Performance Improvement Strategies for Intermediate and Advanced Athletes

by: Kelly Baggett

Once you advance into the intermediate to advanced stages you are able to recruit more muscle and thus tend to require more recovery time. A Funny car requires more maintenance then a riceburner because it runs at a higher RPM and does more damage to it's structures per unit of time. When you get stronger and more powerful you are able to run at a higher RPM and do more damage to your structures so, generally speaking, you'll tend to make better progress with alternations to intensity, frequency, and variety in your training.

At this stage you are also more likely to benefit from an increase in muscle size so training cycles that include both higher and lower rep protocols work well. Here are some strategies for the intermediate to advanced athlete:

Key #1

Use blocks of training

A training block is a period of training ranging anywhere from as short as 2 weeks up to 8 weeks. I find changing programs every 3-6 weeks works very well for most individuals. Advanced athletes respond better to shorter 3-4 week blocks while beginners respond better to 4-6 weeks block. During a block you vary the volume and intensity each training week. There's a general 4 step progression for a training block that includes:

1. Introduce the training
2. Raise the volume
3. Raise the intensity
4. Lower the volume while keeping the intensity constant

Here volume is referring to sets x reps x weight and intensity is referring to the percentage of 1rm that is used. If done properly a training block will heighten the body's adaptation abilities. The volume and intensity weeks stress recuperative powers and performance tends to stagnate or even go slightly backwards, but with the unloading week the body then supercompensates from the previous 2 weeks training and the gains magically appear. Here are a couple of examples.

Block for an early intermediate athlete

week 1 - 3 x 8 at 70%** easy introductory week

week 2 - 4 x 5 at 80% base week

week 3- 6 x 4 at 82.5% volume week

week 4- 6 x 3 at 87.5-90% % intensity week

week 5- 3 x 3 at 87.5-90% unloading/testing week

week 6- start new cycle with new exercises

** These percentages are chosen randomly and in practice their is no need to train according to specific percents. The load should be heavy enough that the last rep of each set is a tough, but not impossible, effort.

Block for an advanced athlete

week 1- 6 x 4 volume week

week 2- 5 x 3 intensity week

week 3- 3 x 3 unloading week

week 4- start new cycle with new movements

Key #2

Cycle workouts or cycle the load

Intermediate and advanced athletes should use alternate workouts or heavy/light workouts - don't do the same workout twice in a row or if you do don't push to the max in the same given quality (strength, speed, reactive ability) in consecutive workouts for a given muscle group. So if you max out a strength move like a low rep squat on Monday, then you wouldn't want to come back in on Friday and max out another heavy lower body strength move. Or if you performed depth jumps on Monday then you wouldn't want to come back in on Friday and perform depth jumps with the same intensity again.

Here are a couple of ways of setting up a workout

Option 1: Alternating session approach for an intermediate athlete using a 4 week block focusing on strength one workout and power in another

Session 1

Front Squat - 3 x 8 (week 1), 6 x 4 (week 2), 5 x 3 (week 3), 3 x 3 (week 4)

Good morning - 3 x 8, 4 x 8, 4 x 5, 3 x 5

step-up - 3 x 8, 4 x 8, 4 x 5, 3 x 5

Session 2 (4 days later)

Depth drops (***alternate with depth jumps) 3 x 5, 6 x 5, 5 x 5, 3 x 5 from 30 inch box

Depth Jumps- 3 x 5, 6 x 5, 5 x 5, 3 x 5 from 18 inches

***Do one set of depth drops, rest, then one set of depth jumps, rest, then another set of depth jumps etc.

Paused Jump Squat- 3 x 5, 5 x 5, 4 x 5, 3 x 5

Glute Ham raise- 3 x 6, 5 x 6, 4 x 5, 3 x 5

rest 3-4 days then repeat session 1.

Option 2: Heavy/Light approach - Here the sessions are identical the only difference is the intensity (loading) will be reduced 15% during the 2nd workout of each week.

Session 1

Depth drop landing from 32 inch box - 6 x 5, 5 x 5, 3 x 5

Snatch Grip Deadlift- 6 x 3, 5 x 2, 3 x 1

Split Squat- 4 x 8, 4 x 5, 3 x 5

Session 2 3-4 days later

Depth landing from 27 inch box (a reduction in height of 15%) - same sets and reps as session 1

Snatch Grip Deadlift- Same sets and reps but use 15% less weight then you used during the first session.

Split squat- Same sets and reps but use 15% less weight then you used during the first session.

You would then rest 3-4 days and perform session 1.

Key #3

Vary the training frequency

Powerlifters note improvements in their performance by taking a full week to 10 days off prior to a meet. Fitness does not vary significantly over any period up to several days but the ability to "express" this fitness is ever changing due to ever changing recovery abilities. The length of time it can take to the body to fully recharge it's batteries and "express" the gains you make after a period of strenuous training can be quite remarkable.

Sometimes you should train often to "challenge" your recovery ability while at other times you should train infrequently. In general, you should either decrease the volume or increase the number of rest days towards the end of a training cycle. For example, if you have 8 workouts planned for lower body during a month long training cycle you might rest 3-4 days in between each workout for the first 6 workouts and then 5-6 days for the last 2. Or you could rest 3-4 days in between each workout for the entire 8 workout training block and follow this up with a rest period of 7-10 days before starting another cycle.

Key #4

Don't bother training unless you're ready to improve

Unless you're intentionally challenging yourself with a high volume of work, as you might be during the "volume" phase of a training block, then don't show up to train unless you're ready to improve. Keep a log of 2 things and make note of them FIRST thing in the morning when you wake up. These things are physical energy and mental motivation. Rank both on a scale of 1-100 and write them down in your journal. The reason you want to do this first thing in the morning is because your body and mind are both honest with you at this time. When you first wake up you can't tell your body and subconscious mind whether they feel like crap or not but if you do this after you've been up for even a few minutes your "mind" can make your evaluation false . This is why the Russians used to wake their athletes up and do all sorts of tests on them to assess trainability.

So rank both energy and motivation on a scale of 100. A score of 75 or more meaning that you were dreaming of training before you even woke up and couldn't wait to get to the gym. A score below 25 meaning that you felt absolutely miserable when you woke up, and even more miserable when you realized that you were scheduled to train today. Males can use their sex drive upon wakening to assess state of energy (seriously).

DO NOT train unless you can honestly give yourself a rating of 50 for both energy and motivation! This is important. In short don't show up at the gym unless you feel that you're going to improve in something! Better to take an extra day off and get in some active rest (walking, low intensity cardio, stretching etc.) and put the training session on hold until the next day then it is to show up and waste your time going nowhere.

Now you might ask, "well what if taking an extra day off isn't an option?" In that case you should cut the volume of the session by 50% while maintaining the intensity (load). Also in this case you'd definitely want to pay extra attention to sleep and nutrition.

Key #5

Think about what adaptation signals you're sending your body

If you give the body a choice to adapt to strength or endurance it will choose endurance. The body will adapt to accomplish things the easiest way possible and if we consider evolution, endurance adaptations are preferred.

This means if you perform strength or power training at high volume (for you), by continuously training with a volume or frequency that exceeds your ability to progress and recover from that work, you will basically be signalling your body that it needs to create endurance adaptations to deal with the constant stress your throwing at it. In this case your body will sacrifice the ability to display a peak effort for the ability to display repeated submaximal efforts (work capacity). To put it into different perspective, would you rather be able to run the 100 meters in less then 10 seconds 1 time, or complete a marathon? Given the choice your body will choose efficiency rather then proficiency every time. If you're interested in displaying peak efforts then keep this in mind and make sure you set yourself up to exceed and make progress as often as possible instead of just constantly running yourself into the ground.