Being a sport trainer in the private sector can have some significant drawbacks. The job presents many complex problems that you don’t think exist until you actually encounter them yourself. For starters, you aren't afforded the luxury of having multiple years to develop the athlete with whom you're working. Next, being a third party who isn't involved with team training programs can present some serious challenges. Finally, when an athlete—or his or her parents—comes to you for help, his or her work ethic is always a complete unknown. In dealing with these issues, the idea as a trainer is to mold your philosophy accordingly and this starts with your approach.

Physical performance is all about biological adaptations, and biological outputs like aerobic capacity, recovery capacity, and nervous system performance can all be manipulated and improved through training.

Here is a breakdown of what is included in manipulating these things:

  • Increased cardiac output
  • Hyperplasia of the fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers (this depends largely on genetics)
  • Hyperplasia of the mitochondria (more mitochondria = more energy)
  • Optimization of the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic and sympathetic)
  • Increased lean muscle mass

Trainers should approach their job with these criteria in mind because biological output is the best indicator of performance potential, coming way before bench press numbers and 40-yard dash times. Examining an athlete’s previous training—what they have and haven't done—is another critical element. To be able to perform optimally in training and competition, an athlete requires 3000–5000 hours of base work.

It’s important to decide which biological adaptations are most relevant to the sport for which your athlete is training. Physiological requirements vary greatly from one sport to the next, so positive changes in the athlete, as a result of training, should reflect these requirements. For a marathoner, you wouldn’t focus on the bench press and for a football player you wouldn’t focus on his 5K time. However, be aware that there should always be balance in the systems regardless of which ones you focus on. For example, if you stress muscle growth in a football player and neglect aerobic fitness, he can't display the resulting strength and power over a sixty-minute game. This is because his aerobic system wasn’t developed in training to help his muscles recover as he plays. So regardless of which systems you choose to focus on, be sure to keep a balance between them all.

Once I have established which systems to focus on, I make long- and short-term goals for training. These goals as well as the athlete’s performance during workouts mold the day-to-day training sessions.

Here is a breakdown of my philosophy on how to evaluate a training session:

    1. Take into account long- and short-term goals
    2. Create daily training goals: Evaluate today’s performance.
      • Which adaptation am I looking for?
      • Take into account the cumulative, immediate, and postponed effects of today’s training.
      • Test the athlete on the Omegawave before the workout to determine the following:
        • Is he parasympathetic? (decrease volume at same intensity)
        • Is he sympathetic? (same volume, decrease intensity)

As a coach, it’s vital to evaluate your athletes on a daily and even set-to-set basis. This gives you a picture of how ready they are to train in the moment, which is a great tool in being able to adjust their workout or even give them a complete rest day. Sometimes rest will help the athlete achieve his overall goals faster than forcing him to train when he's fatigued. Another tool to use in determining readiness is to consult the athlete on sleep habits, diet, and lifestyle. Make sure these things are in order. Once these changes are made, you'll begin to see if there was a positive impact on performance and daily readiness. Keep in mind that changes may take a few days, weeks, or even months. The training process is a continuous model, which is shaped as the athlete responds both positively and negatively.

Finally, it’s important to take the athlete’s temperament into account. This will contribute to the way a program is designed because your ability to communicate with your athletes will make or break the effectiveness of your program. Getting results from a hardworking athlete requires a different approach than getting something out of a lazier athlete. As trainers, we must never forget that the most important problem we’re solving is making difficult things easy. For this goal, we need to be very simple and natural in our approach, and we need to get our athletes to train longer and harder without too much pressure. Consistent hard training will only burn athletes out and take away their joy—and the constant analysis of training will take away any pleasure from the process.

Seeing athletes for their biology as opposed to their performance can be a difficult adjustment for any coach. To show how this approach looks in an actual training program, the story of Stevie Coury is particularly instructive.

Stevie is a five foot, eleven inch receiver who weighs 160 pounds, undersized to say the least.  Regardless of his size, he is extremely talented and is headed to play at Oregon State (OSU) in January 2013. He came to me to get him ready to play at the collegiate level. The typical American trainer would look at Stevie and think, “He needs to gain weight” or “He isn't very strong.” I recognized that Stevie was small, but he is exceptionally quick and reactive. The problem with the American system is it focuses only on size and strength. Trainers need to focus on an athlete’s natural gifts and work on the weaknesses. I focused on Stevie’s speed and his reactivity and also helped him gain lean muscle mass. I kept a good balance in his systems by building his aerobic capacity, which dropped his resting heart rate from 88 beats per minute to 70 beats per minute. This will allow his speed to be maintained over the whole course of a game.

Stevie’s vertical jump went from 31.6 inches to 37.3 inches in twelve weeks. His box jump went from 51 inches to 65 inches, which is the highest I’ve seen at the Performance Training Center (PTC) in eight years. Stevie’s ten-second jump test went from 4.76 (medium power) to 6.48 (very high specific power), which is also a PTC all-time record. These results were achieved over a relatively short amount of time and will enable Stevie to play to his full potential at OSU. Had I focused exclusively on strength, the gains in performance wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive. Stevie’s biology is that of speed and quickness. Seeing that allowed me, as a trainer, to help him achieve record-breaking results like a six-inch increase in his vertical. (I've included the last block of his training program below).

Having approached Stevie’s training from a standpoint of his strengths and weaknesses, both trainer and athlete understood which direction to take with the actual training. As well as being safer, this approach breeds a desire to achieve in an athlete. Being able to provide exact, precise, and timely evaluation creates the perfect situation for athletes to thrive in training. When you start with the right approach, the hurdles of training athletes in the private sector can be surmounted, giving you the best results possible.

Stevie Coury, pre-season, block #3

Monday and Friday at Performance Training Center (Friday half volume from day 1)

  • Warm up on elliptical for 15–20 minutes
  • Dynamic warm-up on board
  • Fast jumps, 3 X 20 reps plus 2 minutes rest
  • Reactive jumps over boxes, 4–5 different heights, 4 sets X 3 reps plus 3 minutes rest
  • Squat jumps (rest 2–3 minutes), 3 sets X 8 reps plus 95 lbs
  • Split squat jumps (rest 2–3 minutes), 3 sets X 8 reps plus 95 lbs
  • Squats (rest 3–4 minutes between sets), 5–7 sets X 1 rep plus 230–255 lbs. After each squat, perform 30-yard sprint
  • Glute ham raise, 2–3 sets X 6–12 reps, rest 1 minute
  • Oxidative squats plus 95 lbs; week 1: 4 series X 4 reps of 40 seconds on and 60 seconds off followed by a 5-minute rest

Tuesday at Lake Oswego High School

  • Warm up on elliptical for 10 minutes
  • Conditioning: Walking lunges (add weight vest of 20–40 lbs); week 1: 3 X 10 minutes plus 5 minutes active rest between sets

Wednesday at Performance Training Center

  • Warm up on Elliptical for 10 minutes
  • Sprints, week :1 4 X 10 yards, 4 X 20 yards
  • Jumping exercises
    • Toe ups X 30 yards plus 4 reps
    • 18-inch box, on/off X 20 plus 3 reps
    • 18-inch box, up on/off X 20 plus 3 reps
    • Zigzag jumps over 18-inch pole, 2–3 sets X 12 plus 1 minute rest
    • LL/RR bounds X 3 reps
    • LLL/RRR bounds X 3 reps
      • Week 1: Complete series 2 times
      • Week 2: Complete series 3 times
      • Week 3: Complete series 1 time
      • Week 4: No jumps
  • Bench press, rest 2–3 minutes between sets (after each set of bench, do 3 reps explosive push-ups)
    • Week 1: 5 sets X 3RM
    • Week 2: 5 sets X 2RM
    • Week 3: 5 sets X 1RM
  • Chin-ups, set #1: max reps, rest 90 seconds; set #2: max 5 reps, rest 90 seconds; set #3: max 10 reps


Note from Inc Founder

If I had a top 10 list of Sports Performance Specialists Mark Mclaughlin would be on it. Mark is without a doubt the "best of the best".

If you would like to learn more from Mark you can follow his blog at Results. Period