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Developing anaerobic conditioning programs

This is an excerpt from NSCA's Guide to Program Design by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association & Jay Hoffman.

Developing Anaerobic Conditioning Programs

An appropriate conditioning program should be based on a needs analysis of the athletes and their specific sport demands (see chapter 1). The primary movement patterns, duration of these movements, the number of movements, and the work-to-rest ratio are all critical variables that must be identified to prescribe appropriate exercises. Each sport may be quite different. Even within a sport, variability of movements may exist among different positions. Differences in the requirements for each position (e.g., goalie versus forward in ice hockey, lineman versus wide receiver in American football) result in varying physiological demands that require different training programs. With a thorough understanding of the activity demands of the sport, a greater specificity in the types of exercises and in the work-to-rest ratio can be employed to maximize the effectiveness of the training program.

Timing and Duration of the Program

The most frequently asked question concerning anaerobic conditioning programs is when to begin. This question is not simple to answer, primarily due to the fact that there is no uniquely correct answer. Much of this question is related to the concepts of periodization and program implementation, which are discussed in great detail in chapters 11 and 12, respectively. However, nothing in the exercise prescription should ever be based on happenstance. Implementation of the anaerobic conditioning program should be based on scientific evidence and best practices. When considering the time course of physiological adaptations that occur through training, strength and conditioning professionals can calculate the approximate time needed to begin preparing their athletes to reach peak anaerobic conditioning. It is also imperative for strength and conditioning professionals to understand what their players have been doing in the off-season. They must take this information into consideration when determining the onset of training, proper intensity and volume of training, and manipulation of work-to-rest ratios.

Team Sports

Matching the work and rest intervals of the sport is an important consideration in maximizing the effectiveness of an anaerobic conditioning program. For example, American football can be separated into a series of plays. These are numbers of series and plays observed in a season of NCAA Division III football (5):

Total number of plays observed: 1,193

Total number of series observed: 259

Average number of series per game: 14.4

Average number of plays per series: 4.6

Percentage of series of 6 plays or greater: 31.2%

Percentage of series of 10 plays or greater: 8.1%

During each game, each team had an average of 14.4 offensive series and 4.6 plays per series. Each play has been reported to last for an average of 5.49 seconds (ranging from 1.87 to 12.88 s) in college football (11). Between plays, each team has a maximum of 25 seconds to begin the next play. However, this play clock does not begin until the referee has set the ball. Thus, the rest interval between plays generally exceeds 25 seconds. In limited reports, the average time between plays in a college football game is 32.7 seconds (11). The average time per play and rest time between plays allows for a more precise development of the work-to-rest ratio needed for anaerobic exercise prescription. According to the preceding data regarding time for each play and the rest interval between plays, it appears that a work-to-rest ratio of 1:5 could be used in off-season conditioning programs for football. Players could perform short-duration sprints that simulate the movement patterns of an actual football game.

This conditioning program for football will begin between 6 and 10 weeks prior to training camp. The football program is longer than the one for basketball, since basketball players often have pick-up (summer league) games. In contrast, football is not a sport that can be played in the off-season. The type of drills and progression of volume and intensity are similar to those displayed in table 12.13 (p. 280). However, specific adaptations can be made for American football players. For example, it appears that college football players get between four and five plays per series and that plays last approximately 5 seconds. Considering that there are about three or four series per quarter, a conditioning program can be developed that simulates a football game, with realistic work-to-rest ratios. In addition, a range of sprinting distances can be incorporated that simulate the varied runs frequently seen in a game.

Individual Sports

The development of a conditioning program for team sports, such as basketball, American football, or hockey, is quite different than the exercise prescription for athletes participating in an individual event, such as sprinting. Unlike team-sport athletes, who perform various types of movements at variable intensities, sprinters are often required to run a single sprint at maximum ability during a competition. Although they may compete in several different races, the requirements will be similar for each one. The training program for sprinters is primarily focused on developing power, improving running technique and speed, and increasing speed endurance. This latter goal is the focus in their anaerobic conditioning program.

The importance of this is seen in the splits for a 100 m sprinter. The goal of the sprinter is to reach peak running velocity as quickly as possible and to maintain running velocity throughout the length of the sprint. This is known as speed-endurance. Table 6.1 shows the splits for Usain Bolt, the Olympic record holder in the 100 m sprint. These results clearly show his ability to maintain his velocity until the final 10 m of the race. However, those who recall that great sprint will remember that he appeared to let up toward the end since he was so far ahead in the field. These splits clearly demonstrate his peak conditioning level in preparation for these games.

The training program for the sprinter is different from that of the basketball or American football player. The anaerobic conditioning program for team-sport athletes is primarily concerned with preparing them for repeated bouts of high-intensity activity with limited rest intervals. In contrast, the sprinter's training program is more concerned with the quality of each sprint than with improved fatigue rate.

Read more from NSCA's Guide to Program Design by National Strength and Conditioning Association.

More Excerpts From NSCA's Guide to Program Design