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Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day - Part 1

The planning and organization of training is fundamental to the optimal development of any athlete or client. The concept of periodization presented by Dmitri Matveyev in the 1960s and later revised and popularized in the Western hemisphere by Tudor Bompa (1) in the 1980s has revolutionized the way we approach training and sport conditioning today. Bompa and other founding fathers formalized structured models of applying the progressive overload theory to the training process at different stages of development throughout the athletic career. These and various other methods appearing in literature today have been used successfully by coaches around the world in the long term preparation of elite athletes.

The key to long term physical development begins at a very early age as children learn to coordinate their bodies and perform basic motor tasks. Unfortunately a large majority of industry methodology would suggest that these motor tasks are learned naturally and need not be drilled. For example, how often are young children told to go out and run endlessly around the pitch to condition their bodies for soccer? This exercise relies on the assumption that these young individuals know how to run a very complex motor task involving the intricate coordination and firing patterns of almost every muscle in the body. The point is, our young athletes must be taught how to perform these movements safely and correctly across short distances prior to the introduction of more volumous activities.

This approach relies on the implementation of a sound multi year plan that recognizes the individual characteristics of each child. Further, this plan should progress these individuals beyond their athletic career through all the stages of development. Several long term models have been presented in literature, (1, 3, 4); however, few - if any, carry the process beyond the athletic career and recognize the importance of fitness and healthy living to the retired athlete. Quite often our heroes of yesterday have a difficult time making wise lifestyle decisions throughout this transitional period. They are often left to their own devices to rehabilitate injuries and reintegrate into a more general physical fitness and lifestyle program.

The following model recognizes these and other critical factors and aims to support positive outcomes at all stages of development.

EPTS 7 Stage Model of Periodization (11)

  1. Motor Learning Stage: (age: 6-12)
  2. General Athletic Development Stage: (age: 10-16)
  3. Specific Fitness and Skill Development Stage (age: 14-18)
  4. Competitive Stage (16 +)
  5. Post Competitive Stage (end of athletic career)
  6. General Health Stage (1 -2 years following athletic career)
  7. Vitality Stage (65+)

As with many other models, the EPTS model associates chronological age with different stages of development. Notice that the ages overlap, demonstrating recognition for individual rates of maturation and the peak sporting age principle (1, 3). That is, certain athletes will progress more quickly due to early maturation, or because high performance in their chosen sport is associated with a younger chronological age (e.g. women’s gymnastics, figure skating). Alternatively, other athletes may progress more slowly based on delayed maturation or an older peak sporting age (e.g. sprinting, weighlifting).

Motor Learning Stage (6-12)

Traditional early childhood development models recommend a low intensity/high volume approach with a dominant focus on strength-endurance and aerobic endurance exercise. I strongly oppose this viewpoint and suggest that higher relative intensity at lower volumes will yield significantly greater results. It is important to qualify this statement as I am not suggesting that these young children should be performing Olympic lifts by the age of eight. What I am suggesting is exercises that are challenging to perform over low to moderate repetitions (6-12) at controlled rates of travel (tempo) should be prioritized in an effort to build a strength foundation. For example, it is far more beneficial to perfect the technique and recruitment patterns in a static lunge over low repetitions than it is to have these youngsters lunging across the soccer pitch.

These children do not have the strength-endurance to maintain form in these complex movement patterns over high repetitions. In essence, this philosophy recommends the performance of extremely challenging exercises at high volumes. This approach neglects the most fundamental principle of strength-endurance; you must have strength prior to building the capacity to endure it! We must aim to challenge children’s strength and recruitment patterns by progressively increasing the demands of the exercise prior to attempting to build strength-endurance or aerobic capacity.

The strength-endurance advocates will argue that these children are not anatomically or physiologically prepared to handle high intensity exercise. Yet, we have them sprinting, jumping and bounding in many of their activities. These skilled movements require a tremendous amount of strength and coordination in the lower body and trunk. Repetitious abdominal crunches as are classically applied in these stages will contribute little to the stability of the trunk and pelvis in these movements. In fact these types of strength-endurance exercises are contributing to postural deviations and muscle imbalances which significantly increase injury potential. All this damage has to be undone in the latter stages of the training plan, thereby halting further progress.

Exercises that challenge the strength and coordination of these young athletes' should be prioritized above the more metabolically driven stimuli. They must also be selected in a manner that recognizes the anatomical, physiological and psychological development at different developmental stages. This approach prepares young athletes bodies for the impact of the complex motor tasks involved in sport at any level.

The motor learning stage as the title suggests is focused on the development of general motor skills such as running, jumping, hopping, throwing, catching and kicking. A strong focus is placed on the general physical qualities of body awareness, agility, coordination, balance, strength, and quickness. Contrary to popular belief, the focus should be placed on anaerobic activities (3, 4) as opposed to building the “aerobic base”. This approach shifts the focus to quality above quantity, thereby avoiding the inherent risk of developing poor movement patterns and ingraining suboptimal neural pathways. Transitional muscle fibres and metabolic mechanisms are also more likely to take on strength and power characteristics (6, 7), a principal adaptation required for the majority of sporting activities. This approach also stresses the importance of technique at a very young age and contributes to a greater understanding of the training process as the athlete matures.


General Athletic Development Stage (10-16)

The general athletic development stage is a challenging stage for coaches and trainers due to the individual rates of maturation and structural development. Athletes will experience growth spurts at different rates throughout this stage. Their bodies often feel foreign to them as they experience difficulties with balance, coordination, strength and flexibility. These physical qualities must be challenged in a manner that creates success for these individuals. The exercises and drills must be programmed in a manner that recognizes the individual needs of each athlete at their relative level of development. Quite often this involves splitting the athletes up into smaller groups, or working with them individually.


Specific Fitness and Skill Development Stage (14-18)

The specific fitness and skill development stage as the name stipulates focuses on perfecting specific skills and maximizing specific fitness attributes. Specialization of the positions within the sport has been established. Athletes have almost fully developed structurally and physiologically, therefore training should become progressively more challenging through the introduction and implementation of higher intensity modes of training. With the increase in training intensity, training volume must be monitored carefully with longer recovery periods worked into the plan.


Competitive Stage (16+)

The goal of the competitive stage is to achieve peak conditioning and sporting excellence. The focus is on winning! Training plans are highly specialized throughout this stage and demonstrate considerable recognition for the individual characteristics of the athlete. Particular attention is placed on the dominant physical qualities that demonstrate increased performance in the sport. Training intensity increases, volume fluctuates regularly, and recuperative breaks are frequently scheduled into the annual plan. Relatively little general training is conducted as multilateral development has been well established.


For many athletes and coaches, the method of preparation in the competitive stage has changed dramatically. Athletes in the Western hemisphere are exposed to rigorous schedules leaving little time left to train (Baseball, Hockey). Many of these individuals are expected to compete and win year round (e.g. Tennis, Golf). The incidence of injury is rising exponentially as the seasons get longer and competition demands increase. As conditioning coaches, we have our hands full simply trying to keep these athletes in the game. Improvements in the specific physical qualities fundamental to many of these sports are sacrificed in favour of injury prevention measures.

This is particularly true of athletes nearing the end of their career. Despite all the efforts of the coaches and therapists, these individuals are often riddled with aches and pains. It is the responsibility of the coach to educate the athlete about the impact of ongoing training and competition to their post career health. The number one priority at this point should be to focus on the quality of life after sport. In part II of this article, I will discuss strategies to help athletes through the challenging post competitive stage and present the final two stages in the EPTS long term planning model (11).

For those interested in more information on Mark Mancino’s approach to Program Design and Periodization, please visit for upcoming seminar dates, or e-mail him at


  1. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training,4th Edition by: Tudor Bompa
  2. A Coaches/Parents Guide to Developing the Young Soccer Player by: Istvan Bayli


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  4. Bayli, I. 2001: Keys to Success – Long Term Athlete Development, Society of Weight Training Injury Symposium, Canada
  5. Yessis, Micheal, Trubo, Richard 1987: Secrets of Soviet Sports Fitness and Training, Collins Publishers, Canada
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