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Principles of Training

Why do people get involved in physical activity?

People get involved in exercise for many reasons: to improve their health and physical condition, to achieve a sporting ambition, to relieve the tension and stress of daily life, and to lose weight. It makes them feel good. Participating in sport encourages co-operation in team sports, develops competitiveness, provides a physical challenge and the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

Principles of Training

Training to improve an athlete's performance obeys the principles of training: specificity, overload, rest, adaptation and reversibility (SORAR).


You must perform exercises involving joint action to improve the range of movement for a particular joint action. It is quite possible for an athlete to have good shoulder joint mobility but poor hip mobility. Conducting shoulder mobility exercises may further improve shoulder mobility, but it will not affect hip mobility.

In addition to developing general mobility levels in an athlete, coaches need to consider the specific mobility requirements of a given event. The coach can analyse the technique of their event, identify which joint actions are involved and determine which need to be improved in terms of the range of movement. For example, a thrower might require shoulder and spine mobility improvements. A hurdler might need to develop their hip mobility.

The amount and nature of each athlete's mobility training will vary according to the individual athlete's event requirements and their range of movement for each joint action. It may be necessary to measure the range of movement for particular joint actions to determine the present range and future improvement.

Specificity is an important principle in strength training. The exercise must be specific to the type of strength required and is therefore related to the particular demands of the event. The coach should know the predominant types of muscular activity associated with their specific event, the movement pattern involved, and the type of strength required. Although specificity is important, every schedule must include exercises of a general nature (e.g. power clean, squat). These exercises may not relate too closely to any athletic event's movement. Still, they give a balanced development and provide a strong base upon which particular exercise can be built.

Heavy throwing implements or weighted belts may seem the obvious solution to the specificity problem. Most authorities consider that the training implement should be kept within 15% of the competition weight in the throwing events. Still, the athlete will probably unconsciously develop compensatory movements in their technique in adjusting to the new weight.

Can we be specific in the speed of movement? Training at low velocity increases low-velocity strength substantially but has little effect on high-velocity strength (Coyle and Fleming, 1980).

Is there any justification for slow velocity strength training for athletes who have to perform movements at high speed? Yes. Slow velocity training may be of value in stimulating maximum muscle adaptation. Muscle growth (an increase in contractile strength) is related to the tension developed within the muscle (Goldberg, 1975). When athletes perform high-velocity strength work, their force is relatively low and therefore fails to stimulate substantial muscular growth. If performed extensively, the athlete may not be inducing maximum adaptation with the muscles. Thus, the athlete must use fast and slow movements to train the muscles.


When an athlete performs a mobility exercise, they should stretch to the end of their range of movement. In active mobility, the end of the range of motion is known as the active end position. Improvements in mobility can only be achieved by working at or beyond the active end position.

  • Passive exercises involve passing the active end position, as the external force can move the limbs further than the active contracting of the agonist's muscles
  • Kinetic mobility (dynamic) exercises use the momentum of the movement to bounce past the active end position

A muscle will only strengthen when forced to operate beyond its customary intensity. The load must be progressively increased to further adaptive responses as training develops, and the training stimulus is gradually raised. Overload can be progressed by:

  • increasing the resistance, e.g. adding 5kg to the barbell
  • increasing the number of repetitions with a particular weight
  • increasing the number of sets of the exercise (work)
  • increasing the intensity - more work at the same time, i.e. reducing the recovery periods


Rest is required for the body to recover from the training and allow adaptation. An inadequate amount of rest may lead to overtraining.


The body will react to the training loads imposed by increasing its ability to cope with them. Adaptation occurs during the recovery period after the training session is completed.

If exercises lasting less than 10 seconds (ATP-CP energy system) are repeated with a full recovery (approximately 3 to 5 minutes), an adaptation in which ATP and CP stores in the muscles are increased.

More energy is available more rapidly and increases the maximum peak power output. If overloads are experienced for up to 60 seconds, with a full recovery, it is found that glycogen stores are enhanced.

The most noticeable weight training effect with heavy loads on fast-twitch muscle fibres is larger and stronger muscles (hypertrophy).

The adaptation rate will depend on the exercise sessions' volume, intensity and frequency. In their recent investigation, Burgomaster et al. (2008)[3] report that six weeks of low-volume, high-intensity sprint training induced similar changes in selected whole-body and skeletal muscle adaptations as traditional high-volume, low-intensity endurance workouts undertaken for the same intervention period.

Hawley (2008)[2]states that the time of adaptation may be quicker for high-intensity sprint training compared to low-intensity endurance training but that the two training regimens elicit similar adaptations over a more extended period.

Reversibility or Detraining

Improved ranges of movement can be achieved and maintained by regular use of mobility exercises. If an athlete ceases mobility training, their range of movement will decline over time to those maintained by their other physical activities.

When training ceases, the training effect will also stop. It gradually reduces to approximately one-third of the rate of acquisition (Jenson and Fisher, 1972). Athletes must ensure that they continue strength training throughout the competitive period, although at a reduced volume, or newly acquired strength will be lost

Detraining risk for athletes

The effects of a long period of inactivity on physical fitness come from a UK case study of an Olympic rower (Godfrey et al. 2005)[1], who took more than 20 weeks to recover his fitness after an eight-week lay-off.

Although the athlete in question took time off in response to the need for a physical and mental break rather than because of illness and injury, this case study has clear implications for injured athletes.

An elite heavyweight male rower and current Olympic champion, the athlete allowed himself the luxury of eight weeks of inactivity after competing in the Sydney Olympic Games in September 2000. His fitness was assessed using a lab-based incremental rowing test on four separate occasions: eight weeks before the Olympics, after eight weeks of inactivity, after eight weeks of retraining, and after 12 weeks of training.

The key findings were as follows: After eight weeks detraining

  • V02peak had decreased by 8%. After eight weeks of retraining it had increased by only 4%, returning to just below pre-Olympic values after a further 12 weeks;
  • At peak oxygen consumption, power fell from a pre-Olympic value of 546W to 435W - a reduction of 20%. After eight weeks retraining, it had increased by 15%, resuming pre-Olympic values after a further 12 weeks;
  • Power at reference blood lactate concentrations declined by 27% but returned to just below or above pre-Olympic levels after 20 weeks' retraining.

The researchers recommend that training programs limit complete inactivity periods to no more than two to three weeks. Prolonged periods of inactivity should be avoided, and the training programme should incorporate some form of "maintenance" training where an extended break is desired.


  1. GODFREY, R.J. et al. (2005) The detraining and retraining of an elite rower: a case study. J Sci Med Sport, 8 (3), p. 314-320
  2. HAWLEY, J. (2008) Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? Journal of Physiology, 586 (Pt 1), p. 1–2.
  3. Burgomaster KA. et al. (2008) Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. J Physiol. 586. p.151–160

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2000) Training Principles [WWW] Available from: [Accessed