An Ultimate Athlete Project member just posted this last Thursday in our UAP Members Facebook group:
“I’m currently in the middle [of] Week 3 of OS1 after doing 3 prep weeks to start. I played my first game last night after not playing since the second weekend in Sept. (6-7 weeks off). I’ve been working pretty hard, hitting pretty close to every workout, except a week that I had to shorten because I was sick and going on vacay.
First, my cardio was pretty bad, but I was definitely expecting that.
The thing that surprised me was how much power I had already in my first 3 steps and decelerations. Any change in direction seemed wonderfully easy and full of power.
I was super surprised not so much at that at worked, but how well it worked already. And with having made what seems like so much progress already in this program, I’m super super excited to see what this progress looks like at tryouts!”
This members is six weeks into his training. He’s done three weeks of the Preparation Phase and three weeks of Offseason Phase 1. (Workouts in the UAP are split into roughly monthlong phases.)
He says a lot of nice things, but I want to focus on the thing that may not seem so nice because it’s actually a key to better athletic adaptation.
“First, my cardio was pretty bad, but I was definitely expecting that.”
Why was his cardio bad? Why was he expecting that? Why am I not embarrassed showing this to you?
This, my friends, is the heart of what makes programming for athletic performance different than programming for general fitness. If you can accept that a decrease in cardio is okay early in the off season, then you are 70% of the way to understanding programming for athletic performance.
Focus on the focus
The most common mistake I see is that players want to improve everything at once. Workouts that start with a little strength, some agility work, and end in conditioning are popular. But the body adapts best to training when you focus on one main athletic quality at a time not only within a workout, but also within a training block.
The major problem is that when your body has to choose between adapting for endurance and adapting for more power, it always chooses endurance. This is why training for endurance limits gains in power.
The basic science
Power and endurance adaptations are conflicting because they are use different metabolic pathways. Powerful movements like jumping, laying out, and making sharp changes of direction mostly use the phosphagen metabolic pathway. The phosphagen pathway is built for max effort of just a few seconds. When you are training for endurance, you’re primarily using the cardiovascular metabolic pathway.
When you are doing training that leads to adaptations in power production, you have be be performing at 90% intensity or above. Otherwise, adaptation will not occur. This is because much of the adaptation is related to the nervous system. You become more powerful as your brain creates pathways between the motor neurons and more motor units in the muscle. These pathways are grooved by high intensity, high quality work. “High intensity” here means speed and amount of weight. It has nothing to do with how hard it feels.
With proper periodization in the UAP, we eliminate the conflict of interest by focusing on one athletic quality at a time or by working on complementary qualities like speed and power that use the same metabolic pathway.
Rarely do you want to completely neglect any athletic training, but you always want to have a clear emphasis.
This careful, sequential planning is the primary difference between training like an athlete versus training for general fitness. This is why I’ve been able to help players who have been training for years improve their performance in the gym and on the field. Commitment to the plan might first manifest in some major dips in one area, but it pays off later when you’ve built strength to translate into your power and speed.
How we do it
In The Ultimate Athlete Project we start off with a basic preparation phase to help you learn proper form and get used to different exercises. Then we alternate strength phases with power phases through the off season. We hit speed and jumping work hard late in the offseason. We focus more on conditioning and move to more sports specific work in preseason. I’ll even have some disc drills for you.
Optimal time for maintaining a training focus (like strength or power) is 3-6 weeks. In the UAP each phase is 4 weeks long, though you can shorten a phase to three weeks or extend it to six very easily. Week to week, there are guides on when to do which workout, and a good explanation of what’s at the heart of the phase.
Tradeoffs are no fun. It sucks to feel like you’re not in good shape in the off season. But it also sucks to be inefficient with your training time. If you want to have a breakthrough season because you’ve worked hard on strength and power development, then you may have to suffer a few months of feeling out of shape –although that’s a relative term here. The good news is that conditioning adaptations don’t take long. And when you get back to conditioning, your running economy will be much improved. Not a bad trade!
The biggest tradeoff for many new UAP members is building a long term, multi-faceted view of their training plan. That means cutting out those infrequent, yet punishing track and ab workouts that can leave you wobbly for days afterwards. There’s a bigger process at work that takes commitment, but the rewards will be there at the end.
If you’re interested in giving off season training a try, The Ultimate Athlete Project is open this week! This will be the last opening window where you can lock in the $15/month rate. Prices will increase for new members starting in January but you can continue at $15/month as long as you’re a UAP member.