Athletics 2019 – Improving on the System

Introduction

In this article, I am going to outline some changes to the athletics program we run at the Shinergy Base Vienna. Please excuse the quality of the figures – for the most part, I just took pictures of the material on the whiteboard I have in the gym. In a pinch, it will suffice.

Periodization means the seperation of the training process into smaller, more handeable chunks of time, i.e., periods. The term goes back to Matveev ( 1977) and the underlying concept forms the basis of any smart training program. The basics of periodization are described by Bompa and Carrera Bompa (2005). Plisk (2003) presents different periodization models. Rather recently, Kiely (2018) criticized the stern proponents of any particular model, pointing out that there is little evidence to suggest that one model is inherently better than others. Obviously, many different implementations of many different models can yield viable results under the right circumstances.

At the lowest level, two distinctions can be made regarding a periodization model. First, if all fitness qualities are (to some degree) trained at the same time, the training is called concurrent training. On the other hand, if one or a few qualities are trained to the point of exclusion of others, the training follows a conjugate sequence approach. Block periodization, as advocated by Issurin (2008), is a prominent example for the latter category.  Second, intensity and volume either follow a linear trend or they do not. In the latter case, undulation of these variables is usually implemented on a daily or weekly basis.

Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between linear and non-linear periodization with respect to the current training block. The red and blue lines labelled „I“ and „V“ respectively refer to intensity and volume in a linear model. As can be seen, in this model, intensity is increased from block to block (e.g., from the preparatory period to the pre-competition period, after which it peaks in the competition period) while volume decreases. This model is very useful for situations where competition dates are known well in advance and major competitions can easily be identified (e.g., athletics) or sports with long preparatory periods and short competitive periods. For athletes that deal with high amounts of uncertainty, the model may not be ideal.

Consider a fighter who is in a very low intensity phase in his training and gets the opportunity to fight at an interesting event that works benefit his career. This situation can fit example arise because a scheduled competitor at a high-profile event cancels last minute and a replacement fighter is needed. Naturally, a model that has the fighter closer to his peak (i.e., working at higher intensities) makes sense in such a setting. The green and black lines in Figure 1 illustrate an undulation of volume and intensity in such a model.

Single factor sports such as power lifting are very simple compared to multi factor sports suchlip as MMA and Kickboxing where many biomotor abilities are relevant. Because of this relative simplicity, power lifting can serve as an example to illustrate certain concepts that are discussed in this context. Consider the work done by Wendler (2011), where relative intensities are increased over the course of a meso-cycle, as outlined in Table 1. The last set of the workout is taken to or near failure, i.e., as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP) are performed. Such AMRAP sets are used by Mann (2010) to adjust the according 3, 6 or 10 repetition maximum (RM) for the next session.

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Set 165% x 570% x 375% x 540% x 5
Set 275% x 580% x 385% x 350% x 5
Set 385% x 5+95% x 3+95% x 1+60% x 5

Each meso-cycle consists of three leading microcycles, followed by one deloading microcycle. After the meso-cycle, the estimated 1RM is corrected (i.e., increased) and the new value serves as the basis to calculate loads for the next meso-cycle. Figure 2 illustrates the concept of loading and deloading in a three-to-one pattern. The red dashed line indicates a trend regarding the average intensity over the course of multiple meso-cycles.

It is important in this context to note that periodization – which is a long term plan revolving around which qualities to develop at which time, i.e., the strategic organisation of training blocks – and programming – which is more about the implementation of actual training blocks – are quite different things. Still, many concepts carry over and are easier to grasp on a programming level. For example, Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is an effective implementation of a maximal strength training block. Depending on the situation, an auto regulatory system as described by Mann (2010), with the addition of a weekly undulation scheme may be a more feasible implementation. We use a very simple model regarding loading parameters for different strength qualities, as illustrated in Figure 3. According to our model, everything from one to five repetitions falls into the maximal strength bucket. Not included in the chart is an explosive power range, which would traditionally be set at around four to six repetitions.

In contrast to programs such as the above mentioned 5/3/1, which undulate intensity and volume from microcycle to microcycle, other programs perform this undulation from day to day. Zuordus (2016) and other authors (Rhea et al. 2009,  Prestes et al. 2009) have demonstrated the usefulness of such approaches for power lifting. In a more athletic realm, Baker (1998) implements one lower body power day, one lower body strength day, one upper body power day and one upper body strength day with his rugby athletes during the off- season and reduces the volume to one full-body power day and one full-body strength day when in season.

Implementation

In our Athletics program, we program for no more than two months at a time. At the beginning of the programming process is a movement screen whose results, along with existing injuries, are taken into consideration to formulate constraints on the program. After the qualitative screen we used to assess strength levels, i.e., the quantitative side of things. From there, we use a multi-stage program that ultimately aims at leading the athlete towards the highest levels of athletic performance. At the lowest level, the athlete would first „Learn to Train“, i.e., master the fundamental strength exercises. After that, we would get the athlete to „Be Healthy“. At this stage, we would have the athlete focus on single limb strength and core stability. After sufficient levels of stability have been established, it is time for the athlete to „Look Good Naked“. This is really a play on words and just means a focus on muscular hypertrophy which serves as a basis for the final stage, which is „Unleash the Athlete“. In this stage, the athlete would perform heavy strength training with a focus on either unilateral, asymmetric loading or high movement velocities. A lower body push example for the exercise progression we use is given in Table 2.

Learn to TrainBe HealthyLook Good
Naked
Unleash the
Athlete
Kettlebell
Heartbeat Squat
Low Box
Step Down
Barbell
Zercher Squat
Single Leg Squat on Box
Kettlebell
Goblet Squat
High Box
Step Down
Barbell
Front Squat
Double
Kettlebell
Front Squat
Single Leg Squat To Box

Athletes would progress from stage to state as soon as they could demonstrate sufficient strength levels at their given progression. We derived our strength standards partly from literature and partly from our experience.

This progression is something that may change in the nearest future in that we are going to allow an even higher level of individualisation. Rather than assuming the same goal for each athlete, the program design will start with a short interview regarding individual expectations. From there, we cluster athletes into groups. In this approach we roughly differentiate between the following buckets:

  1. Learn to Train – nothing new here. Low level exercises such as goblet squats and kettlebell deadlifts for athletes of lower experience levels. Also, athletes that present the need for corrective exercise during the movement screen go here.
  2. Be big – this is where those athletes with a need (or desire) for more lean body mass go. For various reasons, most of which have been explained in detail by Boyle (2003, 2012, 2016), the hypertrophy training is done with (semi) unilateral exercises such as rear foot elevated split squats and single leg squats.
  3. Be strong – athletes that need higher levels of maximal strength develop it with heavy bilateral barbell exercise.
  4. Be fast – finally, athletes who need more explosive power may choose to prioritize that.

Giving the athlete more say in which aspect of his training is prioritized may create buy in. Still, higher intensity training methods such as power training must not be used without an adequate training base. Figure 4 illustrates a conjugate sequence similar to the one proposed by Verkoshanskhy (2009). According to that model, anatomic adaptation training forms the foundation for hypertrophy training. Subsequently, the athlete can utilize the newfound lean body mass in maximal strength training and finally, progress towards power training.

Our refined model acknowledges this conjugate sequence on a periodization level while still sticking to daily undulation on a programming level. Figure 5 shows a draft for a two-day program with respect to the training priority. In the last row, a program for a combat athlete with a focus on explosive power is outlined.

The first week of the block is the intro week, where we design the program for the coming block. Inherently, this is a deload week by nature. Then, during the accumulation phase, hypertrophy and maximal strength are trained in an alternating fashion to build a sufficient strength base. Depending on the length of the block, we might implement this with a 5/3/1 cycle or apply the same concept to a 6/4/2/1 wave. After a deload week in the fifth week, we then progress to an intensification phase with a DUP-model that alternates maximum strength and explosive power. The former might be another 5/3/1 cycle while the latter could be implemented in the form of complex training as proposed by Lim and Barley (2016). Analogous programs for hypertrophy and strength foci can be seen in the first and second row of the table in Figure 5.

Conclusively, it must be said that no model is perfect (as they are all inherently wrong) and no system will ever fit every situation. Hence, as Mladen Jovanovic likes to point out, it is important to start with a minimal viable program (MVP) and iteratively fit the sytem from there. Certainly, our approach is not „the best“ and there is definitely room for criticism but at this point, this is how we do it. Should we encounter limitations or problems along the way, we will deal with those. One rep at a time.

I hope to see you in class soon. So long, Don’t get hurt.

References

Baker, D. (1998). Applying the in-season periodization of strength and power training to football. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 20(2), 18-27.

Bompa T., Carrera M. C., (2005) “Periodization Training For Sports”, Human Kinetics, pp. 134-135

Boyle, M. (2003). „Functional training for sports“. Human Kinetics.

Boyle, M. (2012). „Advances in functional training: training techniques for coaches, personal trainers and athletes“. Human Kinetics.

Boyle, M. (2016). „New functional training for sports“. Human Kinetics.

Issurin, V. (2008). Block periodization versus traditional training theory: a review. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 48(1), 65.

Kiely, J. (2018). „Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth“, Sports Medicine, 48(4), 753-764 .

Lim, J. J., & Barley, C. I. (2016). Complex Training for Power Development: Practical Applications for Program Design. Strength & Conditioning Journal38(6), 33-43.

Mann, J. Bryan, et al. „The effect of autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise vs. linear periodization on strength improvement in college athletes.“ The Journal of strength & conditioning research 24.7 (2010): 1718-1723.

Matveev, L. P. (1977). Osnovy sportivnoj trenirovki. Fizkul’tura i Sport.

Nader G. A. (2006), “Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man.“, Med Sci Sports Exerc, vol. 38 no. 11, pp.1965-70.

Plisk, S.S., Stone, M.H. (2003), „Periodization Strategies„, Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 25, no. 6, pp. 19-37

Prestes, J., et al. (2009), „Comparison between linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training to increase strength.“ The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research vol. 23, no. 9, pp. 2437-2442.

Rhea, M.R., et al. (2002), „A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength.“ The Journal of strength & conditioning research vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 250-255

Verkhoshansky Y. (1998), “Main features of a modern scientific sports training theory”, New Studies in Athletics, vol. 13 no. 3, p. 3

Verkhoshansky Y. and Siff M. (2009), “Supertraining”, Sixth Edition, Rome: Verkhoshansky SSTM

Wendler, J. (2011). 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength. Jim Wendler LLC.

Zourdos, M. C., Jo, E., Khamoui, A. V., Lee, S. R., Park, B. S., Ormsbee, M. J., … & Kim, J. S. (2016). Modified daily undulating periodization model produces greater performance than a traditional configuration in powerlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 784-791.

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