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  • Writer's pictureLee Pearson (Tutor)

How to Build a Sports Performance Fitness Program

When creating a periodized program (or any program, for that matter) for athletes, there are several factors to keep in mind. This includes identifying the performance target, assessing the current situation and outlining the tactics for goal achievement.

Whether you are working with an individual or a team, these steps are crucial to creating a functional training program. An individualized, scientific approach to training will be more successful in improving a player’s fitness and, ultimately, his or her performance (Rhea, Kenn and Dermody, 2009). Keep in mind that athletes react to the same training stimulus in different ways, so be sure to create a detailed checklist of all variables and elements.

Before you start building the program, whether it’s for a team or individual, it’s a good idea to look at a needs analysis as part of your checklist for your athletes. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Athlete’s goals

Sporting position

Training age

Previous injuries

Length of the season(s)

Recovery time needed



Training days available

Energy systems used

Training background


Movement analysis

Individual fitness levels

Recovery rate

Fundamental competencies

Preparation timeline

Training environment

Natural coordination

Physiological demands

Psychological demands

Competitions per cycle

Once the needs analysis has been completed, it’s best to first consider the timeline for preparation and then work toward honing the finer details of the program, such as movement patterns, resources available, exercise choices and sets/repetitions. It is also important to consider having a plan B and a plan C, as things don’t always go according to expectation. Being adaptable as a trainer or coach is fundamental to cultivating successful, strong and healthy athletes.

Here are the essential scientific training principles to consider (Jeffreys and Moody, 2016):

Adaptation or accommodation: Every time athletes train, changes take place that make them more effective and efficient. Dr. Hans Selye’s GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) states that stress causes a temporary reduction in performance/function, which is followed by adaptation, which improves function and performance (Selye, 1978). Trainers should consider changing up their selection of exercises every few weeks, because the body adapts and needs variety to be consistently challenged.Rest and recovery: Although it’s important that the training load is progressive, it is equally important that rest and regeneration are programmed and planned. Rest and recovery between sets, between exercises and between workouts should be planned and strategically measured to avoid burnout or injury. Keep rest periods between sets and exercises to approximately 3060 seconds, depending on the client’s goal and fitness level. At least one day off per week is recommended to avoid burnout; however, the individual should listen to his or her body and, if necessary, take additional days off.Overload: For fitness to improve, an athlete must continually boost the work he or she performs. Here are some examples of how to increase intensity without changing the exercise:Reducing the recovery timeAdding more weightIncreasing manual resistanceExpanding range of motionQuickening concentric movementsAdding cognitive awareness componentsAdding repetitionsPerforming additional setsIncreasing time under tensionIncluding balance componentsPerforming single- versus double-extremity movementSpecificity: Athletic focus should be specific and the training a player performs must relate to the demands of the competition. A player’s horizontal power potential is an example of specific conditioning for the player. The key point of this principle is that the player’s training should be guided by the demands of the sport in general and his or her position in particular.Individuality: If two athletes perform the same exercise at the same level of fitness, it may be more challenging for one more than the other. Know your athlete—your approach to his or her program should not be “one-size-fits-all.”De-training/reversibility: Any prolonged time off of training will be accompanied by a decline in fitness levels. Therefore, a reconditioning program should be undertaken before a player returns to full training or competition.Generality: Athletes who are at a relatively young training age will improve their fitness across a range of fitness components by engaging in general training (Bompa, 1999). A general training program is likely to produce positive adaptation in a player or squad if they are beginning a training program. As players mature in training age, it is probable that the “general” training program will not be as effective in growth and development (Bosco, 1999). Clients who have not had formal resistance and cardiovascular experience should be introduced to a variety of training, including flexibility, power components, endurance training and agility, to improve their fitness levels. However, clients who have had two or more years of training will require more goal-specific training.Variation/variability: Adjusted responses to rigorous training loads are demonstrated during successive unloading periods. Additional training effects are realized through planned training methods and means throughout a cyclic basis (Jeffreys and Moody, 2016). Changing up the training loads (volumes, repetitions, sets, etc.) help to create variation in a training program. This can be done on a week-by-week basis (undulating) according to how the client is reacting to the training stimuli or it can be done in a linear fashion.

Once you have thoroughly reviewed the most significant factors including the principles of training, you can then begin to work through the microcycles, or individual training days, which may consist of multiple sessions. Each training session should be comprised of the little building blocks that lead to the achievement of the athlete’s goals. These building blocks may include all three planes of motion, range of motion, exercise equipment choices, single- versus double-extremity movements, recovery time and metabolic-conditioning sessions.

As a reminder, training sessions are not meant to merely provide the athlete with a good workout, but rather to set up the athlete for long-term success. If these pointers are applied, these training-program recommendations will give athletes the edge they need to succeed.


Bompa, T.O. (1999). Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics.

Bosco C. (1999). Strength Assessment with the Bosco’s Test. Roma: Italian Institute of Sport Sciences.

Jeffreys, I. and Moody, J. (2016). Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Rhea, M.R., Kenn, J.G. and Dermody, B.M. (2009). Alterations in speed of squat movement and the use of accommodated resistance among college athletes training for power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 9, 26452650.

Selye H. (1978). The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

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