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Monitoring training is critical for success

This is an excerpt from Athletic Development eBook by Vernon A. Gambetta.

Training is a repeating (rollover) process consisting of four steps: assessment, planning, implementation, and monitoring. Monitoring this process is essential to making the training meaningful and keeping it on track. The most effective training programs that I have seen and implemented are those that have a built-in monitoring system. It does not have to be anything elaborate or scientific. Whatever it is, it just needs to be used consistently. Monitoring increases training effectiveness. The more consistent the monitoring, the more meaningful the information will be. Monitoring training allows you to reconcile what was planned for training and what was achieved. It is very specific to the sport, the performance level of the athlete, the age of the athlete, and the gender. Once a system of monitoring has been implemented, the information gathered must be straightforward and simple so that it can be easily interpreted and modifications can be made easily as needed.

The goal of training is the long-term adaptation of the cumulative training effect. You must monitor each of these effects in order to assess the program of training. Monitoring training will allow you to maintain control of the training process and ensure a proactive adaptive response. Planning the training and implementing the training are only two prongs of a three-pronged attack. Monitoring the training is the third.

Be specific. It is more than just gathering information; it is gathering information you can use. Jan Olbrecht, in his book The Science of Winning (2000, p. 225), gives the following analogy: “Testing a swimmer on a bicycle or treadmill in order to obtain the right information for water training is like taking temperature with a barometer; both have to do with the weather but measure something quite different.” The message is clear: Monitor the training quality for which you hope to achieve adaptation. The question, then, is what should be monitored. The answer is to monitor those components of training that are the focus of that particular training period. It is not possible to monitor too much. You must look at the factors of training stress as well as total life stress factors. Monitoring should be both subjective and objective where possible. Monitor what is practical. It is different for team sports and individual sports. Remember that a team is a collection of individuals. Know what you want to do with the information you gather. Decide how training monitoring will help you.

During certain training periods where particular qualities are emphasized, other qualities should be repressed. For example, during a heavy maximal-strength block of training, explosive power and maximal speed will tend to be inhibited. This must be monitored. Perhaps the simplest training indices to look at throughout the training year that can give good objective feedback is a simple jump test protocol consisting of squat jump, countermovement jump, repetitive jump, and stiffness jump tests. These tests can be easily administered as part of training without detracting from the athletes’ performance. They monitor the state of the nervous system. A one-shot battery of these tests will establish a baseline, but remember that there is a learning curve. Performance on these tests will improve with practice. This must be taken into account when establishing a baseline. These tests should be administered frequently throughout training in order to monitor training status of strength, elastic strength, and repetitive power. I want to emphasize that the comparison must be intraindividual and must be looked at serially over time.

A preworkout assessment can be useful in anticipating problems in training. It uses a 10-point scale graded from 1 (“I feel great”) to 10 (“I feel absolutely awful”). I use this in comparison with the postpractice training demand rating to see if there is a relationship. My feeling is that this will give me feedback on the residual effect of the prior training session and a window into life stress. Another aspect of the training demand rating scale is that as a coach I will project what I think the training demand of a particular workout should be and I will compare that with the actual training demand as reported by the athlete. The two numbers should be fairly close. If there is a wide divergence, then I really need to reassess the process. The key to this is honest feedback from athletes. They are active participants in the process. I stress that training is not something you do to the athlete; it is something you do with the athlete. The training demand rating scale will make training work for each athlete.

Perhaps the simplest and most effective means of monitoring training is a detailed training log. The log is an athlete’s personal monitoring tool. It should represent the athlete’s input about responses to training. Each log, regardless of the sport or person, should contain certain basic information. The log should monitor factors outside of training: sleep, diet, and other stressors that can have an effect on training. The coach’s training log should be as detailed as possible and still practical in order to isolate variables to identify possible patterns. It should incorporate the following: evaluation of planned work versus work completed, rating of the athlete’s response to the work, and a breakdown of the duration of each training component.

The rating of perceived exertion scale (Borg 1998) is another valuable tool, and it can be easily adapted for use in a team as well as an individual sport. It can be used in rating training demand on individual components of the workout or for the workout as a whole. It really depends on how detailed you want to get. Regardless of how you apply it, it provides reliable feedback on the stress of training in healthy exercisers. Perceived exertion is certainly not a new concept. It originated with Gunnar Borg, a Swedish exercise scientist, who designed an RPE scale for use in monitoring training stress in cardiac rehabilitation. Conceptually, athletes simply rate how hard they think they are working by assigning a number to the sensation of their effort.

For simplicity and ease of use, many coaches use a 10-point scale that has proven to be effective in the athlete population. Athletes must first be educated on the effort relative to the assigned numerical value. It must be fine-tuned for each athlete in order to provide reliable feedback on training stress. I use such a scale by having the athlete, at the conclusion of the workout, state out loud or in writing the effort of the workout. I have found it useful once I orient the athletes to the scale to allow them to develop their own verbal descriptors for the various points on the scale. This personalizes the process, which makes the information that much more meaningful.

Monitoring will also help you assess how the performance was achieved. Two athletes can do the same workout, achieve the same results, and have opposite adaptive responses. One may have to tap deep into the adaptive reserve to achieve the result and the other may require much less effort. That is why it is so important to have additional means of monitoring training. Also monitor readiness for the workout and monitor indices of adaptation.

This is an excerpt from Athletic Development.