A comprehensive training process is the cornerstone of developing the NCAA student-athlete. This training process involves the sport coach, coaching staff, strength and conditioning coach, athletics healthcare providers and all supporting personnel such as athletics administrators, academic support staff, and student affairs administrators. The strength and conditioning/sport science coach oversees a key component of the training process, guiding the student-athlete to become stronger, faster and quicker, and ultimately better equipped to execute the technical and tactical skills required in his or her sport. As each year passes, the student-athlete develops a more mature level of these explosive qualities, and so becomes better able to contribute to the success of the team. A core component of this training process depends upon having a certified strength and conditioning coach implementing an appropriate evidence-based, progressive training program. The strength and conditioning coach must validate the athlete’s progression through the implementation of a reliable and valid monitoring program that is integrated into the training process.
Implementing an Annual Plan is the road map that indicates how the athlete will navigate his or her way through the various stages of training in a specific sport: preseason, competition and recovery (see Table 1). It is possible to quantify and organize the work performed by an athlete in a specific sport through each of his or her competitive years. If the training process is well designed, athletes entering into their freshman year will be much more developed in their final year of eligibility.
This article focuses on the Preseason Plan, which is extracted from the Annual Plan (see Table 2). For the purpose of this article, the preseason period is defined as the period of time spent in preparation for the competitive season.
Four blocks of training comprise this preseason plan, each containing four weeks of training for a total of 16 weeks of preparation, which is approximately the length of the fall semester. The plan includes three weeks of progressively higher workloads and a fourth week of downloading and recovery in preparation for the next block of training. Table 2 depicts a track and field preseason plan.
Every sport has a specific preseason depending on the time of the year. For example, the football preseason occurs in May through early August. In contrast with track and field, the football competition phase coincides with the track and field preseason phase.
This article will focus on five components of the preseason plan:
Athlete monitoring and testing is a vital part of the training process. Without knowing the physiological status of the student-athlete, coaches cannot make the best decisions regarding the training program. The monitoring program established at East Tennessee State, for example, consists of a series of assessments: hydration, body composition, vertical jumps, isometric pulls and dynamic pulls. Hydration is assessed using a refractometer. Body composition is assessed using either a BOD POD (whole body air displacement plethysmograph) or a seven site skinfold. Weighted vertical jumps are measured from a force platform while isometric and dynamic pulls are measured from a power rack (also using a force platform with potentiometers).
The tests from the force platform are analyzed using Lab View equipment, providing an accurate summary of the physical state of the athlete in terms of power output, rate of force development and peak power. Rapid feedback of assessment information to the sport coach is essential. The results of these tests provide evidence that the sport coach and strength and conditioning/sport science coach need to develop effective programming.
Note that the athlete is continually monitored throughout the preseason as indicated by the test dates shown at the end of the second and fourth training blocks (see Table 1). This is necessary to determine whether the athlete is progressing as desired.
The first block in the training process is strength endurance work. This block contains high volume, low intensity work (e.g. repetitions of 3 sets of 10 reps, with two warm-up sets). This strength endurance block of training in the weight room must be integrated into the training program when the technical work done on the practice field is low in volume. Training in the weight room will condition the athlete’s cardiovascular system as well as lay the foundation for the strength training in the next block.
The sport coach must be willing to allow the strength and conditioning/sport science coach to perform the bulk of the workload in the weight room during this phase in order to lay the foundation for an effective training process which will follow. This suggestion may be difficult for the sport coach to accept, as at this point the sport coach has not been in contact for several months and is anxious to “get to work” technically and tactically. However, if the sport coach allows this block of training to work as it should, it will reap considerable benefits for the entire training process. The strength endurance block produces a great deal of fatigue in the athlete and recovery modalities are essential. It is important not to take on a high volume of technical training or conditioning during this block as the probability of poor technique and potential for injury due to fatigue are high.
During this block of training the speed activity (conditioning) involves extended interval training, characterized by a low intensity introduction week, and followed by three weeks of very high intensity, short duration training (see Table 2). This allows the athlete to gain the benefit of the strength endurance work done in the weight room.
Developing strength is a key aspect of sport performance. Technique is a function of strength. It is well accepted that stronger athletes tend to perform better in their chosen sport. Therefore, dedicating a block of training to developing this essential component is paramount. The strength gaining phase is characterized by a reduction of volume and an increase in intensity (e.g. reps of 3 sets of five reps with two warm-up sets). With this reduction in volume, the sport coach can now increase the volume of technical and tactical training on the practice field.
The speed (conditioning) work during the strength-gaining phase now changes to speed endurance work with a buildup of intensities over three weeks from 80 percent, 85 percent and 90 percent of the athlete’s maximum effort. On the fourth week, the intensity drops to 75 percent giving the athlete an opportunity to recover in preparation for the next block of training.
Now that the foundation for developing maximum strength has been established, it is possible to begin developing power. In Power Blocks 1 and 2, the training program begins with five sets of five reps, which is an overreaching paradigm. The overreaching paradigm is designed to overload the athlete in order to elicit a positive response to training several weeks later in the program as the athlete approaches the competition phase. A return to normal levels of training (three sets of five reps) happens during the second week of Power Blocks 1 and 2. Note that in Power Block 2 the reps and sets are reduced to three sets of three reps, thereby allowing the athlete to enter into a state of preparedness for the competitive season (see Table 2). Again, as the volume of work in the first week of each power block increases (five sets of five reps), the conditioning and technical work on the practice field must be reduced to combat the effects of fatigue and minimize the risk of injury.
The speed endurance phase continues during the first power block, utilizing the same formula of a buildup of intensity with a recovery week. However, in Power Block 2, the emphasis changes to pure speed work and the athlete is working at a higher intensity with a marked drop in volume. This approach is typical of a peaking phase of training as indicated by the peaking index (see table 2).
There are many nuances to developing a training program and the process must be flexible as issues in training arise. The process as laid out in this article is intended to provide a guideline, as it is difficult to describe such a detailed training process in a short article. Although coaches do not need to be experts in sport science, having a sound working knowledge of the sport sciences will provide coaches with the knowledge and practical skills to help provide a performance edge to all student-athletes. Hiring a knowledgeable, professional strength and conditioning/sport science coach (preferably certified by an accredited body) will help enhance the performance of the individual athlete and team, and embracing the sport sciences will help ensure that excellence and safety become intertwined.
This article was written for the Sport Science Institute by Meg Stone, MA, FNSCA, Director, Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education at East Tennessee State University.
The ETSU Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education supports a focus on research, education, and service intended to provide a distinctive national model and leadership in sport performance and coach education.
The Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education interfaces with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and has built partnerships between the Colleges of Education, Medicine, Public Health, Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and Business and Technology to address issues of sport performance and apply research to better educate coaches, and thereby improve athlete performance and injury prevention.
For more information about The Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education, go to sportscienceed.com.Last Updated: Aug 8, 2013