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principles of training

Principles of Training

All athletes train knowing that repetition of movements required in the game/activity will improve performance. However, the quality of training is very much dependent on our understanding of its anticipated benefits. Effective training requires the implementation of a number of important principles. Whether we are training to improve our aerobic capacity, strength or perhaps our flexibility, certain principles must be applied. These principles of training include:

Progressive Overload




Training Thresholds

Warm-up and Cool-down

progressive overload
Progressive Overload

Progressive Overload Defined:

This principle recognises that the body changes and adapts to cope with exercise that is more intense or difficult than it is used to. This is how an athlete increases their fitness. Once the body has adapted to the new, increased workload, the workload should be again increased in order to gain further improvements. Knowing when to make the adjustment to the workload and knowing how much to increase by are two crucial aspects to an exercise program. Too little overload will result in athletes not fulfilling their potential, while too much can cause fatigue, injury or demotivation.

progressive overload cont
Progressive Overload cont.

Insufficient stress underloads the body and training benefits are not maximised.


Specificity Defined

This principle recognises that the body adapts to training in specific ways. It insists that the greatest gains in sporting performance occur when the movements involved in training are similar to the movements in the sport or activity. Designing training activities that are similar to a sport might involve:

• Targeting the same muscle groups in resistance training.

• Using the same energy systems as those used during competition.

• Practicing movements that are the same or similar to skills used in competition.

• Developing the same components of fitness necessary for competition.

• Specific flexibility activities that mimic stretches in competition.


Reversibility Defined

The effects of training programs are reversible. In the same way that the body responds to training by improving the level of fitness, lack of training causes the opposite to occur. This is referred to as the detraining effect. This process applies equally to aerobic, strength and flexibility training programs.

In general, if big gains have been made during training, greater loses will follow when training stops because there is more to lose. You must actively participate in the training program to maintain the training benefits.


Variety Defined:

This principle recognises that athletes require variety in their training methods to avoid boredom, to maximise enjoyment and to create a motivating environment.

Examples of the application of the variety principle include:

  • Aerobic training takes many forms. We can train the aerobic system using a variety of activities such as swimming, running, cycling and circuit training.
  • Strength training uses a variety of methods. Isometric and isotonic methods increase strength, but do so by using different equipment such as free weights, elastic bands and hydraulic devices.
training thresholds
Training Thresholds

Training Thresholds

Thresholds usually refer to a specific point, that when passed, take the person to a new level of fitness. When we train we expect an improvement in our physical condition. However for improvement to occur we must work at a level of intensity that causes our body to respond in a particular way.

The lowest level at which we can work and still make some fitness gains is called the training threshold, also known as the aerobic threshold. This is approximately an intensity of 70% of a person’s maximum heart rate.

When a person is working at a level of intensity above the aerobic training threshold and below the anaerobic threshold, they are working in the aerobic training zone. Exercise here is referred to as a ‘steady state’ exercise and results in improvement in physical condition. This is approximately an intensity of 80% of a person’s maximum heart rate.

The upper most level of thresholds is called the anaerobic threshold or, more accurately lactate inflection point (LIP). This refers to a point where further effort is characterised by fatigue. The LIP reflects the balance between lactate entry (production) and removal from the blood. If exercise intensity increases after the LIP is reached, blood lactate concentration increases substantially and results in fatigue. This training threshold is achieved approximately at an intensity above 80% of a person’s maximum heart rate.

To work out your heart rate for the above three training thresholds use the following formula:

Maximum heart rate = 220 – Age

If the person is 20 years old their maximum heart rate would be 200 beats per minute, 60% of 200 is 120bpm, 85% of 200 is 170bpm. Therefore their target heart rate is 120-170bpm.

warm up cool down
Warm-up & Cool-down

A warm up and cool down should be done at the beginning and conclusion of each training session. It should involve whole body movements followed by stretching exercises. This increases core body temperature, increases blood supply to the muscles, reduces the chance of injury and removes lactic acid.

A typical warm-up:

  • General aerobic activity such as jogging to raise body temperature.
  • Specific flexibility exercises to increase the range of motion of joints and to prevent muscle tears.
  • Callisthenics such as push-ups, star jumps and sit ups to increase blood flow to the working muscles.
  • Skill rehearsal, that is performing movements or skills that will be repeated in the game.

A effective warm-up should be sustained for at least 10minutes and for elite athletes it can last as long as 30minutes.

The cool-down is the period that follows the training session and is the reverse of the warm-up. The purpose of a cool-down is to minimise muscle stiffness and soreness that can result from strenuous training. It also assists in dispersing metabolic lactic acid concentration and replenish the body’s energy stores.