Resistance Training: How to Design a Program for Your Sport

4th July 2016

Resistance Training

How to Design a Program for Your Sport

Evaluation And Assessment

The most important step in designing a resistance training program to a specific sport is to evaluate the characteristics of the sport and to assess the athlete’s physical profile.
A resistance training program should mirror the movement patterns of the sport as closely as is possible.

The early stages of the program mostly focus on developing a general strength base, however, as the competitive season approaches, conditioning exercises should become more specifically tailored to the individual sport.

The same applies to the physiological demands of the sport – a cross country runner for example, requires high levels of muscular endurance. A volleyball player would benefit from explosive power and a football lineman from exceptional muscle mass. A hockey player would benefit from basic strength, explosive power and strength endurance.

Assessing The Athlete

  • Commitment/availability – how are you going to ensure the program is realistic for the athlete?
  • Prioritise through fitness testing – what areas need most work?
  • Phases of the sport – where is the athlete at in the season, what are the goals?

Exercise Selection

Once a movement analysis of the sport has been considered and the strength objective for the program set (i.e. hypertrophy, maximum strength, power, strength endurance or a combination of several), the most appropriate exercises can be selected. This is prioritising, and it plays a key role in exercise selection when train for sport performance specificity.

  • Core exercises (those that incorporate one or more large muscle groups) should form the basis of a training program. Examples include back squats, bench presses, dead lifts and should presses. Core exercises directed towards more power development include power cleans, push jerks and snatches.
  • Assistance exercises are used when explosive power and strength endurance are more a priority (perhaps for a late pre-season strength program). Assistance exercises recruit smaller muscle groups and are usually single joint exercises. They help to maintain balance between agonists and antagonist muscle groups, and they can also closely match some of the movements in sport…

Kicking – leg extensions, hip abduction/adduction

Jumping – power cleans, calf presses, jump squats

Rowing – seated rows, hip sled, single arm rows

Swimming (front crawl) – lat pull downs, lateral raises, overhead pulls

Sprinting – lunges, step-ups, calf raises

Throwing – overhead pullovers, triceps extensions, internal/external shoulder rotations

It is extremely important to note that even though mirroring sport specific movements is an important design variable, it should not be to the neglect of other major muscle groups. A resistance training program should aim to develop balance throughout the body even if the sport has an upper or lower body emphasis. This is an important step in injury prevention.


Most athletes choose to lift weights in 3 workouts a week. This often works well allowing enough recovery time and fits nicely into the 7-day week. More advanced lifters may benefit from more than 3 sessions, but this is highly dependant on the sport and the individual. Eg. some of us taker longer to recover than others. Beginners are usually recommended to start with two, total body sessions a week.

Guidelines from the National Strength and Conditioning Association suggest that there should be at least one rest day but not more than three between working each muscle group.

When planning training frequency it is also important to take the phases of season into consideration:

  • Off Season – 4-6 sessions per week
  • Pre Season – 3-4 sessions per week
  • In Season – 1-2 sessions per week
  • Transition – 0-3 sessions per week

Of course frequency design cannot be complete without taking other elements of training (such as speed and endurance sessions) into account. A resistance training program for a hockey player for example, might be coupled with plyometric training. In this scenario, only two resistance training sessions per week is feasible.

Exercise Order

The order in which exercises are performed in a session should never be overlooked. Sports conditioning is more demanding than general fitness training and with various forms of training often taking place in the week it’s important to maximise the overload to recovery ratio.

Here are 3 common ways or planning exercise order:

  • Power – Core – Assistance: Eg. power cleans (which involves the most complex movements) should start the session if they are included.

Hang cleans (power)
Back Squats (core)
Bench Presses (core)
Bent Over Rows (assistance)
Triceps Push Downs (assistance)

  • Upper and lower body alternation: Eg.

Seated Rows
Leg Curls
Reverse Flies
Calf Presses
Barbell Curls

  • The push-pull format

Loading & Repetitions

Assigning the right intensity or load to the exercises depends on 2 factors:

  • Training objective
  • Level of strength.

Loads are usually assigned as a percentage of the athlete’s one repetition maximum.



From phase to phase over the course of a season, resistance training should progress from general strength to sport-specific power and strength endurance. The in-season sees a reduction in training volume where the goal is to maintain the gains made in the off and pre-season phases.

From session to session loads and volume must increase gradually. The 2-for-2 rule is a useful guideline for increasing the resistance. For example, 3 sets of 8 repetitions may be prescribed for a particular exercise. When the athlete completes 2 more repetitions (i.e. 10 reps) on the final set for 2 consecutive sessions the weight should be increased. For smaller muscle groups an increase of 2.5-5lbs (1.25-2.5kg) is suggested and 5-10lbs (2.5-5kg) for larger muscle groups.


Contact Us with questions!!

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