When should athletes start a training plan?

By Kent Bastell, MSc, CSCS Strength and Conditioning Coach

As a strength and conditioning coach, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had enquiries from athletes, or an athlete’s parent, about starting a training program when it’s only six weeks before the athlete’s competitive season starts. Most of the time the main goal of the athlete is to increase fitness or speed. But what people fail to realize is that physiology isn’t an instant process – it takes time. “Rome wasn’t built in 6 weeks”.

Kent Bastell is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at WinSport's Performance Training Centre. Kent’s sporting background includes playing varsity soccer for two years for GRPC in the ACAC division and seven years of soccer coaching experience at the U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18 levels, earning gold and bronze provincial medals with his hometown of Peace River.
Kent Bastell is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at WinSport’s Performance Training Centre. Kent’s sporting background includes playing varsity soccer for two years for GRPC in the ACAC division and seven years of soccer coaching experience at the U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18 levels, earning gold and bronze provincial medals with his hometown of Peace River.

Why do we train? The simple answer is that we are asking our body to adapt to some sort of stimulus (using weights, doing cardiovascular work, movement training, etc.). The human body is smart. When it is repetitively exposed to a stimulus it begins to respond by changing to better deal with its environment. How does it change? That is a few university classes worth of information, however, I’ll break it down into neurological adaptations (muscles coordinate better to produce movement), muscular morphological adaptations (increase in muscle mass), cardiovascular adaptations (heart can pump more blood per beat). The problem with adaptation is that it usually takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks of repetition for it to meaningfully occur. That means if you only allow time to train for 4-6 weeks, you can only pick from a limited number of adaptations to target. The other problem is that adaptations such as speed, usually require some foundational capabilities before it can be optimized.

Let’s think of training in simple, analogous terms. We are going to imagine a training program as a pumpkin pie recipe. As a strength coach, it’s my job to ensure we have the correct ingredients, correct amount of ingredients, that they are prepared and added in the proper order and lastly, to ensure it is baked for the right amount of time. Just like in baking, we create layers by which we build an athlete. Below is a simplified example of one of our training programs:

Pie Crust (foundation) – We begin with endurance and structural tolerance to ensure athletes move properly and have the work capacity to sustain training and competition

Pumpkin Filling – We try to build muscle mass and increase muscular/cardiovascular ability to handle a variety of more demanding loads

Whipped Cream – Once an athlete has work capacity and better muscular properties we can then train for max strength, speed and power.

An athlete who comes for a 6 week “speed” program is like saying you made a pie, but in the end only served a plate of whipped cream. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not a pie.

So, what does this all mean? Here’s our recommendations:

To give us enough time to build a proper athlete, a training program should ideally start in the off-season of sport. This means winter sport athletes should be training during spring, summer and fall months, while summer athletes should be training during the fall, winter and spring months. Once athletes are competing, the goal is to maintain the athletic characteristics they developed in off-season training. For optimal results and adaptation, it is recommended to train each muscle group at least two times per week. For some perspective, our elite WinSport Academy ski and snowboard teams train three times per week from June through to November and once per week from December to May.

If you’re interested in training, the WinSport Performance Training Centre (PTC) offers personal (1 on 1), small group (three to six athletes), or team training (seven or more athletes) all under the guidance and supervision of a certified strength and conditioning professional.

For more information or to set up a consultation with one of our coaches, please contact the PTC by calling 403-247-5405 or emailing train@winsport.ca

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