Overview of Programing
One of the main jobs a strength and conditioning coach has is to prescribe appropriate training regimens for their athletes. An athlete’s training program is usually designed to increase quality of movement, enhance specific physical characteristics of their given sport, and decrease an athlete’s likelihood of injury.
I like to refer to strength and conditioning coaches as stress managers, as we are prescribing and managing stresses in order to elicit specific adaptations. Everything we prescribe for an athlete is a stimulus or stress their bodies will be experiencing. When our bodies are exposed to a stimulus, an adaptation to that stimulus will follow. It is the strength and conditioning coaches’ job to apply appropriate stresses at specific times, while also helping the athlete recover and manage their accumulative stresses.
Our bodies are extremely intelligent and their ultimate goal is survival. Most of the reactions or adaptations our bodies have to stressors are in order to help the body maintain homeostasis and ultimately survive. Our bodies are also constantly adapting to protect us against further harm.
For example, if we expose our skin to the stimulus of too much sun, we will get burnt. In order to protect us, our bodies will react to this stimulus by darkening our skin pigment. This happens so if we are exposed to the same intensity and duration of sun rays again, our skin will be damaged less due to it’s darkened skin pigment and increased resistance to the sunrays.
Another example is our body’s response to a decreased caloric intake. With out going into too many details, when you dramatically decrease your caloric intake your body will ultimately slow your metabolism and increase fat storage. The irony is that people go on crash diets to lose weight, but their bodies are smart and don’t care about how they look in a bikini. Their bodies do care about survival though, so the body will dramatically reduce their metabolism and increase fat storage, allowing for them to survive longer without food.
This same, stimulus -> adaptation, concept is used by strength coaches when writing an athlete’s training regimen. Proper training causes physical stress and harm to our bodies. Our bodies will then undergo physiological and structural adaptations to strengthen our muscles and skeleton in order to protect us from further harm if the same stressor is experienced in the future.
Athletes know that if they perform appropriate training they will get better, but a lot of them don’t realize that we are actually purposefully causing harm to their bodies in order to elicit specific adaptations. When writing a program a coaches goal is to manipulate variation in exercise selection, training volume, training density, relative intensity, and so on, in order to cause increases in the synthesis of specific proteins, eventually resulting in tissue remodeling, improved function, and improved sport skill and performance.
General Adaptation Syndrome
This concept of the body experiencing a stressor that produces a stress response and eventually an adaptation is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). Below is a graphical representation of the GAS where the X-axis is the athlete’s current baseline.
- The initial phase is the Alarm Phase. This is where the training stimulus is recognized and there is a negative response resulting in diminished performance because of soreness, stiffness, and fatigue. This sets in motion adaptive mechanisms in the body.
- The next phase is known as the Resistance Phase, which is where positive adaptations occur, which return the organism to baseline.
- If stress is managed correctly the athlete will hopefully reach a higher state of functioning. This is often referred to as Overcompensaiton or Supercompensation.
- Detraining is when performance declines due to the cessation of training or other factors.
Another stage, not depicted in this graph, is known as the Exhaustion stage or Overtraining. This is when the accumulation of stressors is too great causing maladaptation. This is avoidable with proper periodization and stress management.
Periodization can be defined as the logical and systematic process of sequencing and integrating training interventions in order to achieve peak performance at appropriate time points. Using proper periodization a coach will periodically reduce the training volume or intensity to allow for Supercompensation to occur and reduce the chance for overtraining. It is important to note that the picture above is a simplistic representation of a single stimulus and the adaptation, but stressors are additive. Especially with advanced athletes, it is going to take an accumulation of stressors and their resultant adaptations in order to cause performance alterations.
Know The Science!
As stress managers, it is crucial for strength and conditioning coaches to have a firm understanding of how the body will respond to different stressors. I work part-time as an adjunct professor and every semester the undergraduate students all want to learn about programing and periodization. They want to know how to write elaborate programs with fancy periodization models because they believe that is the key to being a good strength coach.
However, when I start discussing physiology they lose interest. So I ask them, “Would you try building an engine without knowing what the different parts were first?” The same goes for programming! You can’t write good programs without first understanding how the body is going to respond to the stimuli you are prescribing the athletes.
This is where I think a lot of coaches fall short. They don’t invest the time it takes to really understand the body, so they write their programs based off their own personal experiences and trial and error, rather then knowing what is best for their athletes. I have had instances where I have taken one look at college programs my athletes were assigned and instantly knew their coaches competitive background. Just because you competed in bodybuilding or love crossfit does not mean you should have your athletes following a similar program. Their programs should be designed for them and their sport.
Hope you liked part 1! Part 2 will be discussing the differences in programing and periodization between the college and private sectors.