Many strength and conditioning coaches are in search of the most effective training program for their athletes. They rack their minds about sets, reps, volume, intensity and other manageable variables that may be the key to a successful off-season. Let there be no doubt that these variables are important, but we’re here to let you know a couple important truths about training programs. Firstly, there will be a great of inter-individual variation in how athletes respond to a given program. Some athletes will improve, some will stay the same and some may even regress regardless of the program. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true. Secondly, non-training related factors play a large role in the recovery and adaptation process that have direct effects on performance outcomes following a program. This means that narrowing your focus to only the training program overlooks this important point.
How do non-training related variables effect an individual’s adaptation to a training program? In a 2008 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the effect of stress on training adaptations was tested in a large cohort of undergraduate students. Before and after a 12-week resistance training program, 135 college students completed a survey about their perceived stress levels. One repetition maximums (1RM) for the squat and bench press were also assessed at pre and post-training. The sample was divided into a “low stress” and “high stress” group based on survey results. Despite following an identical training programs (sets, reps, days per week, intensity, volume, etc.), the low stress group experienced a significantly greater increase in 1RM Bench and Squat compared to the high stress group following the training program.
The results of this study demonstrate nicely how non-training related factors can effect training adaptation. This has also been shown to occur with fitness changes as well. The body can only handle so much stress, whether it is from training or from life events. The stress response is catabolic in nature, and will impede the build up and repair of tissues if not managed. Coaches are encouraged therefore to not stress over minute details in the training program, but to stick to solid training principles and educate their athletes on the effects of life-style factors that play a huge role in how they will respond to training and thus affect their performance on the field.
Bartholomew JB, Stults-Kolehmainen MA, Elrod CC, Todd JS. Strength gains after resistance training: the effect of stressful, negative life events. J Str Cond Res. 2008;22(4):1215-21.