Sports Training: the importance of knowing what the purpose of your training workout is

It's vital you focus on one specific area in any given training session

By James Marshall

When delivering coach education workshops, I always emphasise the importance of knowing what the purpose of your session is. It can have a primary focus, followed by one or two secondary focuses. It can not have three primary focuses.

An example being that a rugby player is told by his coach to go away in the off season and get bigger, faster and stronger. Great, how can I achieve that in 6 weeks? Well, the answer is- you can’t. You can get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and a little bit faster, especially if you are starting from a low base.

However, when you are already have a training base, it is pretty hard to work on more than aspect of fitness at a time, without compromising results. You are also not going to get results if you do not have a clear objective as to what it is you actually want.

So what happens when the player walks into the gym? They try and do everything and the result is at best just being tired, at worst it is frustrated and potentially injured.

So the first thing is what do I want to achieve?

Do I want to get stronger, more powerful, faster, lose body fat, improve my stamina, improve my running speed, or recover from injury?

The second thing is how long have I got?

If you need to improve upon all of the above goals- then you will need a year to work on it- not 6 weeks.  If you have 4-6 weeks, then how many training sessions does that involve? Can you train twice a week, or twice a day?  What about adequate rest and nutrition?  Once you have the number of workouts planned, then we can look at what you do in them.

The third thing is planning the workout.

Each workout should be self contained, but lead into the next one. You can not do the same set of exercises with the same load, intensity and rest periods, week after week and expect any improvement.

It starts with the warm up: this should lead into the session itself in almost a seamless fashion, so that by the end you are ready to go. If you are doing a cycling session, then the warm up should be on the bike. If you are doing weights, then the warm up should use weights and so on.

In the workout you should have a primary focus, and if time is limited a secondary focus.For example:

Aim of session: Primary; lower body power secondary; upper body strength.

Warm up: body weight squats, jumps with holds, press ups, jump pull ups.

Session part 1:

  • Weighted squat jumps 6 sets, 2 reps  2minutes rest.
  • Split squat jumps 4 reps, 4 sets, 2 minutes rest.

Session part 2: Push\ pull complex

  • Weighted pull ups 5 reps, 30seconds rest
  • Dumbbell shoulder press 5 reps, 2 minutes rest- then repeat 3 more times.

Warm down: Lower body isometric stretches quadriceps, hamstrings, groin. Upper body isometric stretches, back and chest.

If this was part of my overall plan of developing power, with some strength maintenance, my next session may look at upper body power with some lower body strength, or perhaps a whole body power workout.

The point is that I have a plan, and I am going to stick to it. You may have to adjust the load used in the workout that depends on what you can lift on the day, but the overall plan is there. 

The fourth thing is what happens next?

If you have your plan for the next few weeks, you need to draw a line at the end of it and plan your next block of training. Take a couple of days off. This will allow your body and mind to recuperate and regenerate and give you time to reflect on what worked well, and what didn’t. The next block can be similar to the one you did, but preferably you would switch the primary focus around. So you might follow a strength period  by power, or a power period by speed, or an intermittent endurance phase by strength an so on.

The most important thing is that you focus on one area and that you do it well.

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