Build Your Own Sports Performance Training Plan

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Creating a sports performance plan 101

If you’re two tenths of a second slow on the playing field, then the play passed you by.

I’m paraphrasing here, but this was a quote from coach strength Dave Sandler. In a nutshell, Dave was saying that if you can’t produce force adequately (i.e. you’re TOO slow) then you’re going to get passed up. In the world of athletics, you have little room for error. You basically can’t screw around with your diet while avoiding the weight room. I once read a book about hockey and it talked about Guy Lafluer’s post game ritual. It consisted of a cigar with a glass of beer. That may have worked in the 70’s, but athletes nowadays are scientific mutants who can jump higher and run faster than ever before. Strength and conditioning is not an option but rather a necessity.

While sports performance training is important, it’s also confusing stuff. Athletes are genetically gifted individuals, but most don’t know how to structure a program to prevent injury and enhance performance. Follow the wrong plan and you can actually end up slower and weaker (or maybe even hurt). I’ve met athletes before who put on muscle mass but didn’t know how to add muscle necessary to their sport. As a result, performance suffered. You couldn’t tell what they stood out for more: their impressive physiques or how they trailed behind everyone else on the field. In fact, training programs that try to encompass all things fitness (i.e, improve strength, core work, building muscle) have been shown to reduce strength and sprint speed in multiple forms of athletics (1).

That’s where Upper Echelon comes in. We here at UEFP have heard your demands and decided to put together a little guide on how to develop your sports training program. While it won’t address individual needs, or your exact sport, we’d argue that it’s pretty darn handy. It will also point you in the right direction so gym time isn’t just spent on working those beach muscles. You won’t find a specific training program here, but you’ll have some clarity if you’re training on your own. You know the saying – teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

The best place to begin is with a few standards and practices. Regardless of your sport, consider these the essentials of your sports training.

  1. Any changes to your body should be done in the off-season. If you need to add some mass, or lose some weight, do it once your post-season/competitive season is over. That way you have plenty of time to mess with calories and get use to your new physique before competition begins.
  2. Unless your sport is distance running, don’t distance run. Running will not make you a better grappler or basketball player. If you need a base of conditioning, or just absolutely have to run or you’ll lose your mind, consider the preparatory period (right when your season/competition is over) the time to do it.
  3. At some point you’ll have to do a form of the Olympic lifts. You don’t have to do the full versions with a squat, but some explosive pulling will go a long way to your performance. Not all athletes (think basketball) need to pull from the floor either.
  4. Learn your individual needs and response to training. This takes some time, but those who have a dominance of slow twitch muscle fibers (good at endurance sports, not necessarily the quickest and most explosive) will benefit from higher rep ranges. Those lucky souls who were blessed with fast twitch muscle fibers (sprinters, explosive athletes…those who pack on muscle just curling a Playstation controller) will get the most gains from lower reps. Here are a couple of examples:

Muscle Fiber Type                             Strength Reps                                    Hypertrophy

Slow Twitch Athlete                           6-8 reps or a 5/7/9 wave                       12-15 reps or a 15/12/10 wave

Fast Twitch Athlete                            4-6 reps or a 3/2/1 wave                       6-8 reps or a 4/6/8 wave


Now with that out of the way, let’s look at how to organize a training plan.

You have a few distinct phases to your yearly schedule. I’ve already mentioned a couple, but let’s look them over again.

Recovery – This is usually the first one to two weeks after your season is over. It can be longer if you suffered some serious injuries, but this is the time to either relax or do some light conditioning. It may help to play a different sport than you normally do.

Off-Season – This is the time where you want to start working on your conditioning and your overall goal before training camp begins. Maybe you want to add some muscle or drop some bodyfat; whatever the case, this is the time to do it. You can divide this phase into two parts: the first for very general conditioning (full body workouts coupled with your distance running), and then the second part geared towards what you want to accomplish (i.e. add some muscle mass). Here are two guidelines to help:

  1. The first phase should prepare you for the second phase. So if you plan on doing some high volume fat loss work, use this phase to start working on your conditioning so that second phase isn’t so taxing.
  2. The second phase should probably be the most demanding phase. This is where you do the brunt of your training – i.e. high volume work. So if you plan on doing 10 sets of 10 reps, this is the time to make it happen.

Preparatory Period – Consider this your last phase before the season begins. Ideally, things will begin shifting to strength and power, as well as your training becoming much more specific to your sport. So using a leg press is okay in the off-season, but isn’t ideal here. You’ll probably begin to focus on energy system work (more on that later).

It’s at this point where you’ll probably be in the best shape out of the year. It may sound shocking to hear, since at this point your season hasn’t begun, but active competition means less time training. As a result, your fitness can actually slowly diminish as the season goes on.

Competition/In Season – This phase is where you maintain the fitness that you built in the off-season. You won’t be able to build muscle or drop bodyfat, especially if you play a sport with a lot of competitions. Your workouts should be relatively short and not very frequent; two days a week will probably suffice. This along with the preparatory part can be considered the two major chunks of a periodized program (2).

At most you’ll be maintaining strength and power. So a workout might look like this (keep in mind that this is a very broad example):

A. Hang Power Clean – 3 x 2, 2-0-X-1, rest 2:30 minutes

B1. BB Incline – 3 x 3, 1 x 2, 3-0-1-1, rest 60 seconds

B2. Chin Up – 3 x 3, 1 x 2, 3-0-1-1, rest 60 seconds

C. DB External Rotation – 3 x 12, 2-0-2-0, rest 45 seconds

Believe it or not, if you’re training yourself but you play a team sport, you have a tremendous advantage over those who work out together as a team.  The program laid out above allows you to work on your weaknesses where you see fit, along with monitoring your fatigue. More research is coming out showing that team strength and conditioning programs aren’t as effective as we once thought. Coaches who follow the classic training approach (called linear periodization) actually resulted in reductions in speed, muscle mass, and strength (3).

Making Things Simple

Let’s take all this information and condense it. We’ll take a hockey player through a brief preparatory period. This player needs some functional muscle mass and needs to begin conditioning for training camp. You can follow along by simply taking the topics in bold and filling out the information as it pertains to your current needs.

Length of Program: 6 weeks

Training Split: Upper/Lower

Sets: 5

Reps: 6-8

Energy System Work: 200 meter sprints (~25-35 second of work). 1:3 work rest ratio

We’ve established that sports training is important. In fact, we found out that if you’re just two tenths of a second slow, you’re potentially missing out on a key play. You can enhance your athleticism with a smart training program, while simply just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing if it sticks can drain you of power and strength. Somewhere out there your competitors are making sure they’re not two tenths of a second slow…can you say the same?



1. Issurin. Vladimir B. “Block Periodization Versus Traditional Training Theory: A Review.” (2008) Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 48;1. 65-75

2. Turner, Anthony. “The Science and Practice of Periodization: A Brief Review.” (2011) Strength and Conditioning Journal 33;1. 34-46

3. Issurin, Vladimir B. “New Horizons for the Methodology and Physiology of Training Periodization.” (2010) Sports Medicine 40;3. 189-206




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