Principles Of Training & Conditioning

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Components of Fitness

Sports Components of Fitness

Principles of Training & Conditioning 




Strength and conditioning programs focus on developing multiple levels of individuals physical fitness. Fahey and colleagues (2005) stated that fitness components can be divided into two areas (i) health-related and (ii) skill-related fitness components. Health-related fitness components are those that are considered to improve health, wellness and quality of life. These improvements to various systems can enhance physical performance and include muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

Muscular strength


Muscular strength has been defined by Hoffman (2006) as the maximal force an individual can generate during a specific movement pattern at a specified velocity of muscular contraction. To assess dynamic muscle actions, a one-repetition maximum lift (1RM) is performed by the individual for a given exercise (i.e. squat, deadlift, or bench press) normally in a weights room or gymnasium. The trainee would move the maximal amount of weight they could lift in one all-out effort. However, depending on the population group it may be estimated from submaximal strength performance. The all-out effort (termed maximal magnitude of force) may be defined as absolute muscular strength as it represents the threshold of an individual’s physiological capacity for a specific resistance exercise. When maximal strength is expressed in relation to an individuals body mass, it is defined as relative muscular strength. For many, relative muscular strength is critical when athletes compete in different weight classifications because of the higher strength-to-mass ratio. Athletes with a higher strength-to-mass ratio enable high levels of force production without the addition of considerable mass gains. Relative strength measures have been used to compare lifting performances among athletes of different sizes. In lifting competitions (powerlifting), the Wilks and Sinclair formulas have been used and are established on the athlete's body mass to find a conversion factor that is multiplied by the weight lifted to correct for size differences.

Muscular endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability to maintain performance and resist fatigue. It is important to note that the intensity of muscle contractions plays a critical role. Submaximal muscular contractions are characterised by the ability to sustain low-intensity (low loading) muscular contractions for a prolonged period. Strength endurance is the ability to maintain high-intensity muscular contractions over a prolonged period. For example, an athlete can perform repeated sprints with comparable times or the athlete performs a certain number of repetitions for a resistance exercise over several sets despite a rest interval in between sets. Another term often used is local muscular endurance. Local muscular endurance is defined by the ability of specific (local) muscle or muscle groups to sustain the performance of that exercise. Generally, having good muscular endurance is important for body posture, health, and injury prevention and aids in improving athletic performance.

Cardiorespiratory endurance


Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability to perform sustained aerobic exercise at moderate to high intensities. Cardiorespiratory endurance is correlated to the function of the lungs, heart, and circulatory system, and the capability of the muscles to extract oxygen and thus maintain performance. The central measure of cardiorespiratory endurance (sometimes termed aerobic capacity) is the maximal oxygen uptake (Vo2max). A moderate-to-high Vo2max is an essential component for endurance athletes, and having a good aerobic foundation can increase recovery from anaerobic exercise. Cardiorespiratory endurance is necessary for optimal health whilst reducing risk factors for disease, improving self-image, cognitive functioning, and mental health management.



Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move freely its ROM (see stretch training physiology for a detailed explanation). Improved joint flexibility can help reduce injury risk, improve muscle balance, increase physical performance, improve body posture, and reduce the occurrence of low back pain. To increase flexibility individuals should perform exercises in a full ROM and participate in an appropriate stretching program, preferably at the end of the session.

Body composition

Body composition refers to the amount of fat and fat-free mass (lean body mass) throughout the body. Lean body mass consists of bone, muscle, water, and other non-fat tissues. Healthy body composition involves the reduction of the fat component while maintaining or increasing the lean body mass component. An individual with a disproportionately high amount of body fat may be considered obese and is at an elevated risk of disease. The most effective way to improve body composition is to consume food at the correct qualities and ratios (i.e. low saturated fat intake, low simple sugar consumption, moderate protein intake, and appropriate kilocalorie intake) and regular exercise. Resistance exercises (i.e. strength training) and other modes of anaerobic exercise (high-intensity interval training [HIIT]) are effective for improving body composition as it increases lean body mass. Body composition is central to athletes who’s sports have weight classifications (boxing, wrestling and Olympic lifting) or where athletes have to overcome their own body mass (high jump, long jump, gymnastics or even endurance sports). 

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Skill-related components of fitness

Skill-related components of physical fitness include power, speed, agility, balance and coordination, and reaction time. These components may be improved by a variety of different training approaches including resistance training, interval training, agility and plyometric training and through a series of sport-specific practices. 


Power is the rate of performing work. It is important to note that power is the product of force and velocity, thus there is a strength component to power development (strength at low-to-high velocities of muscular contraction). Starting strength is a term used to describe power production during the initial segment of the movement. Rate of force development describes power output during explosive exercise activity. The velocity component of the power equation indicates that high contraction velocities (or at least the intent to contract at maximal velocities even against a heavy resistance) of muscle contraction are essential. Therefore, power development is multidimensional, involving the development of force and velocity components. Muscle power may be improved by resistance training, speed, agility, and plyometric training, and through sport-specific conditioning.


Speed is an essential component of the sport. Speed is the capacity of an individual to perform a motor skill as quickly as possible. For example, linear running speed may be defined by three distinct segments: (i) acceleration, (ii) maximum speed, and (iii) deceleration. The acceleration phase is characterised by an increase in speed and is conditional upon strength, power, and the individual's reaction time. The maximum speed phase is characterised by the individual’s ability to maintain their maximum speed (e.g. speed endurance). The deceleration phase is, therefore, a result of fatigue and is characterised by involuntarily decreasing the speed after maximum speed has been achieved. Speed may be improved by a combination of training methods including non-assisted and assisted sprint training, strength and power training, plyometrics, technique training, and sport-specific practice.


Agility is the ability to change direction quickly without a substantial loss of speed, balance, or bodily control. To be agile requires muscular power, strength, balance, coordination, speed, anticipation, and neuromuscular control. Agility is an essential component of any sport that requires changes of direction, decelerations, and accelerations. Agility training involves predetermined drills (closed drills) and drills that develop the athlete's anticipation skills in which they react explosively (open drills). Likewise, agility can be improved by plyometrics, multidirectional agility and reactive drills, strength and power training, balance training, and sport-specific training.

Balance and coordination

Balance is the ability of an individual to maintain their equilibrium. It involves control over the individuals centre of gravity (often referred to as the centre of mass)  and allows them to maintain correct body position during complex motor skill performance. Balance can be improved by strength and power training, plyometrics, sprint and agility training, specific balance training (with unstable equipment), and through sport-specific practice. Gross motor coordination refers to the ability of an individual to perform a motor skill with correct technique and accuracy. Critical components of coordination include balance, spatial awareness, timing, and motor learning. 



Principles Of Training & Conditioning

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Figure 1. Resistance training programme design considerations for muscular strength, with the incorporation of acute programme variables and fundamental training principles.

Over the last 60 years, greater awareness has been given towards the therapeutic effects resistance training has on muscular functioning and physical health. Scientific exploration and investigation into physical training practices have resulted in improvements in strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. However, within the weight training and athletic communities, pseudoscience has often been the primary catalyst that drives unsupported recommendations for strength development. Besides, commercial gyms provide trainees with misinformation regarding the construct of a training programme. Unsubstantiated advice is often provided to these trainees regarding what acute programme variables should be modified (i.e. repetitions, set configurations, resistance loading, inter-set recovery periods, and training frequency) that would help to develop muscular strength. As a result of this misrepresentation of evidence, the development of training guidelines has evolved from pseudoscience that guides the lay-person. Fortunately, contemporary exercise physiology now ensures that greater emphasis is placed on empirical evidence that focuses on the manipulation of RT variables and the application towards strength development. Current scientific literature has advanced the development of RT programmes from the early work of the 20th century. However, the evidence on the effects of manipulating RT variables has on muscular strength is still sparse. Current RT methods and guidelines have been established without a substantial body of scientific evidence that can support these assertions.


Essential principles and programme variables of resistance training prescription


RT has grown in popularity over the last 35 years, with resistance exercise being practised as a recreational activity and to enhance athletic performance. This mode of exercise is prescribed (in part) by physicians, coaches, and exercise professionals with the premise of improving individuals’ general level of health and fitness. It has also been suggested that RT is an appropriate method to improve physiological health including increased bone density (Menkes et al., 1993), reduce pain and discomfort from arthritis (Rall et al., 1996), decrease low back pain (Nelson et al., 1995), improve glucose metabolism (Hurley, 1994), and counteract obesity (Heyward, 1998) when integrated within an exercise programme. There has also been a body of scientific evidence that has demonstrated that RT is an effective method that improves neuromuscular functioning and is applicable in the development of individual health status (Baechle and Earle, 2008). These health benefits of RT are primarily a preventative countermeasure where muscle weakness compromises optimal functioning. Resistance programmes are also used as a method that enhances athletic conditioning and performance and aids in the rehabilitation of sporting injuries (Behm and Colado, 2012).


The effectiveness of an RT programme depends on the careful manipulation of training variables in which to develop maximum strength (Figure 1). However, trainees of various levels and experiences expect to develop muscular strength by following generic RT programmes that are often generalised training principles. These programmes are based upon established scientific training principles and are often interpreted as the fundamental basis of developing muscular strength. Unfortunately, these training principles only serve as a starting point and provide information that applies to general health development. That said, a well-designed RT programme that is regularly performed can produce numerous benefits, including increased muscle strength, size, and alterations to body composition (Baechle and Earle, 2008). However, designing an RT programme that improves muscular strength is a complex process that incorporates several acute training programme variables and fundamental training principles (Figure 13).













Progressive Overload


Trainees must be exposed to an overload stimulus at regular time-periods to induce strength training adaptations. Overload represents the magnitude of work required to disrupt the biological equilibrium and generate an adaptational response. RT, therefore, imposes physiological stress that disturbs the homeostatic equilibrium (Brooks et al., 2005). Acute bouts of RT result in transient physiological and metabolic changes, which then return to pre-exercise levels during the recovery period. However, if resistance exercise sessions are repeated over a prolonged period, they may induce chronic adaptations. RT can result in altered metabolism (Coyle, 2000), changes in neuromuscular recruitment patterns and remodelling of tissue (Häkkinen et al., 2003). For strength progression to occur, the physiological system must be disturbed. This overload stimulus can be manipulated by altering acute training variables (Bompa, 1999). These acute training variables include set-volume, loading, inter-set recovery, frequency, and selection and order of exercise (Bird, Tarpenning and Marino, 2005).

Progressive overload refers to the gradual increase in physiological stress placed on the human body during physical training (Hoffman and Ratamess, 2008). As already discussed earlier the concept of progressive overload is not original and dates back several thousand years ago to the ancient Greek strongman and Olympic wrestling champion Milo of Crotona (Figure 2). Importantly, the human body has no aspiration to become physically stronger or conditioned unless it is required to meet higher physical demands. The lack of progressive overload in a program is a prominent factor for inert development. The use of progressive overload can overcome accommodation. Accommodation is the staleness resulting from the limited adjustment in the training program (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006). Adaptations to a training program take place within a few weeks of administering. Correct manipulation of acute program variables, therefore, alters the imposed training stimulus, and if the stimulus exceeds the individual’s conditioning threshold, then further improvements in muscular fitness can occur. 


Manipulation of resistance training variables

Progressive overload can be integrated into any resistance training in various means. These can include: 

  • The loading that is limited may be increased. For example, the individual may train with a higher relative percentage of their 1RM or use greater absolute loading within a continual repetition structure. For example, during weeks the initial training sessions (weeks 1-to-3) the individual trains at 70% of 1RM for several structural exercises. During weeks 4-to-5, the loading is increased by 5% to 75% of their 1RM, with a further increased in loading occurring at weeks 6-to-8 (80% 1RM).

  • Other overload considerations are including additional repetitions. For example, individuals performing repetitions between 8-to-12RM loading range where the individual performs a set number of repetitions for an exercise. During week 1 and 2 of training, the individual lifts 100kg in the bench press for 3 sets of 8 reps. During weeks 3 and 4, the loading at 100kg is maintained but performs 3 sets of 10 reps. During weeks 5 and 6, the repetitions are further increased to 12 for 3 sets with 100kg. Once 3 sets of 12 repetitions are achieved over two consecutive sessions, the individuals increase loading and perform 8 reps and repeat the sequence.

  • Coaches and trainers may also increase the lifting velocity with submaximal loads to increase the neural response. The intent of the individual to lift the weight as fast as possible is necessary. Because force = mass x acceleration, increasing repetition velocity (while the mass remains constant) results in higher peak force and greater strength improvement.

  • Modifications of individuals inter-set recovery periods may enable greater loading. If considered in combination with the above approaches, increasing the rest interval will enable greater recovery between sets allowing individuals to tolerate heavier loading. 

  • Session and weekly training volume may be also be increased within reasonable limits (2%–5%) or varied to accommodate heavier loads (Fleck and Kraemer, 2004). From novice to intermediate training, small increases in volume have been reported to increase hypertrophy. However, some evidence suggests with further progression it is the modification of both volume and intensity that becomes critical in program design.


  • Other training approaches have been suggested at supramaximal-loading training ranges. For example, methods such as forced repetitions, heavy negatives, partial repetitions in the strongest area of the range of motion (ROM), and variable-resistance devices have been used to load either a section of the ROM or a muscle action with greater than 100% of 1RM. It is recommended that these techniques should be used cautiously and only by experienced individuals.


Currently, there is limited and contradictory evidence that guides academics and fitness professionals on the effects of modifying RT variables and maximal strength development. Information is limited regarding the effects RT has on different population groups (trained, untrained, healthy adults, and older adults) and exercise selection (multi-joint and single-joint exercise). It is essential to consider that the application of different training principles and types of RT modalities can produce significant increases in strength or muscle hypertrophy if the correct ‘exercise-dose’ is applied. If each resistance exercise training session creates enough training stimulus to stress the specific muscle or muscle groups, a training effect occurs.


To achieve maximal results in muscular strength development, one must consider the science that has helped plan the appropriate programme structure and design. Kraemer and Ratamess (2004) state that “the act of resistance training, itself, does not ensure optimal gains in muscle strength and performance”. There have been several questions that have been proposed concerning the appropriate RT prescription that are intended to produce functional changes in muscular strength (Hass, Feigenbaum and Franklin, 2001. Currently, there is debate regarding which RT modality most effectively increases maximum strength. For example, studies have been performed on the mode of exercise (Cotterman et al., 2005), order of RT exercise (Simão et al., 2005), training frequency (Di Brezzo, Fort and Hoyt III, 2002), inter-set recovery (Henselmans and Schoenfeld, 2014), and daily training volume on strength training (Schoenfeld et al., 2016). However, of all the different RT factors, training volume, set-volume and resistance loading have received the most scientific attention.

Training specificity

The principle of training specificity requires that all training adaptations are specific to the stimulus being applied. Although in many situations general phycological improvements take place, most adaptations will be due to the specific stimuli. Training adaptations are specific to the muscle actions involved, the velocity of movement and rate of force development, range of motion, muscle groups involved, energy metabolism, movement pattern, and loading/volume of training (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004). Specificity becomes most apparent when individuals progress to more advanced resistance training modes with several studies reporting that training effects in untrained and moderately trained individuals.

This training effect applies to:

  • Strength residue from unilateral training (to the opposite limb).    

  • Strength residue from the trained muscle action to a untrained action

  • Strength residue from limited-ROM training to other areas of the ROM or full ROM.

  • Strength residue from one velocity to another. 

  • Motor performance (jumping ability, sprint speed, and sport-specific movements) improvements resulting from resistance training.


To keep the training stimulus optimal the training variables must be modified over time. This is to create an environment that the human body has to constantly respond to and is, therefore, critical for adaptations to take place. Fleck (1994) reports that there is a large body of scientific evidence that supports the promotion of systematically varying training volume and intensity in comparison to programs that did not adopt this approach. Training sessions may be altered in a variety of ways and coaches and trainers should seek to develop a ‘toolbox’ which provides them with an array of strategies for creating progression. It is also important to understand that there is a minimum of 50 modifications that can be made to a training stimulus and as such the coach or trainer would benefit to be aware of program design variations (Figure 3).

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Figure 2. Milo of Crotona and progressive overload

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Figure 3. Programme design of resistance exercise for specific training outcomes incorporates the acute programme variables and key training principles btn = between; CON = concentric; ECC = eccentric; ex = exercise; ISO = isometric; RM = repetition maximum.  Adapted from Bird et al, (2015).

Training status


The training condition or status of an individual has a profound affect on the pattern of progression form a specific fitness component. It is important to understand that the training status reflects the process of adaptation that has occurred over a period of time. Considerations should be made regarding the individuals fitness level, training experience, and their genetics as these factors significantly contribute towards training progression. For example, untrained individuals have the largest rates of improvement as there is the greatest window of adaptational responses. Whereas highly resistance trained individuals demonstrate a slower rate of progression. The ACSM (2002, 2009) position stand specified a diminishing return in strength gains as the individual progressed from untrained to elite.


•  40% increase in untrained individuals strength

• 20% increase in moderately trained individuals strength

• 16% increase in trained individuals strength

• 10% increase in advanced individuals strength

• 2% increase in elite athletes strength

The training condition or status of an individual has a profound effect on the pattern of progression from a specific fitness component. It is important to understand that the training status reflects the process of adaptation that has occurred over a period of time. Considerations should be made regarding the individual's fitness level, training experience, and their genetics as these factors significantly contribute to training progression. For example, untrained individuals have the largest rates of improvement as there is the greatest window of adaptational responses. Whereas highly resistance-trained individuals demonstrate a slower rate of progression. The ACSM (2002, 2009) position stand specified a diminishing return in strength gains as the individual progressed from untrained to elite. 

  • 40% increase in untrained individuals strength•

  • 20% increase in moderately trained individuals strength

  • 16% increase in trained individuals strength

  • 10% increase in advanced individuals strength

  • 2% increase in elite athletes strength

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to accurately classify individuals into training categories as some individuals with several years experience posses less strength than some wit limited experience and vice versa. Even though the evidence is generated from short and longitudinal studies, the training methodology and testing procedures vary greatly between studies. From an observational perspective, one can see that progression becomes increasingly difficult as the individuals conditioning improves. A meta-analysis by Rhea et al. (2003)  reported that untrained individuals generally respond more positively in training progression than observed in trained individuals. Importantly most evidence has been derived from strength-based studies, however, it may be inferred that the responses may be similar to other fitness variables. Regarding progression made in strength, progression evidence suggests that with each improvement brings the individual closer to their genetic limits.  Early evidence from Hickson et al., (1994) demonstrates that the majority of strength increases within the initial weeks of a training program (weeks 1-to-4). After this period the rate and the magnitude of strength progression decrease as the individuals have higher levels of conditioning. This then creates plateaus in progression as the individual is closer to their genetic potential and further adaptation generally is more difficult to improve (principle of diminishing returns). Coaches and trainers need to ensure that all training programs carefully consider and incorporate progressive overload, training specificity, and variation to augment progression.


Detraining (Reversibility) 

Detraining is the complete termination or substantial reduction in training frequency, volume or intensity that results in a reduction in performance and the loss of specific physiological adaptations associated with training. The duration of the detraining phase and the training status of each individual will dictate the degree of performance losses. For some trained athletes these performance reductions may occur within the first two weeks. Studies have demonstrated that in recreationally trained males, muscle strength can be reduced within four to six weeks of detraining (Kraemer et al., 2002; Terzis et al., 2008). Izquierdo et al. (2007) reported that trained individuals had a greater reduction in power than strength after a period of detraining. Evidence has implied that this strength reduction initially is related to neural mechanisms then as detraining progresses changes to the cross-sectional area of muscle (atrophy) (Terzis et al., 2008) and reduced enzyme activity (glycogen concentration reduction by 40%) and anaerobic substrate concentrations (Creatine phosphate reduction by 25%)  (MacDougall et al., 1977). However, the muscle strength levels even after a period of detraining are seldom lower than pre-training levels which suggest training has a residual effect when cessation occurs. Interestingly, a study by Staron and colleagues (1991) founded that when individuals return to training the magnitude of strength acquisition is high.