Programming For Power | Part II. Individual Characteristics
It sounds obvious but you'd be surprised how much individual characteristics are overlooked when creating and implementing a performance programme. Ever heard the 'one size fits all' phrase? Of course you have and it's as stupid as sizing for hats...
Team GB when they're told they all have to follow the same programme
Here’s a quick sum-up of the things you should have in the brain box when writing a plan for peak power performance. It's not exhaustive, just some considerations and emphasis on the key thing that is not so common in us all - common sense. Remember this is a broad article to provide opportunity to think and plan appropriately.
We've laid out our thoughts on 'power' as a concept in the Preface but you know that because you read it right? These are additional things when looking at the athlete in front of you once you've followed our initial recommended process. This author has trained in high-performance groups that have been largely led by a one-size-fits-all approach and it can be enormously problematic. The point being, this is not an issue reserved to the everyman or non-athlete. Feel free to skim through this article and take the bits and bobs that you feel are most helpful.
Periodisation (Time Of The Year)
What it says on the tin. What time of year are you at? Are you 6 months from competition? 6 weeks? Have you considered breaking up your programme into different muscle contraction phases? (Triphasic is the coined term but principally mixing up periods of eccentric, isometric and concentric contraction focus. With this emphasis you could programme an entire block (2-4 weeks) of 1 type of contraction or short blocks (1-2 weeks) or mix them all together (conjugate/conju-phasic we guess?) in your weekly sessions. This sort of breakdown helps to teach the individual all the working parts of dynamic movement, and can expedite learning and improvement across training modalities.) Plan it properly and the training world is your oyster.
Are you implementing a heavy block of hypertrophy which you want to subsequently convert to strength? Are you wanting to maintain speed throughout? Are you doing General Prep where you undertake sessions that are somewhat far removed from your training goal?
Let’s answer these questions with a simple 4-month periodised plan example leading up to a competition or desired peak performance date (team selection event for example):
Figure 1. Put your glasses on and check out this example plan for a push athlete in bobsleigh wanting to prepare for a push selection event
Basic periodisation terms for reference - Macrocycle (largest view of your training, could be a year or even an Olympic quad), Mesocycle (the medium view, typically 3-6 week period), Microcycle (the smallest view, your weekly schedule essentially).
This is one, general example of a 4-month plan with a gradually tapering level of volume, intensity, focus and effort arriving (hopefully) at a peak.
Is Periodising An Outdated Concept?
Periodising absolutely has its strengths in terms of providing a roadmap to your goal. Some people seem to have a problem with it these days because it doesn’t completely take into account the changeable and unpredictable nature of an individual’s training journey. We totally agree, coaching is both a science and an art. As precise as it is intuitive and chaotic.
Periodising and planning absolutely has its place. It’ll give you context, marker points and ensure you’re not just rocking up to training with no idea about your volume load, plyo contacts, or any other marker to help keep yourself healthy, in top condition and aware of your progress.
Of Course Training Is Chaotic.
It is likely you’ll have moments where more rest is necessary, you may pick up an injury, you may feel inordinate fatigue and have to re-jig things to make them more suitable for you. Common sense and basic body awareness applies here.
Ultimately, the biggest gains are seen when training for extended periods is as uninterrupted as possible. Don’t be afraid to take extra rest days. Athletes are obsessed with giving the ‘I train every single day’ impression as if they’re not professionals if they don’t. Extended, accumulated sessions of high quality will yield a strong result. The point we're making here is that quality is often at the expense of quantity, so tread that tightrope carefully.
But again, don’t throw the concept of periodisation in the bin because some contrarian sports scientist who's never coached anyone wants to stand out. Just use it for what it really is, a flexible roadmap to a specified goal.
Team Position/Event Specific Transfer.
Another consideration for programming for power is what you or your athlete aim to do! Note: The team sport training aspect is outside TBM’s area of expertise so those examples are just to give you an idea of what you need to think about. Our experts will provide better guidance on this.
Different team sport positions may require emphasis and time spent in different areas of the FV curve (or LV curve). Basketballers looking to build dunk ability will be spending a lot of time completing heavy plyometric contacts in their sport, so how much additional high intensity plyo do you need to programme in - if any? During a tough pre-season, some pro rugby players could cover between 7-12km a day! Where do you safely programme in power training - which they absolutely need - when they’re so aerobically exhausted?
What about track cyclists looking to boost peak power to churn out a sub-18 second ‘Man 1’ lap? Do you undertake the dogmatic cycling process of endless heavy squats (2.2x body weight anyone?) or do you open yourself to the possibility of learning force production and neural drive in other contexts? (Potential subject of an upcoming Podcast - stay tuned for that one. Or remind us if we still haven’t done it.)
In football, you may want a winger or full-back spending more time in the speed-strength or maximal velocity area to make sure they’re flying up the wing and successfully chasing balls on match day. Conversely, they may require time in the maximal strength end if they’re fast but struggling with injury resilience etc. Likewise a sprinter, who by nature would be spending a lot of time in the speed/strength or max velocity areas of the curve, may need extended periods at the slower, strength biased area to improve weightroom weaknesses (or depending what stage of the year they're at, remember that bit?). Which leads us neatly onto the next point…
Individual Strengths, Weaknesses And Training Age
How strong are you or your athlete? How weak? In what areas? Do these areas make a substantial difference to a performance outcome? E.g. A pole vaulter spending a lot of time working on improving their speed on the runway without improving their technical efficiency at the end may yield little in the way of performance benefit. They could absolutely speed up, but if they can’t use that new speed to transfer into the skill of planting a pole and getting over a higher bar then that time and effort might have been misplaced. Other examples in our preface touch on this.
Learning an athlete’s workload tolerance is essential. This author once trained out of the IMG Academy in Florida and learned this piece of advice from renowned Olympic track and field coach Loren Seagrave:
“athletes with a weaker nervous system will break if you beast them with too much volume, athletes with a strong nervous system won’t improve unless you beast them”
Whether this was totally correct or not, the idea is relevant. Learn your athlete’s or your own tolerance to different types of training. Power training will absolutely fatigue your nervous system and intense, ballistic sessions can take up to 48 hours to recover from. Learn what less effort with effective and ineffective results looks like and learn from when you overdo it.
Assess an athlete’s weaknesses. Keep accessory work (prehab/rehab) volume in the programme (Nordic ham exercises for example), again don’t overdo it! Also make sure you or your athletes are as technically sound as possible, (what exactly constitutes 'technical proficiency' is another article for another day). But principally, do they need other technical work or brushing up on their drills or skill execution?
An athlete’s training age, and actual age, will have an interesting impact. A younger athlete will normally tolerate a lot more load than an older athlete, but will often need more technical intervention. The older generations shouldn’t despair however! Those who have been through those early years of workload will generally be in the enviable position of having to do far less of the hard-yards as they round off their careers. Those who aren’t athletes, just manage your load sensibly. It doesn’t take a 6-week course in Personal Training to let you know whether or not you’ve overdone it, your spine will inform you.
Sum It Up
So, these are just a number of thoughts you should have and are by no means exhaustive (we haven't even mentioned nutrition and other recovery strategies etc). The takeaway should be, always and forever:
use. your. common. sense.
If someone has weaknesses that seem to be impacting health or performance, strengthen them! Don’t overdo your workloads, plot a starting route to your goal with contingencies for injury (or other) re-routes. That approach is as important mentally as it is physically. Never despair of an injury, use that frustration as energy to strengthen that area you didn’t know was weak and come back stronger! A solid plan with a common sense approach to handling the inevitable chaos that will come your way will lead you down the safest road to success.
Assess the needs of the individual, plan training objectives, identify the ways in which you can bring about the desired adaptations, then implement. Throw in some testing metrics and see what the output is. Review, improve, then repeat the process.
So, that covers a pretty broad range of considerations and now we’ve got all the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk about actually programming some 'power' in the weightroom and out on the track…
Did we miss anything? Do you disagree with any of it? What other considerations can you think of? Put your thoughts on a piece of paper and pop it in any bin you can see, and we’ll make sure we get to it. Failing that, troll us here