There are many different elements strength coaches must consider when designing a strength program for their athletes. Whether players are just beginning to build strength or are well-developed professionals, the most effective strength and conditioning programs implement training cycles and progressions.
Sports periodization is the planning of athletic training using a progressively cyclic format with the goal of timing peak performance during the athlete’s major competitive events. This strategic approach keeps a training program organized and can help every athlete maximize their performance when they need it most. To learn more about periodization and cyclic format check out this blog.
Why Cyclic Training?
Cyclic training organizes a team's approach, protects against overtraining, and enables athletes to continue to improve. The physiological basis for periodized training is known as general adaptation syndrome. There are three basic stages to stress response: (1) the alarm stage as the body is shocked with a new stimulus, (2) the resistance stage as the body adapts to the stimulus, and (3) the exhaustion stage as body repairs can no longer keep up with damage. In cyclic training, athletes will experience a new stimulus, develop muscular strength as they adapt to the stimulus, and then move to a new challenging cycle. Thus, cyclic training gives the body enough time to recover before presenting a new stimulus to prevent exhaustion while continuing to grow strength.
Designing a strength program that begins with the basics and progressively adds resistance and complexity to a program will help athletes get the most out of their strength training. This stepladder approach enables athletes to learn new movement patterns, harness their strength at a particular level, and continue to build strength by challenging themselves with more difficult exercises. All athletes begin with a different strength baseline, so it's important to assess each athlete’s movement patterns individually and start with bodyweight exercises. This ensures athletes master the technique first before progressing to more complex exercises that ultimately enhance strength.
Progressions in Strength Training
When athletes begin strength training they must systematically progress through a series of exercises that appropriately build up strength. Starting with the most fundamental patterns of motion, athletes must master the basics before they can advance to loaded exercises and more complex movements. A large component of strength training is having proper technique. This prevents injury and ensures the correct muscle groups are firing. A general preparatory phase should improve not only technique, but also general strength and stability. An emphasis on developing core stability, balance, and proprioception (i.e. awareness of one’s body in space) will improve all patterns of movement. Progressing steadily from bodyweight to loaded exercises, and continuing to increase weight while maintaining good form will build strength as muscle groups respond and adapt to the stimulus of lifting. At first, a particular exercise may be difficult. When muscles are signaled to resist a force, they respond by creating more muscle tissue and improving the force of each contraction. Once this occurs, the same exercise is no longer challenging enough. Athletes must find the balance between adding weight to challenge themselves and maintaining flawless technique. Eventually, athletes will progress to more complex whole body exercises and/or power lifting. For example, a progression to power lifting may begin with front squats and deadlifts before moving toward pull shrugs and power clean pulls that require coordination. Movements that integrate various muscle groups should be rehearsed without weight first, progressively adding weight before athletes jump into heavier sets. Progressions are necessary to continue to develop strength and decrease the risk of injury.
Designing a strength program with training cycles and progressions is the most effective way to build stronger, healthier athletes. To learn more about structuring strength and conditioning programs check out this blog.