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The Science of Training a Modern Day Gladiator: Part 2
{As written for the Italian PublicationOlympian Magazine."}

By Joe Dowdell, CSCS, C.H.E.K. Practitioner

----If you read Part 1 in this series, you should have a greater understanding of how to analyze the needs of a particular sport. In addition, you should be better equipped in your ability to evaluate your athlete's individual needs in order ensure their success. Now that we have this information, we should talk about what to do with it. I'd like to begin by discussing some of the basic principles of Periodization and Program Design as they apply to athletic preparation, such as the Anatomical Adaptation Phase, the Hypertrophy Phase {if necessary}, the Maximum Strength/Power Phase as well as the Transition Phase.

----In his book, Theory & Methodology of Training, Tudor Bompa defined "Periodization" as the process of dividing an annual training plan into smaller phases of training in order to ensure correct peaking for the main competition(s} of the year. A properly periodized training program allows for the cycling or varying of training specificity, intensity and volume in order to achieve peak levels of conditioning. To put it in simpler terms, Periodization is simply a training plan, which changes your workouts at regular intervals of time.

----In my research on this rather extensive yet often misunderstood topic-Periodization of Training, I have found that there are a couple of different ways to describe basically the same thing {see Figure 1}. Below, you will find several of the ways in which you may see a training cycle organized and the terminology used to describe this organization:

Preparation Phase
First Transition Phase
Competition Phase
Second Transition {a.k.a., Active Rest}
Off Season
Active Rest
Anatomical Adaptation
Hypertrophy Phase
Maximum Strength Phase/Conversion to Power Phase
Transition Phase

Figure 1: Various terms to describe the phases of a Training Cycle.

----All of the above terminology is acceptable, but as is often the case, it is really a matter of personal preference. For the purpose of this article, we shall use the terminology in Figure 2:

Anatomical Adaptation Phase
Hypertrophy Phase
Strength/Power Phase
Transition Phase

Figure 2: Phases of our Training Cycle

----The Anatomical Adaptation Phase is really the foundation of the strength and conditioning cycle. During this time, which can span anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks depending on the individual, the main goal is to prepare the trainee for the increased demands that will be placed on his or her body during the subsequent phases. In Table 1, which I have slightly modified from Tudor Bompa's book-Periodization: Training for Sport, you will find the basic parameters of training for the Anatomical Adaptation phase.

Training Parameters
Novice Athlete
Experienced Athlete
Duration of AA
8-12 wks.
3-5 wks.
Load {if weights are used}
Number of Exercises per Session
Number of Sets per Exercise
Number of Reps per Exercise
Tempo of the Exercise
4-8 sec.
4-8 sec./rep
Rest Interval between Sets
75-120 sec.
30-60 sec.
Frequency per Week

Table 1: Training Parameters for the Anatomical Adaptation Phase.

----It is during this phase that we want to correct any muscle imbalances that they may have developed due to our trainees workplace, sport environment &/or as the result of any injury that they may have suffered. The main emphasis during the AA Phase is on a higher volume of training and on a lower intensity. In other words, we want to use lighter weights and higher reps during this phase. When we emphasize this type of training protocol, we will be developing the trainees muscular endurance as well as fine-tuning their neuromuscular control. By following this approach, we shall allow the muscles, connective tissues and the bones of the body proper time to strengthen and prepare themselves for the future increases in training intensity's. Furthermore, we are also increasing our fighter's ability to tolerate the build-up of Lactate {sometimes referred to as Lactic Acid} both intramuscularly and in the blood. And, if any of you doubt the necessity of increasing a fighter's ability to buffer &/or clear Lactate from their body, I challenge you to try to roll on the mat for several two-minute periods {or sometimes longer} or Box for several rounds in the ring.

----In addition, we need to utilize this time to develop &/or ensure full range of motion about each of the body's joints. Therefore, careful and proper application of the various flexibility protocols {look for a future article on Flexibility & ROM training} should be emphasized during this time. We must also make sure that the individual trains through the full, available and pain free range of motion. Furthermore, other modalities such as Active Release Technique, Neuromuscular Therapy and Massage Therapy can aid in increasing a fighter's flexibility.

----It is important to remember that the quality of the repetition is more important than the quantity of repetition. In his book Motor Learning and Performance, Richard A. Schmidt states that it only takes 300-350 repetitions to build a new motor program into the body. In contrast, rehabilitation specialist, Paul Chek, stated that it takes 3,000-5,000 repetitions to correct a faulty motor program. Therefore, it should be easy to see why it is more efficient to do it correctly the first time, than to have to redo it later. This factor is of extreme importance to a Mixed Martial Artist/Grappler because if they perform a technique with carelessness, it could cost them the fight or match.

----Once an athlete has completed the Anatomical Adaptation phase, it is time for them to transition into the next phase of training. For some individuals, this phase will be the Hypertrophy Phase. If you work with athletes, such as shot putters, linemen or heavyweight wrestlers, then hypertrophy training is essential. But for those of you who train athletes who compete in sports where there are weight classes, such as boxing, wrestling and Judo, you may need to make a decision as to whether or not they should engage in any hypertrophy training at all. As their trainer, we need to be very careful about how much hypertrophy-particularly with weight class athletes-that we create in our athletes. If we cause too much hypertrophy in our athlete, then we could force them to move to a higher weight class. Simply put, this could spell disaster for them in their next competition and, ultimately, it could cost you your job.

----"Hypertrophy", as defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine, is an increase in the size of a tissue or organ due to growth of individual cells without an increase in the number of cells. In other words, there is an increase in the cross-sectional size of the individual muscle fiber. It should be noted that there are two subclasses of hypertrophy {see Figure 3}.

Chronic Hypertrophy:
It refers to the relatively permanent increase in a muscles size due to actual structural changes. It is the result of resistance training repeated over a long period of time.
Transient Hypertrophy:
It refers to the temporary increases in a muscles size. It is the result of a single bout of exercise. It is sometimes referred to as the "Pump" and is the result of fluid accumulation in the muscle.

Figure 3: Sub-classes of Hypertrophy

----The Hypertrophy Phase for sports-specific training is slightly different in its application compared to that of bodybuilding. In bodybuilding, the emphasis is largely on the isolation of muscles and the overall hypertrophy of the entire body. Resistance training as it applies to Bodybuilding places very little emphasis on the integration of muscles {i.e., inter-muscular coordination} or on perfecting specific movement patterns. Hypertrophy training for the application of sports-specificity is designed to focus on increasing the size of the prime movers involved in your athlete's particular sport. The emphasis should now be shifted toward exercise protocols, which are designed specifically with this goal in mind. In Table 2, I have outlined the guidelines of training for the Hypertrophy Phase as they pertain to sports specificity.

Training Parameters
Duration of Hypertrophy Phase
4-16 wks.
Load {if weights are used}
Number of Exercises per Session
Number of Sets per Exercise
Number of Reps per Exercise
Tempo of the Exercise
4-6 sec./rep
Rest Interval between Sets
60-120 sec.
Frequency per Week

Table 2: Training Parameters for the Hypertrophy Phase.

----It is during this stage that we are trying to evoke chemical changes in the muscle. These chemical responses will ultimately cause changes in the contractile tissue of the muscle itself. Some of these chemical changes are an increase in the following: intramuscular stores of ATP, Phosphocreatine, Creatine and Glycogen. In order for the athlete to obtain the maximum results during this phase of training, it is critical that they reach a high degree of muscular exhaustion. Not only should this muscular fatigue occur as the result of a single set, but also as the net result of the total number of sets. In other words, if the athlete is supposed to perform 4 to 6 sets of Incline Dumbbell Presses at a slow to moderate tempo for a 6-12 RM, then the last rep that they can perform with perfect form should fall somewhere within this repetition range. If they are able to perform more reps than the prescribed number {i.e., 15 reps}, or if they are unable to reach the desired repetition bracket {i.e., 5 reps}, then the loading parameter is incorrect.

----Since we will be utilizing submaximal loads during this period, we will not be able to elicit maximum tension in the targeted muscles. Rather, as the athlete performs each of their exercises, they will gradually recruit more and more muscle fibers throughout the set. In other words, as some muscle fibers begin to fatigue, others will start to function. It is also important to understand that when applying the concept of hypertrophy training to a speed-power athlete, we should remember one of Dr. Hatfield's Seven "Laws" of Training-the Specificity Principle. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term or need a little refresher, the "Principle of Specificity" states that the body will adapt in a highly specific way to the training it receives. In other words, to simplify things even more, if you train slowly, you will be slow.

----The Neuromuscular System will adapt to whatever stimulus is provided. So, if an athlete trains with a slow speed of movement for too long, then their body will adapt to this stimulus by not being able to recruit Fast Twitch motor units and fibers effectively. Therefore, if we do decide to implement some hypertrophy training with our speed-power athletes, we must absolutely make sure that the speeds of movement {a.k.a., Tempo} is not too slow.

----Okay, now that we have progressed our athlete through the AA Phase and the Hypertrophy Phase, it is time to switch our attention to the development of maximum strength and power. But, before we can do this, we should briefly define these two terms. In his book, Supertraining, Dr. Mel Siff defined "Strength" as the ability of a given muscle or group of muscles to generate muscular force under specific conditions. And he defined "Maximal Strength" as the ability of a particular group of muscles to produce a maximal voluntary contraction in response to optimal motivation against an external load. During the Strength/Power Phase, our goal is to increase our athlete's maximum strength and then develop their ability to apply this newfound strength as quickly as possible. The ability of an individual to apply their strength to an opponent or to an object as quickly as possible is what sport scientists refer to as "Power". In table 3, you will find the parameters for developing an athlete's maximum strength and later in table 4 are the guidelines for converting this strength to power.

Training Parameters
Duration of the Maximum Strength Phase
4-20 wks.
Load {if weights are used}
Number of Exercises per Session
Number of Sets per Exercise
Number of Reps per Exercise
Tempo of the Exercise
2-5 sec./rep
Rest Interval between Sets
3-6 min.
Frequency per Week

Table 3: Training Parameters for the Maximum Strength Phase.

----For some athletes, such as marathon runners, triathletes, etc., maximum strength may not be a very important variable; therefore, they will not need to spend much time developing this quality. However, for most athletes, it is a very important to their ability to compete at a higher level. The higher that we rated strength as a bio-motor ability for a particular sport, the longer we need to focus on it. In other words, the more important that maximal strength is for a particular athlete or their sport, the longer we need to stay in this phase of training. Ultimately, an athlete's ability to develop maximum strength depends, basically, on the following:

--Fiber Hypertrophy - the increase in the cross-sectional area of the muscle.
--Recruitment - the gradation of total muscle force by the addition and subtraction of the active motor units.
--Rate Coding - changing the firing rate of motor units
--Synchronization - the activation of motor units in a more or less synchronized way.
--Intermuscular Coordination - the ability to coordinate the various muscle groups involved in a movement pattern quickly and effectively.

----For those athlete's which were able to follow the appropriate protocols for increasing their muscular size, they will be able to develop their maximum strength by all of the possibilities as described above. But, for the fighters {or other athletes} who are not able to spend much time in a Hypertrophy Phase, they must rely on their ability to develop their neuromuscular system {i.e., increase the recruitment of Fast Twitch muscle fibers} as well as their effectiveness at coordinating the required muscle groups for a particular movement pattern or exercise.

----Maximum strength development is best accomplished through the use of maximum loads. By exposing an athlete to maximum loads, they will see improvement in the following areas:

--A reduction in CNS inhibition.
--An increase in motor unit activation, which will result in a higher recruitment of fast twitch motor units.
--An increase in the coordination and synchronization of muscle groups during performance.
--An increase in testosterone levels.
--A potential increase in speed and power.

----At this time, it should be noted that machine-based training is very limited in its ability to enhance the coordination of various muscle groups. Therefore, when using them, we should make sure we have a definitive reason to do so. Always remember, machines are designed to train muscles, not movements. That being said, I'm not opposed to the use of machines, but rather their misuse and often their improper application in many people's training programs. In fact, many great strength coaches will add some machine-based exercises to an athlete's program, but what many people fail to realize or understand is why they chose to do so and during what particular phase.

----Hopefully by this time, our fighter or athlete has increased their maximum strength levels and they are ready to focus on developing their power. Simply put, "Power" {see figure 4} is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible force in the shortest amount of time. In scientific terms, power is the product of muscular force {F} multiplied by the velocity {V} of movement.

Power {P} = muscular force {F} x velocity of movement {V}
P = F x V

Figure 4: Formula for Power

----In order for an athlete to increase their power, they must improve their strength, speed or both. But just because an athlete is very strong, it does not necessarily mean that they will be powerful. Remember the specificity principle discussed earlier, the body is designed to adapt to the stimulus provided. In other words, if you want to be explosive, you will need to train explosively. Therefore, an athlete must focus on developing their rate of force production. When training for power, we are trying to illicit many of the same neuromuscular changes that occur in the development of maximum strength. The only real difference is in the speed of movement at which we execute the exercise and the load we choose {see table 4}. As a result of power training, we will improve the relationship between the agonist and antagonist muscle groups-a.k.a. intermuscular coordination. In essence by focusing on improving this relationship, we will be teaching our antagonists to fire later in the movement, which will hopefully allow our agonists to fire longer.

----Many strength coaches try to separate the Maximum Strength Phase and the Power Phase. Why this may be effective for the general population or even a beginning athlete, I feel it is not as effective for the advanced athlete. A better choice would be to work on the development of both bio-motor abilities during the same phase. It can be appropriate to focus on maximum strength by itself for part of a mesocycle, particularly early on. But, as the cycle progresses and we begin to convert to power training, we should continue to supplement some maximum strength work, as well as some Prehabilitation exercises, throughout the cycle. The reason being, if we do not continue to maintain or increase our maximum strength, then we may develop a strength/power leakage over time. And since we already determined that maximum strength is an integral part in the development of power, then this concept only makes sense.

Training Parameters
Duration of the Power Phase
4-8 wks.
Load {if weights are used}
Number of Exercises per Session
Number of Sets per Exercise
Number of Reps per Exercise
Tempo of the Exercise
Rest Interval between Sets
3-6 min.
Frequency per Week

Table 4: Training Parameters for the Power Phase.

----Before the fight, all training should taper off about 5-7 days prior to the event. This tapering-off period will help the fighter recharge their battery before the big night. During the pre-fight week, some fighters may opt for complete rest while others may find a limited amount of training may help them take the edge off. If a fighter chooses to participate in some light training during the pre-fight week, then it must be executed at a significantly decreased intensity {less than 50%} and for a short amount of time {under 30 minutes}. If the fighter does decide to do some light training, it should limited to skill training or range of motion work. The main focus during this week should be on eating well, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest.

----One last point we should quickly touch upon before we move on to the Transition Phase, is the common mistake that many individuals make when trying to develop sport specific power. Many strength coaches lack the understanding of the concept of "specificity". If we are trying to develop power for a given sport, then our training should be highly specific to that activity or sport. In other words, when training a lineman in American football, exercises such as the Power Clean and the Medicine Ball Chest Pass would have a higher carryover to their position, then let's say Single Leg Bounding. That being said let's talk about the Transition Phase.

----Finally, our fighter has participated in his fight, and hopefully won, now he will need a period of restoration-a.k.a. the Transition Phase. Eventually, all the training and mental preparation for a fight will take its toll on our fighter. After the competition and providing no significant injury was suffered, the athlete should recover from the muscular fatigue within several days, but the CNS fatigue will take much longer. I usually like to see my fighters take a week or two of complete rest. Then, I like to see them begin some light training and possibly participate in some other sport or activity such as swimming, basketball, etc. for a couple of weeks. After about 4 weeks, they should be ready to start the AA phase all over again.

----That concludes part 2 of the series. I was hoping to map out Colin's program in this article, but I will have to leave that for the next installment in the series. In Part 3, I will take you through Colin's 6-Week Anatomical Adaptation Phase, which will include photos of the actual exercises we used as well as descriptions of how to perform them correctly and a description of the acute training variables.


Bompa, Tudor. Theory and Methodology of Training: The Key to Athletic Performance. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt, 1994.
Bompa, Tudor. Power Training for Sport. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1994.
Bompa, Tudor. Periodization of Strength. Toronto, ON: Veritas Publishing, 1995.
Bompa, Tudor. Periodization Training for Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999.
Burton, A. & Miller, D. Movement Skill Assessment. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1998.
Carr, Gerry. Mechanics of Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 1997.
Chek, Paul. Program Design Correspondence Course/Seminar. 1995.
Chek, Paul. Advanced Program Design Correspondence Course/Seminar. 1997.
Chek, Paul. C.H.E.K. Level 2 Internship. 2000.
Hatfield, Dr. Fred. The Seven "Laws" of Training. 1999.
Kent, Michael. Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science & Medicine. New York: Oxford University Press. 1998.
McGinnis, P. Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999.
Poliquin, Charles. Personal Communication. 2000.
Poliquin, Charles. Poliquin Principles. Napa, CA: Dayton Writers Group, 1997.
Siff, M.C. & Verkhoshansky, Y.V. Super Training: Special Strength Training for Sporting Excellence. Perry, OH: Strength Coach, Inc. 1996.
Zatsiorsky, Vladimir. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995.

----Joe Dowdell, CSCS, C.H.E.K. Practitioner, is currently the owner of Peak Performance Sports & Fitness Center in New York City. His clientele includes many of the world's top fashion models and many television/film celebrities. In addition, he has trained and/or consulted various amateur and professional athletes from a variety of sports including: Adventure Racing, Bobsledding, Basketball, Martial Arts/Grappling, Golf, Ice Hockey and Track & Field.


--------© copyright 2002 PeakPerformance

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