The Importance of a Flexible Training Program

When it comes to training your athletes for a specific performance goal, there are a few non-negotiables. If you want your athletes to stay healthy and perform at their highest level, your training program must be:

  • Specific to your athletes (sport, position, training experience, strength level, etc.)
  • Built by a certified strength coach (based on safe and proven strength and conditioning practices)
  • Periodized to peak athletes for performance while aiming to prevent overtraining
  • Focused on building general athleticism first, with special attention on mitigating sport-specific injuries
  • Organized in a year-long (or multi-year) approach to developing the whole athlete

But beyond these core principles, there’s one more key ingredient to a safe and effective strength and conditioning program: flexibility.

No matter how perfectly constructed your training program is on paper, life in the real world is unpredictable. You never know when an injury, illness, absence, schedule change, or unforeseen event is going to throw a wrench in your plan, requiring you to make some modifications in order to keep driving athlete performance. 

There are too many static, one-size-fits-all programs out there, marketing themselves as performance training plans. But a rigid 12-week program simply does not work for athletes. Period. Leveraging the expertise of our veteran strength coaches on the Volt Advisory Board, this article highlights the 3 ways in which a training program MUST be flexible in order to be safe and effective for young athletes.
 

This flowchart concept from Patrick McHenry shows how he assigns training programs to groups of high school track athletes based on performance goals (i.e., when they need to peak for competition). Coaches can use similar flowcharts in other sports, especially sports with multiple peaking seasons, to help all their athletes peak appropriately at the right times.

This flowchart concept from Patrick McHenry shows how he assigns training programs to groups of high school track athletes based on performance goals (i.e., when they need to peak for competition). Coaches can use similar flowcharts in other sports, especially sports with multiple peaking seasons, to help all their athletes peak appropriately at the right times.

By segmenting your athletes into groups by performance goals and peaking dates, you can optimize training for their diverse needs. With Volt, coaches can create multiple versions of the same program, each with a different periodized calendar. This allows them to help their varsity athletes peak for a state or national competition, while JV athletes peak earlier for regional qualifiers. 

However you accomplish this with your athletes, it’s important to remember that your program must be fluid enough to allow athletes at all levels, for all goals, to compete at their highest level.
 

3. Flexibility in the Training Session

Mike Nitka, 36-year veteran strength coach at Muskego High School (WI) and Volt Advisory Board member, knows how to make on-the-fly program adjustments. After all, if you’re working with student-athletes, you’re going to need to be flexible, sometimes on a daily or last-minute basis. This is yet another reason why static programs don’t work for athletes—sometimes you have to modify your training to fit individual schedules and needs.

“Every spring, I’d have several football players come up to me and say, ‘Hey Coach! I’ve got a part in the school play and have to miss our workout! Can we reschedule it?’ So you simply have to take into account the student’s individual schedule on a program level,” says Coach Nitka.

Coach Nitka accomplished this by condensing a strength session into a 30-minute workout, or staying late to make sure his athletes didn’t miss training. This is why we prioritize the most essential movements at the beginning of each Volt workout, allowing coaches to accomplish what they can in whatever timeframe they’re working with.

“And remember that more is not always better, since it can lead to overtraining,” advises Coach Nitka. “More often than not, simplicity over complexity will get the job done.”

Your training program must also be flexible enough to account for modifications at the exercise level. Volt training, for example, allows a coach to replace any exercise with one from the same movement pattern category, letting coaches tailor the training without affecting the effectiveness of the program. Whether it’s replacing a loaded movement with a bodyweight version or altering a workout based on equipment availability, there are certain changes you may need to make to keep your athletes moving forward—and your program must account for them.
 

The Takeaway

At the heart of the topic of program flexibility is the most important consideration in performance training: the safety of your athletes.
 
Let’s say you’ve got an athlete who misses a few weeks of training. If your program does not adjust for that absence of training stimulus, you may be headed for disaster. This is why rigid, off-the-shelf 4-, 12-, or even 32-week training programs aren’t a solution for your athletes. 

@@Bottom line: if your program is inflexible, then your program is not optimized for safety.@@
 
This is the driving force behind all Volt training and why we’ve built our system to allow for dynamic programming. Our mission is to make it as easy as possible for coaches to deliver safe, effective sport performance training to every athlete, no matter their training goal. Free workouts printed from a bodybuilding website—or static programs that don’t take into account age, experience, sport, season, and all the other factors a certified-strength coach uses to determine the appropriate training for their athletes—simply won’t give you the same guided flexibility necessary for seeing progressive improvement throughout balanced movement patterns—especially for athletes training for performance in a sport. A flexible, adjustable training plan that is written in pencil, not pen, is the best way to guarantee both performance results and safety for your athletes.
 


Join over 80,000 coaches and athletes using Volt's intelligent training system. For more information, click here.

Christye Estes, CSCS, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is an NSCA-certified strength coach and a Sport Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye