Sep 27, 2019

by Team Snapbac

Performance training is quite literal in its definition and is a label given beyond sports to refer to specialized training and development used to create and enhance efficient and proficient performance in a given task. Numerous programs exist and are continually created for performance training in the fields of business, personal development, education, athletics and much more. The very definition of the word performance lays the foundation for the model of training: the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function. So in essence, a program designed for this task is to improve your skill and effectiveness to see a movement, undertaking or purpose through at an expert level, to a successful end.

We are going to get more specific on what a sports performance training program looks like, what it actually accomplishes, and why everyone can benefit from individualized sports training modules, even if you aren’t a D1 athlete. It’s important to distinguish here that this is a specialized level of training that works to a specific end result. This is not your standard fitness training or generic workout program. Furthermore, it is not even your team practice. When looking at sports performance training, your coach or personal trainer will develop a program specifically targeting your skillset, your body type and your position on the field. If you do not play team sports, this training will be based on your unique athletic talents and how they apply to your sport. This training is personal.

A high-quality athletic performance training program will do more than improve your game play. When pushed to our limits, we learn about who we are under pressure and what we can achieve when we dig in and stick to it. The depth of this training affects us at a psychological level improving confidence, increasing tenacity, building character, self-control and patience. These qualities are why sports and athletics have been pushed at us from a young age. You may not be headed for the NFL, but if you’ve been at this for a while, you already know that devoting yourself to improvement and physical endeavors has built your character and made you a better person and a better team player.

How a Trainer Builds Your Performance Program

There are some essentials to creating a specialized performance enhancement program. Your trainer should spend an adequate amount of time with you before creating your routine. They must analyze your current athletic level during a game or event and get to know what kind of person you are within the sport and outside of it. They need to see your strengths and weaknesses and know where improvement should be focused. General assumptions can be made based on your position; for example, a quarterback will need to focus on form and function of the arm and shoulder to throw a good pass. This is what your team practice is for.

Performance training will take that further and look at your size, strength, motor function habits and throwing patterns which are already engrained in your muscle memory to determine any ineffectual movements or stances in your personal mobility and balance.

A trainer will then target those areas that can be improved and have you work a particular move or skill over and over and over again until it becomes perfunctory and has reached perfect efficiency. When you become flawlessly mechanical in your particular sport requirements, you will be expected to continue at that level of skill repeatedly, game after game. Michael Jordan didn’t get famous for a handful of slam dunk successes! Therefore, this idea of training for efficiency naturally lends itself to the understanding that this will be a continued endeavor until you no longer require expert results for the given task each and every time it is performed. Simply put, practice makes perfect and continued practice maintains that perfection.

Understanding what performance training is all about should help you decide whether you want to take your training up to this level. If you are playing a sport for the sheer joy of it and don’t currently have any plans to take it past a weekend hobby, then obviously you will not have the need to dedicate the enormous amounts of time and effort this training requires. However, you do not need to be aiming for the next college draft to consider a professional training program. Perhaps your goal is the next Ironman, the New York City marathon or a Spartan race. There are enough personal athletic challenges out there that will require individualized performance training if you truly want to win!

Do You Need a Professional Trainer?

So if you’re not a pro player, do you need to hire a sports performance coach? It really depends on your goals, knowledge, personality, drive and budget! Firstly, you need to be able to stay completely honest with yourself and judge your performance through the eyes of a trainer. Can you do better? The answer is always, ‘yes!’ Can you work harder? ‘Yes!’ Can you win? ‘Yes!’

Next, can you be your own accountability cheerleader? Do you have what it takes to get up when the alarm goes off or make it to the gym, track or field when no one is out there expecting you? Will you spend the time and make the effort to train your mind as well? A sport specific trainer will place an equal focus on your mental skills as half the game is won in your head. Watch and learn from those athletes you want to be! View footage of yourself and analyze your form, skills and technique. Be critical and challenge yourself to the next level. This means preparing your mind for the rigors and demands of your sport as well as the tactical training to win.

The 7 Foundations of a Performance Training Program

Whether you’ve decided to get a trainer or do this on your own, there are some basics that any good performance program will cover. It should continuously be based on the latest studies and advancements in kinesiology and sports science around your particular sport and training needs to systematically improve your unique skills along with your full athletic potential.

A comprehensive training will focus on the seven primary fundamentals of exercise and athletic training. It will be a long-term commitment that runs year round and continuously varies its focus and intensity based on pre-, during and post- season requirements.

A healthy program will consider your age, physical development including current size, weight, strength and any health concerns, personal goals, your personality, mental strengths and tactical advantages and training.

If you set up your own program, be aware of how it makes you feel. When done correctly, you should always feel challenged to match your personal best and strive for more. Your self-esteem, confidence while performing and personal motivation should be at an all time high. If you feel overwhelmed, defeated, a growing sense of fear around failure or a waning level of self-esteem and confidence, then you most likely have set your program at a pace or level that is not in alignment with your current skill set. Get the help of a professional. A good performance trainer understands how to place healthy demands on your body and enhance your current talent at a rate that is conducive to your emotional and physical wellbeing.

This doesn’t mean it will be easy or without frustrations, but that is what makes your coach your biggest support. They do more than tell you what to do and when to do it. They also encourage you when you’re down. They challenge you when they know you can do more, buy your own willpower is having an off day. They are there to motivate and inspire you everyday no matter what your own thoughts or beliefs are doing. It is this understanding that will help you better decide if you need a sport specific performance trainer or not.

Now let’s take a look at the seven fundamental components of a successful training program: individuality, specificity, progression, overload, adaptation, recovery and reversibility.

1. Individuality

We have looked at this one heavily thus far as the individual athlete is the basis for personalized performance training. A program that is based on you will consider your thresholds and maximize on what you are naturally good at while building up what you are not. It will utilize your current fitness level and work with your training history. Perhaps you are better at short bursts of intensity rather than long durations at a steady pace. Or you may handle slow and gradual for a high volume workout better than a HIIT format. Cardio can often be a weakness for those who focus on strength and when it comes to field sports, your endurance can win or lose the game. This is the physiological aspect to individuality. As mentioned, the program must also include your psychological and environmental capacities as well.

It feels pertinent to say that if you are creating your own program, don’t ignore your genetic pre-dispositions and the natural build of your body. Fighting your DNA or muscle fiber types for a particular goal or edge will not do you any favors physically or mentally. Be sure to take an honest and realistic eye to your body and abilities. This doesn’t mean that what you want is impossible. You may simply need to take it from a different perspective or train outside the box. Only then can you work with your individuality to be the best version of you possible.

2. Specificity

Specificity has also been covered in that performance training 101 is training for your particular position in the game. You’re not going to focus a workout on your scapular muscles and rotator cuff filling sessions with push-ups, rows and ball tosses if you are training to run a marathon. Just as you won’t focus on your calves and thigh muscles with squats, intervals and long distance cardio if you’re training as a pitcher. Though both athletes would benefit from the exercises, it will not be the focus and therefore falls under a general workout rather than sport specific training.

This idea encompasses the training model that improvements will be made within one’s athletic niche by focusing on specific muscle and skeletal movements in set patterns and varied intensities based on the skill to be developed and the fitness level of the individual. When continuously repeating specific movements required by the athletic position, metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations will evolve. This in turn improves sport specific postures, form and the overall capability of the overloaded muscle groups.

3. Progression

Progression is a two-fold achievement. Training must focus on the destination and the journey as both are equally important. You must know what you’re working towards in order to measure your progress and know how much further you need to go. The program must also pay close attention to the daily details to correct nuances in form, technique, cardio and muscular endurance. This is the part where you will fit in the athletic basics of strength, agility, power, reaction, speed, flexibility and stability and use them as a platform to improve your particular talents in your respective athletic endeavor.

The way Current Sports Medicine Reports describes progression is a steady and methodical intensification of training stress to continue muscle overload therefore creating a nonstop state of adaptation to training demand. This is in conjunction with specificity as you train specific muscle groups in particular patterns, you must be aware of amplifying your frequency, volume and intensity after each advancement to continue adaptations and growth. Take each training in stride as you don’t want to increase your risk of injury by going too fast nor do you want to impede your growth by not taking the necessary leaps.

4. Overload

This concept is a natural segue from progress as it is the method to further progression. Overload is the term used when referring to exposing your body to a new level of training stress that it has not previously been subjected. Simply put, it’s when you increase frequency, volume or intensity higher than you have trained in the past forcing progress on your body. When you challenge your current athletic limits and performance level, it will in turn create relatable gains. If you want to increase your strength, you will work at your maximum resistance each time, and as time continues, you will see that maximum rise. If you are building endurance, you will exercise to your max time capacity and it too will begin to increase.

Overload is the primary training concept that can cause injury and bodily stress. For this reason, it is vital to set aside your goals of time and performance when your body is not complying. This concept takes time. You do not go from a 5K to a 25K in a week. You will need to work diligently to gradually build up the muscle patterns, strength, endurance and cardio capacity to complete the run safely. Remember that nothing takes you out of the race faster and for longer than an injury.

5. Adaptation or Periodization

We’ve used the term adaptation quite a bit already, however there are advantages of adaptation and disadvantages. We are always working towards adaptation because this is the moment when the movement or exercise becomes easy. It no longer challenges us. We have adapted. At this point, we know we have mastered this level of performance training and received all the benefits possible, so we can advance our workout to progress and safely increase our efforts. We have found physical efficiency in the activity, our muscles are no longer building and our skills are not improving.

At this point, your performance training enters periodization. If you want to continue the improve, adapt, improve, adapt cycle, while still working on the same muscle pattern or specific sport requirements, you will need to alter the various stimuli within the exercise. You may need more reps, longer sets, higher weight or to speed it up. Try to plan for these variations ahead of time and be systematic in your approach as these are structural changes and not necessarily a new routine. You can even continuously challenge yourself to avoid a plateau by avoiding weekly or even daily identical routines. By constantly switching up stimuli, activities and rest days, you keep your body guessing and in a regular challenged state.

To dig more into this, take a look at micro-, meso- and macro- cycles. You can implement different layers of training cycles within certain cycles of your current training to layer growth and development creating a more stable increase in improvement. This will fall naturally into sync with on and off seasons and give you more diversity and flexibility in your daily trainings. This is always more interesting!

6. Recovery

Though a simply enough term, as athletes we tend to want to skip this part. Recovery can make you feel like you’re not doing something. The real type-As may even feel guilty for not training when they have the time, but that’s where we need a change in perspective. Recovery is training and should be given its place in your workout program if want to avoid injury, over-use, fatigue or burn-out. This isn’t just a one day a week addition to your calendar. Recovery is when your body is capable of repairing and building new soft tissues, restoring energy levels, hormones and chemicals and preparing you to reach your new maximum. When we workout and really push ourselves, our bodies need more sleep. So program in a little extra time on the pillow each night so you can see the benefits of the work you put in during the day.

Recovery is not just one day a week or a good night’s sleep. Athletes tend to get in the zone when putting in a hard session, and we can forget to pause between sets and even between reps depending on the resistance and intensity we are working at. If you have multiple training sessions in one day, like one with your team, one on your own and one with your performance coach, be sure to get a lot of rest in between and use ice or heat where needed. If you’re just wrapping up an intense season, give your body a couple of weeks or even months to take it easy. You may do your standard workout to stay physically conditioned, but keep it light enough to allow your body time to recover from the heightened physical stress.

7. Reversibility

Here is the last performance training fundamental. As important as recovery is, as with all things in life, balance is the key to successfully healing while not losing ground. We’ve all heard bodybuilders carefully moderating their workouts to incorporate their rest in an effort to avoid any muscle loss. Noticeable decreases in muscle mass and overall strength can be seen after two to three weeks of inactivity. This is why an injury is so debilitating. You not only lose the current training time while you’re laid up. You lose the training you’ve already invested in yourself. If your athletic ability is based on cardio conditioning, then you have even less time. Aerobic fitness levels start to drop after seven days of rest and by two weeks, you will have lost most of your gain within the last several months!

Reversibility needs to be considered in all year round performance training programs. When you decrease the stimuli in your fitness routine, you will experience a loss in your current adaptations to those particular variants. Your performance level will decrease, and your body will experience a form of atrophy that is common to decreased physical exertion. So give yourself hours and even days of rest, but avoid dropping all your training for more than one week at a time.

You can stay active and push yourself through more physical pursuits outside of performance training. If the intensity and drive behind the specific training is what you need a rest from, opt to keep your gains by choosing physical activities that challenge you but do not feel like your standard training. For example, if your focus is on core strength and upper body, take up kite surfing on your break or go rock climbing. If you are more about speed and endurance, give something like Zumba or Tabata a try. If that’s still too much like a standard workout, take some street dancing lessons or parkour! Breaks don’t have to be sitting on the couch, and they don’t have to be standard boring gym sessions. You are an athlete, so use that hard earned physique to do something fun.

Training Guidelines for All Athletes

Now that you understand the fundamentals in setting up your performance training routines, let’s take a quick look at sports training guidelines for all athletes. Everything we are capable of came through a process of evolution and development, so to train in anything means to further that evolution and deliberately create enhanced abilities. When you work to increase your performance, you set out to improve the current level at which a motor skill is being carried out. When you can carry out your maximum performance with ease and repetition, you’ve reached performance efficiency, and that is your end goal. With these terms clear, you can now understand the task that each and every trainer and coach sets out to achieve. They want to improve the performance of every athlete and team to reach maximum efficiency in their given athletic discipline.

As you continue on your own training journey, keep efficiency as your finish line and take it all one day at a time. You will need to train in several interrelated skill sets.

Are Your Motor Skills Predisposed to Athletics?

First, all sports training will analyze motor skills in relation to the particular athletic discipline you wish to follow. These are typically genetic, and you will have a certain range of motor abilities with which you are naturally equipped, and these can be built upon for efficiency. This is not to say you cannot learn new motor skills, but it is best to start with a recognition of your strengths in deference to the sport you wish to play. Take a look at your natural abilities in the common athletic determinants of speed, endurance, coordination, power and flexibility to understand your strengths. Continue formulating your training from these points.

Motor Skills vs. Sports Skills

Your motor skills will then translate into your particular sports skills. If you love football and that is the sport you wish to play, you will need to deduce your natural motor abilities to determine your innate sports skills which will decide what position on the field you will take. Unless you’re a utility player, you will most likely land in a particular position that utilizes your natural strengths, or your sports skills.


The next component to any successful training program is motivation! We talked a bit about this in performance training, as any physically strenuous endeavor will require a powerful drive to keep you going. When you lose this inner impetus, it is the coach that can spark that flame again. If you are not working with a coach, then place motivators into your routine to help you along the way. You must discover what incentivizes you and find a way to give that to yourself when you need a boost of motivation along the way.

The Art of Competition

It may be performance training 101, but commonly forgotten in overall sports training is tactical conditioning. When you are performing any athletic feat, you must approach the competition with an understanding of tactics. This means having a strategy or game plan to get to your desired result while continuously researching the broad range of tactics which may be employed by other teams or competitors within the confines of the rules. By increasing your expectations of other athletes or in the context of possible plays on the field, you better prepare yourself for the appropriate offensive or defensive maneuvers. You will also be able to more quickly adapt your tactical plan according to what is occurring during the event or game.

Putting the Four Training Components Together

So no matter the sport or type of training, you will need to approach all your athletic trainings from four sides, the physical to develop your base motor skills, the technical to develop your sport specific skills, the psychological to develop your motivation and athletic personality and the tactical to develop your offensive and defensive strategies at any given moment. These training factors will not be equally distributed and will vary per the sport you play. For example, a long-distance runner will place nearly half of their training emphasis on physical performance, while the other half will be split equally between the psychological, tactical and technical. This is not so for a football player who will need to spend equal parts training their physical, technical, tactical and psychological as all four are imperative to enhancing overall sport ability. This would change again for a solo figure skater. Physical and technical would be 75% of their training, while the tactical and psychological would be of a lesser intensity.

If you are focusing on your physical training, take a rounded approach to all motor abilities: force, endurance, speed, coordination, flexibility. Be sure to include the seven fundamental sports training foundations in your physical program. When building up your technical skills, be sure to separate your innate skills which we all possess such as jumping, running and throwing from your sport’s specific skills such as a 90-mph pitch, consistent 3-point shots or flawless balance on the high beam. As you incorporate tactical training, take it from strategy, or the planning phase, to tactics, the follow-through during a game, race or event. Learn to think on your feet and revise a strategy based on understood tactics of the sport. The psychological component of your training is all about know yourself. Take a good look at your natural temperament and how you play out emotions under pressure. Source out your motivations and find what activates you. Discover your individual qualities that you bring to your athletic pursuit and be aware of your attitude by taking self-responsibility where needed.