Designing Resistance Programmes as a S&C coach

We have our first guest blog from Sam White today, he discusses in great detail what makes a good training programme for an athlete. MVP's programming philosophy falls in line with everything Sam has mentioned, so if you'd like to discover more about how and why your programs are constructed have a read below!



Designing Resistance Programmes as a S&C Coach


Designing a resistance programme for an athlete is a process that can simply not just be bluffed or done quickly. As a Strength and Conditioning coach designing a periodisation model for an athlete or even a whole team/club of athletes means you are a factor in not just their performance but more importantly their health and wellbeing.

Within a programme there are certain designs that the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association)[1], among many other organisations and researchers[2,3], recommend following. In this blog, we're going to break down their programme design structure adding information from various other sources including our own information and knowledge. NSCA programme design follows seven steps that must be undertaken.

1. Needs Analysis

The needs analysis is a way of determining the unique features and characteristics of both the sport, and the athlete. If this is a new coach/athlete relationship then as a coach it's important to examine the current pre-conditioning of the athlete or if they are currently inhibited by a musculoskeletal injury. If the latter, then it may be they cannot continue a programme. For the rest of the blog, we are assuming an athlete is fit and healthy and of relevant conditioning.

Evaluation of the sport is the first task according to NSCA and this is a good place to start after the aforementioned individual analysis. Primarily the breakdown of the biomechanics (movement patterns), physiological (strength, power, hypertrophy and muscular endurance, speed and agility properties) and prospective injury causality (flexibility, common sites for injury) needs of the sport allows coaches to design a programme specific to aid those characteristics. By knowing the needs of the sport, coaches can produce the most optimal training programme to develop an athlete. The opposite could plateau, or even hinder, an athletes development.

The second task, and a very important task indeed, is to assess and profile the athlete by evaluating training, testing and goal-setting. Physical tests can include assessments of the athletes strength, flexibility, power, speed, muscular endurance, body composition, cardiovascular endurance, and reactions. Companies such as Project MVP are pioneers in athlete testing and sporting performance analytics. Testing an athlete cannot just determine their current platform but also the level in which they can aspire to. Using testing companies such as MVP yields more pertinent and reliable data and the tests are related to the athletes sports whilst being consistent with the athletes level of skill with such equipment (you might not get a young child to undergo pure VO2 max tests). Using data from the tests, coaches and athletes can agree on suitable goals to reach for their strength and conditioning performance. It's important not to start using strength and conditioning practice here to yield specific based goals - a typical goal is to improve hypertrophy, power, strength, or speed in alignment with the athletes sport, time frame, and length of training (macrocycle).

2. Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is choosing the right/smartest exercise for strength and conditioning - once again in accordance to the athletes movement and muscular requirements of their sport.

We can break exercises up into 4 simple major type categories (please be aware that there are lots of different exercise types that can be argued and refuted to be called something separate) - Compound, Assistance (secondary), Power, and Sport Specific. Compound exercises are ones recruiting multiple or larger muscle groups, are considered multi-joint exercises and ones that have huge application to sport. Because of this, when creating programmes the compound exercises will always take priority.

Our assistance exercises are much smaller and are considered much less important for improving sport performance BUT this does not mean they should be disregarded in programme design. Over the course of a periodisation, model athletes will go through different cycles of endurance, strength, power and so on in order to be optimal for events dependant on times of seasons. However, they will always undertake exercises aimed at injury prevention and in some cases rehabilitation. As these exercises tend to be singular joint and isolate a specific muscle they can be used in injury prevention and don't provide much stress on the body throughout a macrocycle.

Power/Speed exercises propose quick and explosive exercises under small-nil amounts of load/high-Max velocity such as a medicine ball slam, or plyometrics and are utilised in a programme when it's appropriate for sport-specific training qualities and after a period of endurance/strength.

Sport specific exercises on the other hand are a different training method where the activity replicates sporting movements exactly (i.e. sprints for footballers, lat pull down for swimmers). This is a concept called the SAID principle - Specific adaptation to imposed demands. This method of training normally lies within a deload or a taper for most programmes for athletes, but there are cases where it varies.

3. Training Frequency

Training frequency is how many sessions completed in a time period influenced by training status, sporting season, competitions, projected exercise loads, types of exercised used and other activities outside of sport.

Data from a host of references [4,5,6] has produced the following table based on training status and athletic ability;

Beginner = 2-3 Resistance sessions per week

Intermediate = 3-4 Resistance sessions per week

Advanced = 4-7 Resistance sessions per week (Dependent on other factors)

Even in a taper it's recommended that frequency still equates to minimum 80% of peak seasonal frequency.

4. Exercise Order

Exercise order is the sequence of exercises in one session. There are hundreds of ways to arrange excises but as a performance coach, we have to base decisions on two factors - what exercise is likely to aid performance given the period in which the current training block is being undertaken AND how one exercise will effect quality (including velocity and force development) of another exercise. Exercises requiring maximum velocity output, or maximal force capabilities are scheduled appropriately after rest recovery that they are completed with proper technique. We will be discussing rest shortly.

Most commonly coaches will prefer to prioritise pure power exercises such as snatches, cleans and jerks, followed by other non-power compound exercises such as a squat/deadlift/bench press etc. The majority of literature also refers to this method of order followed by secondary exercises or plyometrics because power exercises need the highest level of skill and both mental and physiological capacity and can be most affected by fatigue. Explosive movements also involve a great amount of energy expenditure hence their favourable placement in designing a programme.

There are some exceptions to exercise order such as PAP (Post Activation Potentiation) training (but that is another blog entirely!), and also coaches may prefer other methods such as Upper/Lower body or push and pull exercise splits. It's also important to note that power exercises may not be done throughout the season and thus through each stage of a macrocycle exercise order may change dependant on the stage of periodisation.

5. Training Load and Repetitions

Load = the amount of weight assigned to an exercise set - it is the most important aspect of a resistance training programme.

It is important to calculate the training load efficiently because if there is a small amount of load over an optimum value, the athlete can become fatigued and or lack proper form. If the amount is too small under the optimum level it can leave the athlete without any significant physiological adaptations.

We can also observe the repetitions performed (amount of times an athletes performs a certain exercise in one sitting). The number of times an exercise can be performed is inversely related to load lifted; being the heavier the load the less reps we can complete. Different training loads and repetitions are used for different training characteristics. Commonly, coaches will use a % of 1Rep Max (RM) to calculate what type of 'zone' an athlete is working in. Therefore it is important that in our testing stage we, as coaches, work out the athletes 1RM's for associated lifts. There is a linear relationship between %1RM and Number of repetitions performed, therefore it's not always necessary to perform pure 1RM tests with an athlete.

Some coaches may not feel comfortable or have the necessary equipment to perform such tests, and if they do, quite often they can not get a true value reading due to not providing a valid test. If you, as a coach, are looking to perform a 1RM max test we suggest looking up Earle, 2006 Testing Protocol prior to testing. Apart from our true 1RM test coaches also perform a multiple RM test. For example performing a 10RM max test, which is something that can be done with less weight and might feel less alien for both the athlete and the coach. Using multiple formulae (taking into account the load-repetition relationship) the coach can estimate a 1RM, then base % off that.

As mentioned before, there are certain load and repetition assignments based on different training goals, and although they can vary, a variety of sources concluded the following:

Strength - >85%1RM - <6 Reps

Power - Strength Speed - 80-90% 1RM - (1-2 reps)

Power - Speed strength - 75-80% 1RM - (3-5 reps)

Hypertrophy - 65-85% 1RM - (6-12 reps)

Muscular Endurance - <65% 1RM - (>12 reps)

Using the above information a coach can provide a much more effective periodisation model to an athlete, building and developing them per session. It's necessary to change the weight and repetitions over time (overload principle) as the athlete makes improvements. This subject can be discussed for hours.

6. Volume

Related to point 5 also comes Volume, meaning the total amount of weighted lifted within one training session. Repetition Volume (RV) is the total number of reps performed in one session, Load Volume (LV) is the total number of sets x number of reps x weight lifted. It's important as a coach to be wary of volume in a training regime. Whilst many different studies have noted different volumes elicit different physiological effects (Strength = One set of One exercise Per muscle group vs (2-3 x 3-4 Sets) of one exercise per muscle group) and whilst these will vary from study to study, we can all agree and assume that too much volume will bring out negative effects for our athlete (mental/physiological fatigue or Injury). A table calculated from different sources produced arbitrary volume targets below:

Strength - <6 reps - 2-6 sets

Power - 1-5 reps - 3-5 sets

Hypertrophy - 6-12 reps - 2-6 sets

Muscular Endurance - >12 reps - 2-3 set

7. Rest periods

Length of the rest period between sets is hugely dependent on the goal of training. When training for maximal power/speed it's required by the athlete to train near or on max velocity per rep or exercise. Without appropriate rest an athlete can't possibly perform at these high velocities. The same goes with strength or 1RM tests, that require a maximal amount of force production, and a lot of rest is needed for such training. Some literature states about 5-6 minutes rest is required for power/speed or strength. Whereas for other types of training such as hypertrophy and endurance, rest periods can differ.

In conclusion, the truth is in the detail as each factor of designing a resistance programme dives far too deep to write in a blog, and more realistically, each coach will have their own method of writing and designing resistance training programmes and have their own certain ideologies for each of these 7 steps. It's important as a coach to have knowledge behind what you're doing but also to establish your own individual way of coaching. This blog is just a guide from a multitude of sources but doesn't mean there are not conflicting ideas and such out there. That's what makes any science subject so deep, the constant change and revolutionary ideologies.


Sam White - Founder and Head strength and conditioning coach of ADP Sports.


Sam at a MVP event at Brompton Academy, Kent.

About the Author

Sam is the Founder and Head strength and conditioning coach of ADP Sports - after competing at a high level in swimming Sam graduated from Loughborough university with a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science, and later a MSc in Strength and Conditioning. Sam set up ADP Sports as a sports performance contracting company who work with teams, and individual athletes of all ages, levels and sports in the Essex area.


ADP to date have worked with a myriad of athletes from grass roots football, national swimmers and international gymnasts.

www.adpsport.co.uk [1] Beachle, T & Earle, R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third edition. Human Kinetics, 2008.

[2] Jeffreys, I & Moody, J. Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance. Routledge, 2016.

[3] Joyce, D & Lewindon, D. High-Performance Training for Sports. Human Kinetics, 2014.

[4] Atha, J. Strengthening Muscle. Exerc Sport Sci Review, 1981

[5] Graves, J.E. et al. Effect of Reduced Training Frequency on Muscular Strength. Int J Sports Med, 1988.

[6] Haikkinen, K. Neuromuscular Responses in Male and Female Athletes in Two Successive Strength Trainings in One Day. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 32, 1992.

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