The methods used to design a training program differs between resistance and aerobic training, so its important to address the two separately.  

The steps taken to design a resistance training program are different than those taken for an aerobic training program, and so its important to address the two separately.  However, there are 3 foundational principles that apply to both: specificity, overload, and progression.

Specificity: train in the specific manner for a specific adaptation or outcome, for example the movement patterns, training season, goals, and speed of movement.  

Overload: assigning a greater intensity than accustomed to.  This is commonly seen in baseball when batters will warm up with 2 or 3 bats.

Progression: progressively increasing the intensity of training over time.

Resistance Training Program Design

There are 7 steps for designing a resistance training program

  1. Needs analysis
  2. Exercise selection
  3. Training frequency
  4. Exercise order
  5. Training load and repetitions
  6. Volume
  7. Rest periods

Needs analysis

As the health professional, it is your job to evaluate the characteristics and requirements of the sport, as well as to assess the athlete.  Evaluating the sport consists of analyzing the physiology, anatomical movements, and energy systems involved, as well as the potential for injury.  Another important thing to note is what season the sport is currently in, because that will greatly influence your training goal.  Assessing the athlete consists of categorizing their current training status, physical testing and evaluation specific to their sport, and establishing their primary training goals.  Here are some tables to help visualize the needs analysis step.

 Classifying an athlete's resistance training status 

Classifying an athlete's resistance training status 

 General training goals based on sport season

General training goals based on sport season

Exercise Selection

There are 4 general principles to consider when choosing exercises for a resistance training program:

  1. Purpose of exercise: is the exercise a "core exercise" that targets large muscle groups and involves 2+ joints, or is it an "assistance exercise" that uses smaller muscles and involves single joints? Core exercises are thought to be more important to improving sport performance.
  2. Sport specificity: it wouldn't make sense to create a program for a quarterback or a pitcher made up mostly of lower body exercise with only 2 or 3 that target the upper body.  It's also important to maintain muscular balance across joints and between opposing muscles because disparities could lead to injury.
  3. Exercise technique experience: always check that the athlete can properly perform the exercises that you've assigned them before sending them off on their own.
  4. Availability of equipment and training time: this seems very obvious, but all gyms are different so make sure the athlete has access to any equipment they need for the exercises, and has enough time to complete all of the exercises you want to give them. 

Training Frequency

When assigning the frequency of training, its important to consider the athlete's age and training status, the sport season, the training load and exercise type you're assigning, and any other concurrent training the athlete might also be doing.  Training status is the most important out of all of these factors:

  • Beginners: 2-3 sessions/week
  • Intermediate: 3-4 sessions/week
  • Advanced: 4-7 sessions/week

Its important to include at least 1 but no more than 3 recovery days per week, although advanced athletes can train 7 days a week by using a split routine, meaning they train different muscle groups on different days rather than doing full body workouts everyday.  This gives the athlete time to recovery from leg day during back day, and visa versa.

The sport season should be taken into consideration when deciding the training frequency:

  • Off-season: 4-6 sessions/week
  • Preseason: 3-4 sessions/week
  • In-season: 1-3 sessions/week
  • Postseason (active rest): 0-3 sessions/week

Exercise Order

The order of exercise should be mainly based on how an exercise affects the quality of effort or technique of another exercise, therefore most programs start with the most difficult and technical exercises.  There are many different methods to determining the order of exercises, but here are the 4 most common:

  1. Power, other core, then assistance (aka: must-joint then single joint, large muscle areas then small muscle areas): power exercises require the most skill and are the most tiring, putting them later in the session puts the athlete at a higher risk of injury.
  2. Alternate upper and lower body (aka circuit training): improves recovery and recruitment between exercises and delaying muscle fatigue by making sure the same muscle group isn't used in successive exercises.  This is ideal for athletes just beginning or returning to a training program.
  3. Alternate push and pull exercises: similar reasoning as alternate upper and lower, just a different way to categorize the exercises.
  4. Supersets and compound sets: a superset is a set of two exercises that stress opposing muscles or muscle areas, while a compound set uses two exercises that work the same muscle or muscle group.  Both methods same time but are more demanding, and aren't appropriate for untrained athletes.

Training Load and Repetitions

Training load is the amount of weight assigned to a set and the repetitions is the number of times the exercise is performed.  The load is thought to be the most important aspect of a resistance training program and is typically based on a percentage of the athlete's 1RM.  You have to consider the type of exercise when deciding the repetitions.  For core or power exercises that increase strength, less than 6 repetitions is typically assigned.  For assistance exercises aimed at hypertrophy, more than 8 repetitions is typically assigned.  Keep in mind that the training load and repetitions are inversely related.  

There are a few different methods to incorporate variation while assigning training load.  The two most common are heavy-light-medium and 2-for-2 rule. The heavy-light-medium method is exactly as it sounds.  The "heavy day" is maximum effort for power or core exercises one day a week, then next is the "light day" at 80% of the heavy day, then the "medium day" is 90% of the heavy day.  The 2-for-2 rule is the most conservative method for the progression of load.  If na athlete can perform 2 or more repetitions over the rep goal for a certain exercise in the last set of 2 consecutive workouts, weight should be added.  For example, if an athlete is assigned a leg press at 3 sets of 10 reps, but performs 12 reps in the 3rd set for 2 consecutive workouts, then the athlete has proven they've adapted and weight should be added.