The Science of Sport Training and
a great coach is always an artist in arranging a training system, the
sport sciences are the underlying foundation of any successful training
program. An overview of training science basics is the best starting
point for every coach who wants to be a success.
Physiological Laws of Training
training systems are affected by three physiological laws:
● Law of overload
● Law of specificity
● Law of reversibility
Law of Overload
Any improvement in fitness requires an increased training load. That
load is a stimulus to which the athlete's body reacts. If the load is
greater than normal, the body becomes fatigued, and its fitness level
falls. As the body recovers, though, its fitness level returns to
normal. If the training load was optimal, the athlete will be more fit
after recovery (overcompensation) than before the load
Overcompensation is the central purpose of training. The coach plans a
training load that produces a fitness increase after the athlete
recovers. If the training load is too small, the training effect is
less. If the load is too great, the athlete may not even rise to the
original fitness level. Because each athlete reacts differently to
training stimuli, training must be planned in terms of the
individual's abilities, needs, and potential.
most effective training develops a base of general skills and fitness
before developing the more specialized skills of each event. This goal
is the major focus of the early part of the training year. The more
balanced the body's early development is, the higher the performance
levels it can attain later. This fact should be the major focus in
training children and junior athletes.
Law of Specificity
The nature of the training load determines the training effect. An
athlete needs training methods tailored to the specific demands of the
event. The training load becomes specific when it has the proper
training ratio (of load to recovery) and structure of loading (of
intensity to load).
Intensity is the quality of the training load. Running speed is measured
in meters per second (m/sec) or stride rate (s/sec). Strength is
measured in pounds, kilograms, or tonnage moved. Jumps and throws are
measured by height, distance, or number of efforts. The heart rate is a
good guide for endurance running. The intensity of the effort is based
on the percentage of the athlete's best effort.
extent of the training load is the sum of training in terms of time,
distance, accumulative weight, or other measures, while the duration is
that part of the load that is devoted to a single unit or type of
training. An athlete may run for 75 minutes (extent) yet elevate the
heart rate over 150 beats per minute (BPM) for only 10 minutes
(duration) of that time.
Specialization refers to training exercises that develop the capacities
and techniques needed for a specific activity or event. Any thrower
needs strength in specific areas of the body, while more specific motor
skills are needed for each different throwing event. A runner needs
speed and endurance, but the ratio depends on the length of the race. A
runner must develop a technique
that is most efficient for the racing distance. All of these traits are
developed by using specialized training. Elite training gradually
changes the emphasis from general to specific training as the athlete
Modeling is developing a model of the competitive event. The model is
then used to develop a training pattern that simulates the competitive
requirements of the event. Many years are needed to develop and perfect
a model. It begins with the coach's analysis of the competitive event,
but afterward the emphasis is upon trial-and-error refinement of the
The training effect can reverse itself. If the training does not become
more challenging, the fitness level plateaus (flattens out). If the
training ends, the fitness level gradually falls. In fact, the training
load must continue to increase if the athlete's general and specific
fitness are to improve. If the training load remains at the same level,
the fitness rises for a time, then begins to fall. The training load
must increase regularly (progressive overload) for the performance level
to improve (Figure 4-3), though the load may rise and fall (allowing
recovery and compensation) across a given period of time. The training
ratio (of load to recovery) is critical. The coach must determine how
much recovery is needed within a session and between sessions.
same time, the planned training load must be realistic. The demand
should not exceed the athlete's capabilities or rise too quickly, or it
may be psychologically (and perhaps physically) destructive to the
athlete's progress. The object of training is improvement, not
discouragement or defeat.
Restoration is recovery from a high training load. Restoration is just
as critical to the training effect as the training load itself. If too
little restoration is allowed, the athlete will gradually lose fitness.
Active rest is a form of restoration (also used in the transition phase)
that includes light physical activity. It may be jogging, or it may be
participating in other sports. It allows the athlete to recover
physically and psychologically, yet it helps maintain a base of general
The Components of Sports Fitness
fitness has four basic components:
● Sprint training
● Time trials
Overdistance training is the essential element in the development of the
endurance base. Coaches and athletes are learning that the intensity of
training is more important than mileage. The super-heavy training loads
of the 1960s and 1970s declined during the 1980s. Today, a typical
training load for an elite runner at 10,000 meters and the marathon may
be 80 to 90 miles per week, with considerably smaller loads for less
experienced athletes. American marathoners who ran under 2: 15 to
qualify for the 2004 US Olympic Trials reported an average training load
of 96.7 miles per week, compared to 89.6 weekly miles for men who ran
under 2:22. Women who qualified in under 2:40 averaged 84.4 miles a
week, while those who ran under 2:48 averaged
69.2 miles a week.
Today, overdistance runs are becoming shorter and more intense. Runners
use tempo running, shorter runs at a pace that causes an optimal pulse
reading for a length of time, rather than "grinding out the miles" on
long, slow runs. The training effect is much greater.
Interval training means running short distances (intervals), usually on
a track. Interval training has five variables:
● Length of the interval
● Speed or intensity of the variable
● Number of intervals
● Length of the recovery
● Nature of the recovery
Though interval training traditionally involves distances and times for
those distances (such as 300m in 45 seconds), the work may be in terms
of running set lengths of time at a given pulse rate or intensity level
(such as 30 seconds at 170 to 180 BPM). The length of the work interval
depends on the type of physiological improvement needed. The energy
reserve of the muscles comes from ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It is
produced by three pathways:
● ATP-PC (phosphocreatine) system
● Lactic acid (LA) system
● Oxygen (O2) system
The ATP-PC and LA systems are anaerobic, working with little or no
oxygen, while quickly producing ATP for a short time. The O2 system is
aerobic (using oxygen) and produces ATP for a longer period of time. The
choice of the interval depends upon the length of the race.
Repetition running is a more intensive version of interval training. The
intervals are run at a faster pace, with a nearly complete recovery
between repetitions. Some coaches define intervals and repetitions
according to their training emphasis. An interval focuses on the stress
created by the pace and short recovery, while a repetition focuses on
the pace itself, thus allowing a fuller recovery. In some training
systems, repetitions are longer intervals, such as 800 meters or more.
Fartlek (speed play) is a less formal version of interval training that
is especially suited to training away from the track. It mixes bursts of
faster paced intervals of work with slower running within the context of
a longer run on trails or a golf course. The length and the intensity of
the faster runs are decided by the runner, depending upon what he needs
and feels at the time. For more speed, shorter and faster bursts are
used, while longer and less intense intervals are used for more
endurance. Ideally, the training takes place on relatively soft
surfaces, such as grass or sawdust trails.
Fartlek is a valuable training method because it allows a wide range of
intensities, while also helping prevent the stress injuries that result
from training on hard surfaces, such as pavement or running tracks. At
the same time, it gives a more relaxing psychological setting and a
chance to avoid the monotony of the track. It is more difficult for less
experienced athletes, because they tend to turn it into a long, easy run
with a few short accelerations. It has to be carefully taught to young
runners. The use of heart monitors allows structured fartlek, a highly
controlled training process, by monitoring and limiting the effort and
Sprint training involves very short bursts of very fast running used
primarily to improve the athlete's speed. It is also used for technique
training. The recovery interval is almost complete, much like a short
form of repetition running. Only a small number of repetitions are used,
because fatigue changes the nature of the training. For distance
runners, this technique is used in the final stages of
sharpening or peaking.
Time trials are mentioned because they are an easily abused aspect of
the training program. Time trials have two functions: assessing progress
and simulating competition. They should be conducted under meet
conditions, more formal than a training session. They should be held no
more often than two to three weeks apart, or they become meaningless.
Unless a trial serves a
specific training function, it should not be used, because it reduces
the number of effective training days. Frequent time trials are a sign
of insecurity: the coach wants reassurance that the training system is
order of strength-training exercises is critical in two respects. First,
the larger muscle groups should be exercised before the smaller ones.
Otherwise, overloading the large muscles is difficult because the
smaller muscle groups tire more quickly. Second, no two exercises should
train the same group of muscles consecutively, for the muscles would
have too little recovery time.
The principle of specificity is extremely important. Strength
development is specific to both the muscle group exercised and the
pattern of movement used. You should duplicate the event movement
pattern as closely as possible in the strength-training program. This
specificity includes the joint angle at which the muscle is exercised
and the type of contraction performed. Using
the proper joint angle and contraction is especially important in
isometric training because the major strength gain in isometrics is only
at the angle used in exercising the muscle.
Exercises are measured in repetitions (reps), usually divided into
larger groups called sets. One set is a number of reps performed without
interruption. Three sets of five reps (3 x 5) means to repeat the
exercise five times without stopping, take a recovery rest, perform the
exercise five more times, take a rest, then perform the exercise for a
final five times, completing the three sets.
Resistance exercises are generally used three times a week, on
alternating days to permit the muscles to recover. Strength specialists
may train every day, but the muscle groups are divided so that no muscle
group is trained on consecutive days. During the early competitive
season, strength work drops to two days per week, then to once a week as
the season nears its peak. At that
stage, the emphasis is on maintenance of strength. Improved technique
makes up for any loss of strength. If strength training stops when the
season begins, much of the strength gain would be lost before the end of
Intensity is also a factor in strength activities. To lessen fatigue and
improve efficiency, active rest is useful between lifts at higher
intensities. This involves light or non-lifting movements directed
toward other parts of the body after an intense exercise is completed.
Every athlete encounters "sticking points," performance plateaus that
the athlete cannot pass. These points can result both from overtraining
and from undertraining. Often a change in the workout load helps. Other
causes may be poor diet or physical or mental fatigue (often called
The starting weights are largely a matter of opinion and personal
feeling. The coach or athlete should check the more scientifically
oriented strength-training books. Starting weights may be based on a
percentage of either the athlete's body weight or his best performance
in each exercise. Strength training emphasizes either body development
(hypertrophy) or strength, depending
upon the weight and number of repetitions of an exercise.
A General Weight-Training Program
book will not suggest specific strength-training programs at this point,
because it is better for coaches and athletes to develop their own
programs. Many books deal primarily with such programs. In general, as
athletes become more experienced, they will learn which exercises are
most helpful on their own.
Plyometrics (jump training) is used to develop leg strength and
resilience for explosive power. The most common forms of training are
with multiple jumps (on one or both legs) on the ground and with jumps
using boxes of varying heights. The training involves work with the
muscles' stretch reflex. It will be discussed in more depth later.
Plyometrics involves a high injury risk if too many
jumps are attempted, so caution is important.
Circuit training uses a series of resistance exercises and calisthenics
that follow a sequence, usually within an indoor area. The athlete moves
quickly from one exercise station to the next, performing each exercise
within a time limit. The circuit is finished when the performer
completes the sequence. This approach is good for physical conditioning
in limited areas, when bad weather conditions force athletes indoors,
and for group exercises (athletes start at different stations, then move
to the next station on a signal).
The parcourse is an outdoor version of circuit training, an exercise
trail laid around a park or wooded area, with jogging or running between
the stations. Oregon's 1984 Olympic 800-meter champion Joaquim Cruz used
a similar course for his base conditioning, with a 10-station circuit at
100-meter intervals around a kilometer packed-sawdust loop.
Concerns in Training and Conditioning
Differences in Sport Training
The training for both sexes is largely the same, differing primarily in
terms of the loading. Until puberty, boys and girls have essentially the
same abilities and capacities. During puberty, the differences are as
great within a single sex as between the sexes. From about ages 10 to
16, adolescents show widely varying body sizes, strength, and levels of
coordination, depending upon when a child goes through puberty and how
quickly it happens. At this time (about the fifth through tenth grades),
a teacher or coach needs to be as careful with single-sex classes as
with a mixed class. However, both sexes can work at the same relative
After physical maturity (about age 18), several differences between the
sexes affect physical capacity and performance. The typical male has
about 12 to 15 percent body fat, compared to 26 percent for females.
Women have more difficulty in reaching higher levels of performance
because the additional body fat is "drag weight"; that is, it limits
Body-fat levels may be very low in elite distance runners (2 to 6
percent in men and 10 to 15 percent in women). Menstrual irregularities
may occur when a woman drops below 15 percent body fat, though research
suggests training intensity or stress is a factor in this effect.' Among
the potentially harmful effects of very low fat levels in women athletes
are anorexia and the development of
osteoporosis, a dangerous thinning of bone density, which may not be
recoverable in later years.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from anemia (iron deficiency).
Heavy training increases this deficiency, so women in training may need
iron supplements, though supplements should not be taken without medical
consultation." Women's performances at different times in the menstrual
cycle may vary, but the effect is highly individualized. Olympic medals
have been won at all stages of the cycle.
Another major difference is the higher proportion of muscle tissue in
men (about 60 percent) compared to women (about 40 percent). Because
male hormones are a major factor in the development of muscular
strength, women do not have the same potential for strength development
that men have. Also, because of female hormones, it is very difficult
for women to develop the
"bulky" muscles associated with male athletes." However, though a female
athlete can become much stronger through training, even heavy weight
training will not develop a "masculine-looking" woman. Women are both
shorter and lighter than men, which has many effects in terms of
biomechanics and potential power.
Although coaches are aware that some athletes may take steroids to help
increase their strength, they should not forget a common hormonal
treatment used by many women: birth-control pills. Younger women may be
placed on the Pill by a physician to control menstrual disorders. Among
the Pill's effects is
an increase in weight. Nausea may be a side effect when treatment
starts, so the coach should be cautious in any interpretation of
physical problems. However, never assume that any athlete's problem is
only in their head.
Remember that the differences between the sexes are based on averages.
An elite female athlete may be more capable than an average male
athlete. Both women and men can benefit from intensive training
programs; their capacities to endure such training are essentially the
same. Some male coaches suggest that female athletes are less likely
than men to complain about heavier
Men and women who perform at the same level can be trained together, for
their abilities are essentially the same. Coed teams have many benefits;
the men's and women's teams usually are very supportive of each other,
particularly if they are coached and trained together.
Warm-Up: Prelude to Exercise
careful warm-up raises the body and muscle temperatures, which increase
their working effectiveness. A warm-up stretches the muscles, which
helps prevent injury. It should not be done to the point of fatigue,
however. Because long-distance runners use a more limited range of
motion than athletes in other events, they often do minimal warming up.
The athlete should wear a sweatsuit or other covering to promote the
warming effect. Rubber suits should never be used because they prevent
normal evaporation of sweat. The use of rubber suits raises the body
temperature and can result in heat exhaustion or heart attacks (even in
teenagers) in some situations.
A warm-up begins with a short, light jog, just long enough to raise the
muscle temperature. Then, stretching exercises are used, beginning with
light, gradual stretching and progressing over 10 to 20 minutes to more
thorough exercises. All of the major muscle groups should be stretched.
No sudden movements (such as bouncing or jerking) should be used, so the
muscles are never strongly forced to stretch. The progress should be
gentle and gradual. Brief calisthenics may follow stretching. The
athlete should be warm and sweating after the warm-up, but not tired.
The closing part of the warm-up should be event-specific. The runners do
a bit of running, with a few short bursts of faster runs. Sprinters take
a few easy-to medium-effort starts, while hurdlers begin to work with
lower hurdles. Throwers simulate parts of their throwing routine.
Stretching improves performance because loose muscles perform more
easily and are less prone to injury. Relaxation is a part of stretching.
No sudden pulling or yanking motions should be used. Be careful of
pairing athletes for stretching; no fast moves or forcing of stretching
should be done. Lasting injuries may result from sudden stretching. The
final stretched position should be held for 20 to 30 seconds, keeping in
mind that it is a relaxed extension of the muscles, not a forced one.
calisthenics are also useful as warm-up and conditioning exercises. They
should not be used too much because younger athletes quickly become
bored with them. The following are suggested exercises for specific body
● Shoulders and groin: jumping jacks
● Ankles, toes and gastrocnemius: toe raises and
running in place
● Quadriceps: half-squats (no weights)
● Shoulders, arms, and chest: push-ups
● Abdominals: bent-knee sit-ups and bent-knee
Straight-leg sit-ups and leg-raises should not be used because they
create back strain rather than help develop the abdominals.
of the American training year involves dealing with weather that
interferes with training. The most common concerns are heat and cold.
Much of the general or base training occurs during the hot summer months
and is unsupervised. Only a few places in the United States do not have
some problems of extremes in heat and humidity. In many heat conditions,
the athlete's sweat does not evaporate quickly enough, which limits the
ability to cool the body and may result in heat stress. Heat alone,
common in the Southwest, can be dangerous; combined with high humidity,
as in the Midwest, East, and South, it can be deadly. If the humidity is
high, heat stress can appear in athletes before the temperature
reaches 70 degrees F (22 degrees C). Even with low humidity,
temperatures above 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) can create the risk of
stress. Symptoms of heat stress include headaches, dizziness, sudden
tiring or weakness, a pounding sensation in the head, tingling or
goose-bump sensations across the body, or the cessation of sweating.
The five levels of heat effects are cramps, syncope, two types of
exhaustion (from water depletion and from salt depletion), and stroke.
Muscle cramps result from excessive loss of salt through sweating.
Taking salt tablets may increase the problem unless enough fluid is
taken at the same time. In most cases, an athlete can eat enough salt
with meals to avoid this problem."
Heat exhaustion causes collapse or fainting as the body tries to end the
work that is causing stress. It results from severe loss of fluids or
electrolytes that the body uses to assist in cooling itself.
Heat stroke is most noticeable when sweating stops. Failure to cool the
body quickly may result in brain damage, coma, or even death. Although
it does not commonly happen, runners die every year from heat stress,
usually because they fail to exercise proper caution.
Sweating is the body's way of coping with heat and humidity. The
humidity is important because the higher the level of water in the air,
the less sweat that evaporates from the athlete. The evaporation, not
the act of sweating, does the actual cooling. The athlete must stay
aware of the following concerns:
● Am I sweating?
● Is my sweat evaporating?
● Am I getting enough fluids?
In warm or humid training conditions, fluid intake is extremely
important. The best, most easily, and most quickly absorbed fluid is
water. Waiting until the training session is completed to drink fluids
is extremely dangerous and does not help an athlete adapt to heat.
Adapting to heat is done best under natural conditions. To be able to
race in heat, an athlete must train in heat. An athlete can train harder
and longer, and run faster, in cooler conditions. However, if an
important race will be run in hot or humid conditions, the athlete needs
to train under those conditions. Adapting to heat takes about 10 to 14
days. The most useful training is to take longer, easier runs, being
careful to drink enough fluids. However, as much as 50 percent of the
body's adaptation to heat may come from the heat generated by interval
training, regardless of the climate.
Cold weather creates its own training problems. Athletes must dress
carefully for protection. Modern fabrics and layering allow less bulky
training dress than in the past.
The most vulnerable parts of the body are the extremities. Thermal socks
or layers of socks are needed for the feet, just as gloves are used for
the hands. The material should absorb sweat so the body can cool itself
properly within the warm bundles of protective gear (an athlete can
suffer from heat exhaustion even in very cold weather). A cap that can
cover the ears, or added
earmuffs, helps to protect the head. In extreme climates, an athlete may
wear a ski mask to protect the face from frostbite.
A sunny, cold day or a windy day can create special problems. A
well-dressed runner may overheat if the sun is out and the air is calm.
The same effect is possible with a strong tailwind. On windy, cold days,
an out-and-back run is best. The athlete is dressed to begin facing the
wind, removing clothing while returning with the wind. If the process
were reversed, the athlete would
overheat early, then chill and tire rapidly when running into the wind.
Athletes should be aware of the effects of the wind-chill factor: A
strong wind in cool conditions may create far harsher cold than
expected. Cold is as deadly as heat, and strong winds heighten the
effect. Insisting on an outdoor run regardless of the weather conditions
is not a virtue. It may be far wiser to skip a session or train indoors
than to risk injury or worse. The smart coach and athlete always
consider the possible effects of weather conditions on training and
Sports Psychology and Motivation
psychology is critical to the preparation of elite athletes. Psychology
is used for more than just motivation. As Thomas Tutko noted, "On the
whole, the psyching-up idea is more part of the problem than a
solution?" because often it simply increases the athlete's anxieties,
reducing performance effectiveness. Performers simply try too hard.
Richard M. Suinn's training book for athletes recommends a seven-step
program of mental training to prepare athletes for competition:
● Relaxation training
● Stress management
● Positive thought control
● Mental rehearsal (visual motor behavior
● Energy control
focus is upon learning to control the athlete's emotions and channel
them, dealing constructively with stress and maintaining a positive
focus on training. The old concept of psyching up acted more as sensory
overkill, putting some athletes almost out of control. Elite performance
requires very calm, deliberate control of energy and skills, while a
heated, emotional approach provides an unstable platform for
performance. Thus, much of the focus of sport psychology is on
relaxation, or stress and tension control.
The other aspect is the accent on the positive. The old coaching
approach was to criticize and pressure athletes, forcing them to
improve. It was similar to the old Theory X in business, the idea that
people were inherently lazy and unwilling to perform unless threatened
and forced to do well. The emphasis on the positive skips past Theory Y
(people do want to perform well) to Theory Z, a cooperative approach
between athlete and coach to training and performance. The coach tries
to reinforce the positive aspects of training, encouraging and
supporting the athletes as they proceed. Confident athletes perform far
better than insecure ones.
The coach should evaluate athletes' performances objectively but should
conclude with and emphasize the positive. Encourage the athletes and
show them how they are progressing. An athlete who faces constant
criticism will eventually quit and will leave with a poor self-image.
Every performance has some positive aspects. The coach who encourages
his athletes and maintains a positive attitude will generally be the
most successful coach in the long run.
The Goal: Consistency in Training
Ultimately, the most successful training program is the one that is most
consistent. Athletes must train for weeks, months, and years at a
consistent, moderate level. This stability creates a solid foundation
for future success. The athletes are not forced up and down the
emotional scale by extreme psyching or negative criticism. They are not
put through destructively hard training
sessions as "character builders:' Instead, they are brought along with a
carefully designed, positively oriented program that gives them
emotional support, encouragement, and pride at every step along the way.
This approach is what good training is all about; it is the heart of
sport for life.
FROM: BILL BOWERMAN'S High-Performance
Training for Track and Field by William J. Bowerman and William H.
Freeman via Ross Dunton