Fron: IAAF "Introduction to Coaching Theory"

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    In athletics, records are made to be broken. Men and women around the world continually challenge and improve upon past performances in all events. These improvements in performance are generally a result of higher levels of fitness. This fitness comes from an improved understanding by coaches and athletes of training and its effects. Training theory is the bringing together of all information about athletics from social and scientific sources. This information is used by the coach, along with the knowledge he has of the athlete, to produce effective training programmes.



What is Fitness?

    Fitness is how well a person is adapted to and capable of living a certain lifestyle. The fitness of an athlete is generally greater than that of the non-athlete. The athlete needs to be fit for the demands of his chosen athletic event in addition to being fit for the demands of day to day living.

What is Training?
    Training is a systematic process with the objective of improving an athlete's fitness in a selected activity. It is a long term process that is progressive and recognises the individual athlete's needs and capabilities. Training programmes use exercise or practice to develop the qualities required for an event.
    The process of training can be planned because training follows certain principles. These principles of training need to be fully understood before the coach can produce effective long term programmes. The three most important of these principles are:

●     Law of Overload

●     Law of Reversibility

●     Law of Specificity

Law of Overload

Gymboss Timers

    The human body is built up of millions of tiny, living cells. Each type of cell or group of cells carries out a different job. All cells have the ability to adapt to what is happening to the body. This general adaptation takes place inside the body all the time. There is also an adaptation to the training for athletics.
    A training load is the work or exercise that an athlete performs in a training session. Loading is the process of applying training loads. When an athlete's fitness is challenged by a new training load there is a response from the body. This response by the body is an adaptation to the stimulus of the training load. The initial response is of fatigue. When the loading stops there is a process of recovery from the fatigue and adaptation to the training load.
    This recovery and adaptation returns the athlete not just to his original fitness level, but to an improved level. This higher level of fitness is achieved through the body's overcompensation to the initial training load. So, overload causes fatigue, and recovery and adaptation allow the body to overcompensate and reach higher levels of fitness.


    The body's ability to adapt to training loads and overcompensate in recovery explains how training works. If the training load is not great enough there is little or no overcompensation. A loading that is too great will cause the athlete to have problems with recovery and he may not return to original levels of fitness. This condition is caused by overtraining.



Law of Reversibility
"lt You Don't Use It, You Lose It"
    If the athlete is not exposed to regular training there is no loading and the body has no need to adapt. This is shown in the illustration of the law of overload, where the fitness level of the individual returns slowly to the original level. For training to be effective the coach must understand the relationship between adaptation, the law of overload and the law of reversibility. Fitness improves as a direct result of the correct relationship between loading and recovery.
    The term progressive overload is used to explain that increasing levels of loading will lead to progressive adaptation and overcompensation to higher levels of fitness. These increasing levels of loading would include such things as a higher number of repetitions, faster repetitions, shorter recovery times and heavier weights.



    When the coach continually applies the same training load to an athlete there is an initial increase in fitness to a certain level and then the athlete remains at that level. Once the body has adapted to a particular training load adaptation ceases. Similarly, if the training loads are too far apart the athlete's fitness level will keep returning to original levels. Widely spaced loading will produce little or no fitness improvement.
    We have seen that different training loads have different effects on an athlete's recovery. An excessive training load causes incomplete adaptation and the athlete will have problems with recovery from the training stimulus. These problems with recovery can also be cumulative. This occurs when the loading is repeatedly too great or too closely spaced. The decline in performance caused by incomplete adaptation is one of the most obvious symptoms of overtraining. In this situation the coach must allow time for proper recovery and should evaluate and reduce the training loads used.
    The ratio of load to recovery is called the Training Ratio. Determining the correct training ratio for an individual athlete is one of the ways in which the coach produces optimal levels of improvement in both fitness and performance. With a young athlete the ratio may be 1:4, while a mature, experienced athlete may need 1:2. In practical terms the recovery is not necessarily a complete rest, but could be a lighter or easier training load. This can be seen in the very successful training philosophy for the mature athlete of alternating hard and easy days, and hard and easy weeks. The younger athlete may respond well to a hard/easy/easy format, or need an even lighter loading.

Law of Specificity
    The law of specificity states that the specific nature of a training load produces its own specific response and adaptations. The training load must be specific to both the individual athlete and to the demands of their chosen event. This may be obvious when comparing the demands of events such as marathon and shot. It is less obvious, but just as important when planning the training of a 200 metre specialist compared with a 400 metre specialist. Or, a 100 metre hurdler compared with a 400 metre hurdler.
    General training must always come before specific training in the long term plan. The general training prepares the athlete to tolerate the loadings of specific training. The volume of general training determines how much specific training the athlete is able to complete. The greater the volume of general training the greater the capacity for specific training.

Summary of Training Principles

●     The body is capable of adaptation to training loads

●     Training loads of the correct intensity and timing cause overcompensation

●     Training loads that increase progressively cause repeated overcompensation and higher levels of fitness

●     There is no increase in fitness if loading is always the same or too far apart

●     Overtraining, or incomplete adaptation, occurs when training loads are too great or too close

●     Adaptation is specific to the specific nature of the training

    In addition to the basic principles of adaptation, overload, reversibility and specificity there are three other principles that we should consider as coaches in setting out the training plan for an athlete.


Principle of Individualisation
The Individual's Response to Training
    Each individual is unique. Each individual brings to athletics his own capabilities, capacities and responses to training. Different athletes will respond to the same training in different ways. There is no such thing as an ideal training programme that will produce optimal results for everyone. You, as the coach, need to understand the principles of training and apply them with your knowledge of the individual athlete. This knowledge should be of the many factors that affect the planning of the individual athlete's training programme. These factors include heredity, developmental age and training age.

    Athletes inherit physical, mental and emotional characteristics from their parents. These inherited characteristics should be recognised by the coach. Many of these characteristics can be modified by systematic training, but the extent to which they can be changed and modified will be limited by the inherited potential. Not every athlete has the inherited potential to be an Olympic champion. All athletes have the ability to make the most of what inherited potential they do have.

Developmental Age
    Our knowledge of growth and development tells us that young athletes of the same chronological age can be at very different levels of maturity. Individuals of the same chronological age can often be up to four years apart in their developmental or biological ages.

Training Age
    Each individual athlete has a different level of fitness and experience. The length of time an athlete has been training will affect their fitness level and capacity for work. Training age must be considered and is simply the number of years an athlete has trained. The following table helps to explain the importance of considering biological and training ages as well as chronological age.



    In the second situation shown in the table, the athletes' capacities for work may be similar, but the individual responses to training will still need to be considered.


Principle of Variety
    Training is a long term process and loading and recovery can quickly become boring for the athlete and the coach. The successful coach will plan variety into the training programme to maintain the athlete's interest and motivation. In training for athletics a change is often better than a rest.
    This change and variety can come from such things as changing the nature of the exercise, the environment, time of day of the session and the training group. Variety is an area in which the coach can be at his most creative.


Principle of Active Involvement
    The performance of an athlete is a result of the combination of an athlete's efforts and the coach's skill. The last principle we shall consider is perhaps the most important. Without it a successful training programme cannot be started. The principle of active involvement in training means simply that for a training programme to be fully effective the athlete must want to actively and willingly participate. This participation and involvement should go beyond how an athlete behaves in the presence of the coach. It requires that the athlete's actions in all aspects of his lifestyle contribute to successful performance. The athlete will need to be educated in this responsibility and then encouraged to fully accept the responsibility for himself.


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