of 4-6 weeks until the athlete reaches a peak. This is followed by a detraining or unloading phase, which involves complete rest at first and then regular training at a lower volume and intensity than the loading phase. Generally an unload phase is only one mini cycle of training, which equates to a period of 7-10 days. The next loading phase is commenced about 10% below what the athlete was able to do at the end of the previous loading phase. Linear progression is then commenced throughout the loading phase until a peak is reached at the end. Then the cycle is repeated.
This training methodology is obviously not quite as simple as that overall, however this provides the basic reasoning and premise of the training as it relates to performance.
The Unleashed Training Way
We have covered three of the most common forms of progression used in the training of athletes and for strength training in general for better results. Looking at these three methods though, which is best? Why use one over the other? Surely one method must be more effective than the other two. Well yes and no.
Unleashed Training primarily makes use of the undulating protocol. This is easy to implement among most athletes and is more convenient and simple to monitor, whether you’re an athlete or a coach.
Combined with this undulating approach we have made good use of the sawtooth pattern of progression within the undulating model. Training from week to week is conducted within an undulating pattern of progression. Every 12-16 weeks the athletes takes at least 10 days to unload and reset. From there training is commenced at cycle one 10% below where the athlete was at the end of the last cycle. They then build back that 10% and progress beyond it.
Pertaining to the cycles of progression, athletes will go through a series of specific training phases that each focus on a different objective.
The pre-foundational phase is used by the beginner athlete. This phase is for those that have never undertaken a formal strength and conditioning program. During this phase the athlete will focus on developing the basic skills necessary for ongoing training. Here they will learn how to perform basic movements that are likely to be included within a training program. They will learn how to squat, how to deadlift, correct sprint biomechanics and any other basic skills that are specific to the components they will be required to develop over time. During this phase the training is not highly specific and intensity is kept low.
NOTE - Apart from the pre-foundational phase, all training phases are repeated throughout an athlete’s ongoing training. Each phase is revisited in succession.
The foundational phase is comprised of generalised training that is focused on a broad range of skills and physical training components. Here the training is not highly specific, with the goal being to build a solid foundation from which further specific skills can be developed.
The developmental phase is usually comprised of more than one distinct phase. The typical method used by Unleashed Training is to have two developmental phases. The developmental phase is where the athlete will spend the majority of their training time. This is the phase that will develop up to 90% of an athlete’s physical ability. The developmental phase starts where the foundational phase left off. The foundational phase produced the basic foundations from which to build more specific ability. The developmental phase begins slightly more specific than the foundational phase but still rather general and broad in nature. Throughout the first foundational phase the athlete will get more and more specific with their training until they are working almost exclusively on components that directly relate to the mechanics of their sport. This leads into the second developmental phase, which aims to focus in on the specifics of the sport more intently. The second developmental phase is generally shorter than the first. The goal is to spend 6-8 weeks developing specific physical capacity that will directly improve the mechanics of the chosen sport.
Where the developmental phase develops raw physical capacity specific to the task at hand, the preparation phase uses that and gets even more specific by relating those specific skills to the sport itself. So here, not only are the physical components highly developed, they are now being put to use regularly in the actual sport. The developmental phase is where 90% of physical capacity is developed. Prior to that the foundational phase served to provide the initial 8% as an example. The preparation phase is that final 2%, it’s the icing on the cake.
Keep in mind that these training phases are undergone in a cyclical pattern from foundational right through to preparation. After the preparation phase the athlete then reverts back to the foundational phase. Every time each phase is revisited the athlete will be performing that phase at a greater capacity.
Finally, we will look at a training timeline. This is an example of a training year that might be undergone by an athlete using the Unleashed Training method of progression, training phases and setting objectives. This timeline is broad and serves only as a generalised example. The process of designing a program for an athlete must include far more detail and is not done so far in advance.
START - GENERALLY A PERIOD OF ABOUT 4 WEEKS
Learning basic movement patterns. How to sprint, how to lift from the floor, how to squat and basic mobility.
Initial fitness testing focusing on specific components that are likely to be used in the athlete’s sport.
Correction of fundamental movement flaws, increasing mobility limitations and identifying areas of individual injury prevention.
6 - 12 WEEKS
Broad and general training developing basic strength in major movements such as squatting, deadlifts, pulling and pushing, as well as improving things like sprint biomechanics and building basic speed.
Developing general components of fitness that loosely pertain to the overall objective. Here the training is not highly specific, but is still specific in terms of energy systems used and training components developed.
Building raw capacity, essentially building a larger and more powerful human engine so that general capacity is increased.
12 - 30 WEEKS
Learning more specific skills and developing more complex layers of ability. Strength continues to be a focus, with the addition of added velocity. This creates power, essential to all sports.
Starting to learn and develop Olympic lifts and other more specific and creative skills and drills that relate more specifically to the sport.
Increased volume with a focus on 4-5 distinct components.
30 - 48 WEEKS
Skills and drills that are of the highest level of difficulty.
Advanced strength and power training methods and principles, such as the addition of partial reps, variable resistance (using things like chains and bands).
More focus on skills that are as directly related to the sport as possible.
At this stage most movement patterns, drills and strength patterns should be second nature and ingrained into the nervous system.
48 - 52 WEEKS
The athlete is now proficient in all components of training and performs skills naturally and instinctively.
Training is now more creative, with new challenges added regularly.
The athlete works from complex back down to basic fundamentals to start the building process again.
52 WEEKS AND BEYOND
An athlete beyond this point is experienced and understands his or her own capabilities and limitations.
Major focus on using any means necessary, within safe guidelines, in order to progress upwards. This generally pertains to advanced training principles and precise nutritional guidelines.
An increased focus on durability, correction, prevention and recalibration. This involves a focus on preventing injury, correcting movement limitations and flaws and increasing overall capacity while becoming more durable.
To summarise, training objectives need to be specifically set and highly specific in order to be measurable and easy to track. By setting specific training objectives an athlete is able to plan their training accordingly and know what needs to be achieved through every step of a training program.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.