Sports Training Principles : Current Sports Medicine Reports

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CAQ Review

Sports Training Principles

Kasper, Korey MD

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Current Sports Medicine Reports 18(4):p 95-96, April 2019. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000576
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Training means engaging in activity to improve performance and/or fitness; this is best accomplished by understanding general sports training principles: overload, reversibility, progression, individualization, periodization, and specificity.


Description: The exposure of tissues to greater than accustomed-to training stress (1,2).

Concept: Challenging current fitness/performance levels induces compensatory improvements (1). However, excessive overload and/or inadequate rest can result in overtraining, injury, and performance decrements (2).

Example: A jogger runs faster than her normal pace with hopes of improving endurance.


Description: The observation that withdrawal of tissue loading results in loss of beneficial fitness/performance adaptations (1).

Concept: The body adapts to cessation of a specific activity and inadequate training load with atrophy and fitness/performance decrements (1).

Example: A body builder laments his loss of muscular gains after taking a 2-wk vacation.


Description: The gradual and systematic increases in training stress to maintain tissue overload and, thus, provoke continued training adaptation (2).

Concept: As fitness/performance improves with training, training variables (i.e., frequency, intensity, volume) must be increased to induce further adaptation. Rate of progression is important; progressing too rapidly can result in injury while progressing too slowly will delay goal attainment (2).

Example: A weight lifter can comfortably lift a weight that used to be a challenge, so she must now lift heavier weights to continue gaining strength.


Description: The modification of training to account for an athlete’s unique capacity for and response to training (2,3).

Concept: A training program should acknowledge differences in an athlete’s capacity for adaptation from that of their teammates, in order to ensure adherence to training principles for that individual; this capacity is affected by physiologic (e.g., age, current fitness, training history), psychologic (e.g., effort, confidence), environmental (e.g., nutrition, lifestyle habits), and genetic factors (2,3).

Example: The workout program for a freshman quarterback differs necessarily from that of a senior lineman on his football team, based on individual differences.


Description: The planned systematic and structural variation of a training program over time (1,4,5).

Concept: Constant cycling of training variables (activity, rest, frequency, intensity, duration) within a training program each day, week, and month aims to maintain optimal training stimulus, address changing goals and individual variability, and avoid overtraining, injury, and burnout; this is often implemented using microcycles, mesocycles, and macrocycles (training cycles within training cycles of increasing duration) as a framework (1,4,5).

Example: A lacrosse team’s training program is altered across macrocycles to keep adaptations aligned with the varying goals of the preseason, in-season, and off-season (2,3).


Description: The observation that fitness/performance improves through training movement patterns and intensities of a specific task and fitness type (strength, power, endurance, or flexibility) (2).

Concept: Incorporating specific tasks of a sport will induce neuromuscular and metabolic adaptations to improve specific structure, fitness, and exercise economy of the overloaded muscle groups (4). Training should be directed at improving the fitness/performance of a sport’s distinct key components.

Example: While power athletes should train power and endurance athletes should train endurance (e.g., swimmers should swim), team sports athletes require training with a combination of these two types of fitness, as well as sport-specific movements/skills (3).


1. Powers SK, Howley ET. The physiology of training: effect on VO2 max, performance, homeostasis, and strength. In: Powers SK, Howley ET, editors. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. 6th ed. New York (NY): McGraw-Hill; 2007. p. 261–2.
2. Hill JC. Aerobic training. In: Madden CC, Putukian M, Young CC, McCarty EC, editors. Netter’s Sports Medicine. Philadelphia (PA): Saunders/Elsevier; 2010. p. 125–6.
3. Burgess D. Training programming and prescription. In: Brukner P, Clarsen B, Cook J, Cool A, Crossley K, Hutchinson M, McCrory P, Bahr R, Khan K, editors. Brukner & Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine: Injuries. 5th ed. Australia: McGraw-Hill Education; 2017. p. 139–40.
4. Vincent KR, Vincent HK, Seto CK. Basic principles of exercise training and conditioning. In: O’Connor FG, Casa DJ, Davis BA, St. Pierre P, Sallis RE, Wilder RP, editors. ACSM’s Sports Medicine: A Comprehensive Review. Philadelphia (PA): Wolters Kluwer; 2013. p. 60–2.
5. Paul S, Rand S, Stovak M, Hilgers MP. AMSSM Sports Medicine CAQ Study Guide. Monterey (CA): Healthy Learning; 2012. [Question 8]. p. 152.
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