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Core 2: Factors affecting performance

How does training affect performance?

Principles of training

Key Messages

  • Progressive overload implies that the load needs to be slowly increased as we become accustomed to the existing level of resistance to bring about further improvements.
  • Specificity focuses on the replication between what is done in training to what is required in the performance or game.
  • Reversibility implies that fitness, strength and flexibility improvements will be lost as training ceases.
  • The principle of variety suggests that the training program needs to include a range of activities to ensure that motivation remains high.
  • A threshold is a starting point for a new state or experience and in regards to exercise often relates to intensity of performance. The lowest level of intensity that will produce a training effect is the aerobic threshold. The highest level is the anaerobic threshold. The zone between the thresholds is the training zone, the area where we need to be working to improve aerobic performance.
  • Warm up and cool down are essential to any training program, and particularly for the prevention of injury.

People undertake physical training programs for a variety of reasons; however, the main objective is to improve performance. Other reasons may include weight loss, general fitness improvement, or rehabilitation from injury. Regardless of the reason, there are a number of principles which need to be adhered to when designing training programs to help achieve optimal training outcomes. It is important to remember that programs need to be designed to suit individual activity needs and to suit individual athlete's needs and differences.

Principles of training

Progressive overload

The principle of progressive overload implies that a training effect is produced when the system or tissue is worked at a greater level that it is normally accustomed to working. As the body adapts to these new levels, training should continue to be progressively increased.

Progressive overload can be achieved by varying the frequency, duration and intensity of the training, with increases in intensity having the greatest effect. Considerable stress must be placed on the system or tissue so that improvements can occur. If there is too much overload, fatigue can result as well as potential injury; if training load is too little, the training effect will plateau or decrease. Athletes need to be aware that not all adaptations will occur in the same timeframe and that it is important to increase the workload gradually over a long period so improvements are maintained and overtraining is avoided.


The principle of specificity implies that the greatest gains are made when activity in the training program replicates the movements in the game or activity. That is, training should be specific to the:

For example, to be competitive in their chosen sport, long distance runners need to develop the aerobic energy system and leg muscles. A javelin thrower needs to develop the ATP-PC system to throw while, at the same time, developing shoulder, back and arm muscles specific for throwing and power. A squash player will benefit from playing tennis during practise sessions as there is a transfer of skill even though the technique is slightly different.


The principle of reversibility states that effects of training are reversible, even only after one or two weeks of stopping or reducing training. That is, the training effects will be quickly lost, and the person's performance will decline, and unfortunately often at a rate faster than gains were made. This is often referred to as the detraining effect. Reversibility is evident in all components of fitness such as aerobic and anaerobic fitness, power, strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and speed. Many athletes take part in off-season training programs to maintain their fitness until the next season begins or injured athletes may take part in other activities to maintain their fitness until recovery takes place.


The principle of variety states that athletes need to be challenged by not only the activity but also by the implementation of the activities and this is often achieved by cross-training. Training can often become repetitious and boring, especially if done for many hours over many weeks over many years. This is particularly evident in endurance activities involving few technical skills, for example swimming and running. While the principle of variety is not essential to improve performance it does make training more interesting and enjoyable. Aerobic, anaerobic, strength and flexibility training can take many forms so it can be easy to incorporate this principle into training programs.

Training thresholds

The principle of training thresholds relates to levels of exercise intensity that are sufficient to produce a training effect. Training thresholds are usually explained in terms of the maximum heart rate in relation to volume of oxygen uptake (VO2). During exercise, the following three factors become important in relation to training thresholds:

All these increase in proportion to the intensity of exercise. This appears to be related to maximum oxygen consumption (max VO2 (external website)). The increase in lactic acid in untrained athletes occurs at a lower max VO2 than in trained athletes.

The aerobic training threshold is the lowest intensity at which an athlete needs to work to produce an aerobic training effect, that is, an improvement in the body's ability to use oxygen during exercise. This occurs at approximately 70% of the person's maximum heart rate (MHR), or at approximately 50-60% of that person's max VO2, and is equivalent to a moderately paced jog. At this level a person can conduct a conversation comfortably.

With increased intensity comes a rise in lactic acid representing an increasing reliance on the anaerobic energy system. The point at which lactic acid accumulates is known as the anaerobic training threshold and is usually around 80% MHR or 75% max VO2. The threshold is the maximum speed or effort that an athlete can maintain and still have no increase in lactic acid. The term lactate threshold (LT) is increasingly being used as it is a more precise term because anaerobic energy is continually produced, even at rest, meaning that lactic acid is formed and removed continuously. Click on the following link to gain further understanding of the anaerobic threshold.
http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/lactate-threshold.html (external website)

Therefore for an individual to obtain an aerobic training effect they should exercise in the aerobic training zone; that is, between the aerobic and lactate (anaerobic) thresholds. Further reading about training thresholds can be obtained from the following links. http://www.brianmac.co.uk/hrm1.htm (external website)
http://www.howtobefit.com/five-heart-rate-zones.htm (external website)

Warm up and cool down

Warming up and cooling down are important components of all training and performance sessions. The warm up aims to prepare the body in readiness for the activity that is to follow by:

A warm up should include three stages: a general warm up; stretching; and a specific warm up and should last for a minimum of 10 minutes. The general warm up involves a gentle use of the large muscle groups in a rhythmic manner that progressively increases in intensity. The stretching stage of the warm up involves stretching the major muscle groups in a slow manner, holding each stretch for 10-30 seconds. This is followed by stretching of specific muscles then dynamic stretching to prepare the muscles for the training or performance. The specific warm up stage involves practising performance-like activities and skills that progressively increase the heart rate and use the muscles and ligaments involved

The cool down, which follows the training or performance session, is effectively the same as the warm up, but in reverse, and is aimed at minimising muscle stiffness and soreness. The cool down, while not as intense or involved as the warm up, allows for the active recovery and gives the body time to return the blood to the heart, rather than letting the blood pool in the muscles. This allows the oxygenated blood to 'flush out' the waste products that form during activity and begin to rebuild the energy stores required for the next performance. The cool down should include a period of aerobic work, gradually decreasing in intensity as well as stretching aimed at reducing muscle soreness and aiding recovery.

Hand on mouseStudent activity
  1. Complete the table below to explore the application of the principles of training to aerobic and strength training.
Application of the principles of training to aerobic and strength training

Progressive overload    
Training thresholds    
Warm up and cool down    

Check answer

Reflect on how the principles of training relates to other areas in this focus question as well as other focus areas for Core 2.

Create a folder of different training programs written for athletes in various sports, or even for various positions within the sport. This should incorporate types of training and training methods, links to energy systems and principles of training as well as psychology, nutrition, recovery strategies and skill acquisition.

  • How are the principles of training applied to different sports?
  • How do these principles affect performance?

The following link will assist in understanding training programs and linking focus questions: http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/secondary/pdhpe/new_ideas/c2_act2.html (external website)


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