Mollie Martin by Mollie Martin

Last Updated December 15, 2023 (originally published May 23, 2019) 


When building a training program for athletes, whether or not that program involves periodization, 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, their performance. Keep in mind that different 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 perform 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 (coached) 

  • Previous injuries 

  • Length of the season(s)

  • Recovery time needed 

  • Maturity level 

  • Contact/non-contact 

  • Training days available 

  • Energy systems used 

  • Training background 

  • Genetics 

  • Movement analysis 

  • Individual fitness level 

  • 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: 

  • Adaptation or accommodation: Every time athletes train, changes take place that make them more effective and efficient. The stresses associated with training may cause a temporary reduction in performance/function, which is followed by adaptation, which ultimately improves function and performance. 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 their body and, if necessary, take additional days off. 

  • Overload: For fitness to improve, an athlete must continually boost the work they perform. Here are some examples of how to increase intensity without changing the exercise: 

    • Changing the recovery time 

    • Adding more weight 

    • Increasing manual resistance 

    • Expanding range of motion 

    • Quickening concentric movements 

    • Adding cognitive awareness components 

    • Adding repetitions 

    • Performing additional sets 

    • Increasing time under tension 

    • Including balance components 

    • Performing single- versus double-extremity movement 

  • Specificity: Athletic focus should be specific and the training a client performs must relate to the demands of the competition. The key point of this principle is that the athlete’s training should be guided by the demands of the sport in general and their position in particular. 

  • Individuality: If two athletes perform the same exercise at the same level of fitness, it may be more challenging for one than the other. Know your athlete—your approach to their program should not be “one-size-fits-all.” 

  • De-training/reversibility: Any prolonged time off from training will be accompanied by a decline in fitness levels. Therefore, a reconditioning program should be undertaken before an athlete 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 & Haff, 2009). A general training program is likely to produce positive adaptation in an individual or group if they are beginning a training program. As athletes 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 may 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, 2021). Changing up the training loads (volumes, repetitions, sets, etc.) helps to create variation in a training program. This can be done on a week-by-week basis (undulating) according to how the client is responding 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, which may consist of multiple sessions, or through individual training days. 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 the primary movement patterns in 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. 


If you’re working with athletes (or interested in learning more about this type of clientele), reserve your spot in an upcoming FREE ACE webinar entitled Increasing Speed Through Functional Strength, which will take place on January 10, 2024, at 11:00 AM PST. In this webinar, you will learn about the relationship between strength and speed in client performance and the elements of a comprehensive speed strength program. 



Bompa, T.O. and Haff, G.G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (5th ed.). Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics. 

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

Jeffreys, I. and Moody, J. (2021). Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance (2nd ed.). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge. 

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