In this final article in the series, we will review the methods discussed throughout and answer the question ‘how do I programme my workouts to train like an athlete?’.
If you are reading this
I hope you have followed the series since it started ten weeks ago. I would like to thank you for your commitment to this series of articles, especially given the limited opportunity you may have to execute some of its content. If you haven’t been following along, and this is your first time opening the series, you might want to take some time reading the previous articles. The programme I will be giving you in this final instalment includes all the methods we have looked at throughout the series.
During lockdown, we have all faced challenges when it comes to keeping on top of our health and fitness. I hope that some of this series has allowed you to stay on top of your fitness goals. Inclusion of the plyometrics, isometrics and intervals can help you progress with minimal or no equipment.
The programme I will be providing in this article is a full athletic-based training programme. It is an overall development programme without a particular sport in mind; instead, it’s a generalised programme created using the methods we have reviewed. This programme, when implemented correctly, will help you move faster, be stronger and become leaner: ultimately discovering the athletic version of yourself.
To implement this programme, you will need access to gym equipment, so it’s the perfect programme to use once we get the all-clear to return to the gym. There are some caveats and explanations required to the programme, which we will cover later in the article.
Over this series, we have explored some of the methods employed by strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches to help develop athletes. The goal of the S&C coach is to make the athlete fitter, stronger and faster. Some of these methods are not commonplace in commercial gyms and sometimes misapplied by individuals (and trainers alike!). Before we move on to the programme, let’s have a quick recap on each method we have explored:
Historically known as ‘jump training’, this method is designed to create fast, powerful movements as well as condition the nervous system. By training the stretch reflex of your muscles, regular plyometric training enables your muscles, especially fast-twitch fibres, to create more force. Plyometrics require minimal equipment, minimal skill and improve bone and tendon health.
Use plyometrics early in your sessions before your compound work, or as a solo training session. Perform a low number of reps, at 100% effort, for multiple sets with long rest periods.
This complex barbell movement recruits most muscle groups head to toe and is an excellent technique for strength, power and metabolic conditioning. Although it can be tricky to learn, it can be mastered in several stages from minimal movement, such as the hang power clean, to the full range of motion.
Regular use of the clean can help you improve not only athletic performance, but also build a lean, muscular, powerful physique. Like plyometrics, the clean is best programmed in low rep sets, working with submaximal weights (close to the maximum weight you can lift) and different variations of the movement throughout the week.
Isometrics originated as one of the primary conditioning methods of the ancient martial arts and, more recently, is a recognised critical skill in gymnastics. It is one of the oldest training methods we have been able to find, either depicted in art or explained in text. Isometrics require you to hold set positions for prolonged periods, to create stress in a muscle. The use of isometrics can allow you to recruit over 90% of the fibres in a muscle, which is a lot more than other training methods. You are also able to create stress in a muscle without involving joint stress, which makes isometrics a safer training method and a friendly option for rehabilitation. This will help you if you have to work around an injury or you have arthritis.
Isometrics are also an excellent method to use as either a pre-fatigue or finisher to a working muscle. Isometrics can be performed with just bodyweight, but also with equipment.
Over the last decade, interval training has increased in popularity because many consider it the best method for dropping body fat in the shortest time. As time has progressed, more research has allowed us to debunk some claims or understand the realities of them. Now, this does not mean that intervals are not a valid, beneficial training method; they 100% are!
For the busy individual, you can incorporate intervals as a time-efficient conditioning method you can add to your current training. If you are like me, and do not enjoy performing cardio as part of your training programme, adding a 20-minute burst at the end of a weights session is a lot more appealing than a 45-minute trudge on a treadmill.
Putting it all together
Now that we have reviewed the methods used in athletic training programmes, how do we put this together to make the best programme possible?
Considerations for programming
There are numerous factors that a coach must take into consideration when creating a programme for an individual. Either for coaching athletes or as a personal trainer working with an ‘average Joe’, here are some of the factors we must think about when we create you a programme:
- Exercise history: How long have you been training? What type of training have you previously performed? Are you new to the methods of this programme?
- Availability: How often are you able to train per week? How many sessions per day? Will you have any commitments during the programme that will limit your ability to follow it, such as work or holidays?
- Hands-on coaching: How many sessions will you have with a coach? How many sessions will you train solo? Will you be able to perform the exercises and intensities when you are solo?
- Physical limitations: Do you have any injuries, current or historical, that will limit your activity? Do you have mobility or stability issues? Do you have posture issues?
- Lifestyle: Outside of exercise, what are your daily activity levels? Is your day to day life sedentary in nature? Are you physically and mentally stressed regularly?
- Recovery: How much sleep do you get? How active are you day-to-day? Is your nutrition on point?
- Nutrition: Are you eating correctly for your goals and activity levels? Do you have specific dietary requirements? Are you getting adequate fuel before you train? Do you have any bad eating habits we have to address?
That is a lot of information, right? That is why some coaches’ services may seem expensive because they can collect answers for all these questions to give you the best programme possible. Some coaches are, for want of a better term, ‘paid training buddies’ who will simply push you through hard workouts, while only collecting the bare minimum from above.
Athletic considerations for programming
We have just looked at programme considerations for an ‘average Joe’, but for the athlete, there are some additional areas to work with:
- Skills vs fitness: How many skill sessions per day/week do they perform? How long are those sessions?
- Other coach input: As a strength and conditioning coach, you will have to co-ordinate with skills coaches and physios and listen to their requests for each athlete. Does the athlete have physical issues or skills issues also to address?
- Performance: This is more the pressure placed on the coach and the athlete. For an average Joe, you might be training to look and feel better. You can get away with a bad week or even a bad month of training results wise. However, as an athlete, a bad week or month can cost you your job. Because of this, there is more pressure to make sure the programming is perfect.
Personalisation of the programme
This article will end with the ‘athletic training for average Joes’ programme. The programme is generalised because I am unable to answer any of the programme criteria listed above for everyone. You can choose to take elements of this programme or replicate it entirely in each session for exercises, sets, reps and rest periods. As a disclaimer, we recommend that you discuss with your GP, to assess your risk, before taking part in any planned exercise. At Life Force Fitness, we take no responsibility for any injury or illness caused by taking part in the following programme.
One rep max vs RPE
You will notice that in the programme itself, there are no weights written on any of the exercises. Again, this is because I don’t know your strength levels. What I do, however, is provide you with a % number. This number is an amount based on your one-rep max.
The one-rep max is the most weight you can lift for the given exercise for one rep. Once you know this number, you then know how to programme your weights for the sessions. If an exercise says to use 70% for three sets of 6 reps, and your one-rep max for that exercise is 80kg, then you would use 59.5kg. Based on gym weights, this would mean using either 60kg, or 57.5kg if wanting to play safe.
Another method mentioned is RPE. RPE stands for ‘rate of perceived effort’ and usually works on a scale of 1-10. So, for a given exercise, if the RPE is 8, then you would choose a weight that would be difficult but not impossible to complete the work prescribed. RPE scales allow for day to day adaptations. If your programme specifies you to lift a set weight, but you’ve had a physically and mentally demanding day, you may not be able to perform the set. However, if the programme said to lift RPE7, you can base it on how you felt in that session.
This method of stress selection is best used for lower demand exercises or for users who have experience of training who have a better understanding of their capabilities on lifts. As a disclaimer, we advise that you use the services of a qualified and experienced coach to help you practise the techniques and find your one-rep max numbers.
The athletic programme
So, without further ado, let’s discuss the programme itself. The programme is for three days per week. You should space these days out throughout the week: for example, training on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. However you choose to space it out, avoid performing any two days back to back.
You can perform active recovery sessions on the other days. Active recovery can be any activity that you can perform without any specific requirement of mental stimulus or preparation that is low in exertion. For example, going for a 45-minute power walk can be classed as active recovery. Not only will this help you burn calories, but it won’t impact your ability to recover from your sessions. Walking at a steady-state can help improve your recovery from training by keeping your muscles supple and flexible and helping you remove toxins by increasing blood flow around the body.
You will see in the programme that each session starts with mobility drills ‘as needed’. We have not included a specific mobility warm up as everyone will have different needs based on their mobility, stability, and posture. We advise that you seek a qualified movement screening coach to help create mobility drills suitable for you. However, if you would like more info and a general guideline, our article on how to warm up is a great start.
As you view the programme, the sessions go lower body, upper body, then whole body. Each session will train the entire body but will hold a priority focus on the speciality of the day. You can tell the speciality by the plyometrics used and the first compound exercise.
Something else you will notice is that each day has a back – or pull – exercise, be it a pull-up, a row or a deadlift. There are several reasons for this, but mainly it’s to do with the volume of work. For example, take a look at the volume of work from lower body, push and pull. Although the pull frequency is higher, the volume (or amount) is lower. The more frequently you train a muscle or movement pattern, the less of it you can do each session.
The relationship between volume, frequency and intensity is a topic to be discussed in a separate article.
Most compound lifts, as well as the clean variations, will involve core activation. However, we have included additionally one core-specific exercise in each session. You will notice there are no crunches or leg raises written in this programme. The exercises selected are based on three functional core patterns: rotation, anti-rotation and stabilisation. We chose these three because they are great functional patterns that will improve your performance in other exercises while reducing your risk of injury.
The old wives’ tale is that doing lots of crunches, sit-ups and leg raises will give you a six-pack. This is not true. The reality is we ALL have a six-pack as it’s part of the human anatomy. However, we also have body fat covering those muscles. You cannot perform core exercises to spot-reduce fat from your waist. Something we have touched upon several times during this series: to shed body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Creating the deficit is as simple as eating less and moving more. There are some more details, but this is the reality in simple terms.
Each session ends with interval training. If you feel the sessions are too long or too demanding, you can always perform the intervals in a separate workout on the same day. The other option is to take a prolonged rest to get some fuel inside you and a stretch before attempting the intervals. You also have the opportunity to remove the interval training from one or all sessions if you don’t want to incorporate them. This programme is a template for you to use or adapt as you see fit.
If you have read the intervals article, you will know there are several variations of intervals you could try. If you find any of the sessions too difficult, you could always try the Fartlek method we discussed as another option to keep intervals in, without them having to be as intense.
As you view the programme, you will see it lasts four weeks. Each week has a purpose. You may be surprised to see week 4 is a de-load week. The reason for this is so that you can repeat this programme once you finish it. A de-load is essential to allow for recovery and reduce the risk of injury. You will notice between weeks one to three there is a difference in each exercise, where we alter the sets, reps and load. Because this is considered a short training cycle, there is a significant increase in load and volume. The idea would be to complete three to five cycles of this programme, in which each cycle you increase your weight per lift by an average of 2.5kg. With some lifts, you may feel stronger and want to push for a higher jump in weight.
If, during the programme, you are unable to complete a prescribed set up for an exercise, don’t panic. Just ensure in the following week you maintain the set up at which you failed. The exception to this is if the next session is the de-load. Ideally, week three should be your most challenging. Once again, this is just a template, and if you feel it is too advanced, you can reduce the % involved by 5-10% to suit your abilities.
Here is the four-week training cycle for the athlete programme:
If you have any additional questions regarding the programme itself, or if you would like to have some more guidance and coaching with this style of training, you can reach the author directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. Haydn is one of the resident coaches at Life Force Fitness. Haydn is a qualified strength and conditioning coach who has worked with athletes. And he is one himself. Although Haydn works in Northampton for 1-1 training, we offer online coaching where he can help you. If you are interested in online coaching, you can follow this link to send us an enquiry.