How to Organize Training Sessions

This week's post comes courtesy of Gregory Seale, Sport Performance & Corrective Exercise Specialist. Gregory has worked with many athletes over the years and is the former strength & conditioning coach for Trinidad and Tobago Men's Soccer Team.

The human body is a majestic work of art that allows for an increase in strength and other fitness related factors due to its amazing biological adaptation to stress. Athletes, whether recreational or elite are often subjected to training loads that exceed their tolerance thresholds. As a result from pushing beyond his or her physiological limits, fatigue occurs. The higher the level of fatigue, the higher negative training after-effects. This will ultimately affect the body’s recovery rate, power output, strength and coordination.

According to Verkhoshansky and Siff (2009), training can be defined initially as the process of imposing physical loading in a particular way to achieve a specific type of fitness. It is important to note the body will adapt with a specific type of fitness to any demand put on it once the loading does not exceed the adaptive capabilities of the body. If loading does exceed the body’s ability to adapt there will be diminishing returns.

When planning short term or long term training, it is important to understand that training results in two after-effects that can either positively or negatively affect performance: fitness and fatigue. The fitness after-effect will be a positive physiological response while a fatigue after-effect would render negatively.

The fitness-fatigue model was proposed by E.W. Bannister in 1982 and states that different training stresses result in different physiological responses.

Figure 1. Fitness-Fatigue revised model (Chiu and Barnes, 2003).

For example, absolute load, training intensity, and total work, according to Chiu and Barnes (2003), have their own fitness and fatigue after effects. Figure 1 suggests multiple fitness and fatigue after-effects. It is also important to note that even though specific fitness and fatigue after-effects are independent of each other, there is a cumulative effect.

The Training Day

There are three different types of strength training that can have varied physiological effects on the body: maximal strength, maximal intensity, and maximal work. Maximal intensity training has sub-maximal loads lifted at high speed for multiple sets with low to moderate repetitions (3-5 reps). Max strength training are near-maximal lifts for multiple sets with few repetitions (anywhere from 3-6 reps).  Maximal work training is usually a high volume of lifting performed at sub maximal loads (8-12 reps). See Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Maximal intensity training has a very high fitness after-effect and is done over a short period. Maximal work has the lowest fitness after-effect but the duration is long. Max strength and max intensity both have high fatigue for a brief period while max work will give low levels of fatigue for a longer time.

When organizing the training session, maximal work will always be last with maximal intensity and maximal strength done before. Elite athletes can perform max strength before max intensity as they can take advantage of post-tetanic potentiation. Post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) is the maximum arousal of the neuromuscular system with the aim of increasing the discharge rate of fast twitch fibers. It fires you up! Novice athletes however should always perform max intensity before max strength. Since the lesser trained athlete will not have a large training baseline, fatigue will be greater following max strength and will affect the quality of the max intensity training block.

Instead of training multiple strength qualities in a single session, the elite athlete may consider two sessions for the day. Research shows when total training volume was equal, athletes who trained twice per day improved strength more than individuals who trained once per day (Chiu and Barnes, 2003). Multiple training sessions may be better suited for athletes with a large training base.

The Training Week

By applying the same idea to the training week, focus on maximal intensity (speed and power) early in the week since the fatigue after-effect, although high, is very brief. Consequently, any negative effect on other training days will be very small but the fitness after-effect being high may affect the following training days positively. A max strength day could be added after completing days of max intensity training while max work can be completed at the end of the training week just before the recovery period. Training in this order allows for the cumulative fatigue on the body to recover with rest days. At times, one day may be enough for recovery. Consideration must be given to proper nutrition, sleep, supplementation (if necessary) and recovery techniques (massage, ice baths etc.) to assist in the overall performance enhancement goal. Happy New Year, Happy Lifting!


1) Chiu, L.Z.F., Barnes, J.L. (2003). The fitness-fatigue model revisited: implications for planning short- and long-term training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 25(6), 42-51.

2) Verkhoshansky, Y., Siff, M., (2009) Super training (6ed.) Rome: Verkhoshansky.

3) Bompa, T.O., Carrera, M.C., (2005) Periodization training for sports (2ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.