A 4 stage model to athletic development

I’ve recently been re-thinking about how I teach and progress novice trainers to advanced training status and it has lead to some revised thoughts on what principles and methods might be best to use in this process. The result is this 4 stage model.

training principles
The 4 stages of athletic progression

Stage 1: Motor Learning – Movement Competency

Driving thought: “Can we learn the key principles for X movement?”

In this stage the aim is to achieve competency in fundamental movements (Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Brace, Jump and Land). The emphasis is on understanding and demonstrating key principles which underpin safe and efficient technique for each movement. For example in squatting: heels down, knees apart, chest up are key markers of any form of squat (Front, back, overhead etc.). By using specific exercises, constraints can be constructed to assist the athlete in producing the desired movement patterns in the desired way, thus achieving competency in the desired movements (Eg. box squat, goblet squat etc.) A very important influence in progression in this stage will be the quality of instruction and demonstration.

Stage 2: Variability – Stretch the Bandwidth

Driving thought: “ Are the principles learnt stable in different conditions?”

In this stage, the aim is to stretch the bandwidth of the competencies already achieved in stage 1 to challenge the athlete further and developing the ability to produce stable movement patterns, despite differing demands. By stretching the bandwidth of the movement competency, this gives the athletes a large toolbox of  By This is achieved by adapting the exercise with:

  • Variation (eg. Overhead, Front, Back squat)
  • Tempo (eg. Eccentric, Concentric, Isometric Emphasis)
  • Fatigue (eg. Increasing volume by sets/reps, changing order of programme, circuit)
  • Context (eg. Contextual interference, asymmetry, banded squats)
training foci
Potential training foci for each stage

Stage 3: Force Capability – increase size/speed/strength

Driving thought: “ Can we increase force capability?”

Now that movement competency has been achieved and can now be performed in a variety of differing scenarios, athletes should have attained efficient and effective technique across numerous variations. In Stage 3, the focus shifts towards improving the capability to produce force in the desired movements. This can be achieved by increasing muscular potential, motor unit recruitment and neural drive. This stage may require any or all of the below emphases:

  1. Muscular hypertrophy (eg. Increased volume of sets/reps)
  2. Maximal Strength (eg. Increased load/intensity)
  3. Maximal Speed (eg. Olympic weightlifting derivatives/plyometrics)

This process may be driven by specific targets such as a lean muscle mass, 1 repetition maximum or specific movement speed. Additionally, you may have established norms from the desired performance levels to dictate the standards which need to be attained based on position.

Stage 4: Specificity – Carryover

Driving thought: “Can we directly improve sport skill performance?”

This stage focusses on the transfer of force production to the sport specific movements. This requires an understanding of:

  • Contraction type
  • Joint angle
  • Required range of motion
  • Contraction speed
  • Decision making component
  • Integration into sport skill (Special Strength training)

For example, this may be the specific transfer of lower limb strength to scrummaging in rugby. This could be achieved by technical practice of the sports skill, special strength exercise such as scrum machine isometrics, partial range squats etc. This is the last stage of the progression with a direct focus on sports performance. This is very often where many coaches skip to without establishing a proper base of general physical preparation. This is an error in my opinion.

example
An example progression of the squatting movement from Stage 1 to Stage 4

So. This is my current thought process in how I will progress athletes with no strength and conditioning training age from a general to specific training program and from untrained to advanced training status.

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this. As always, many of this thoughts and ideas are constantly evolving, so it would be great to hear what principles or ideas you are using to guide your training programming and exercises/method selection.

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