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The Capacity Continuum: Exercise Classification

I have written previously about the Capacity - Skill Continuum, and how that is something an athletic development coach must carefully navigate to enhance player performance. This post will focus more on the capacity end on the continuum, and how Dynamic Correspondance influences exercise selection. The capacity contunuum ranges from general physical preparation (GPP) to specific physical preparation (SPP).

A simplified view of the Capacity-Skill continuum. My thoughts only.


Dynamic Correspondance

Dynamic Correspondance (DC) is a way to assess how well a training exercise relates (or corresponds) to sport performance. The greater the DC of a training exercise, the greater the proposed transfer to performance. DC is based around the SAID principle - Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. The more similar the imposed demands of training are to competition, the greater transfer to performance output. In this case, specificity refers to the imitation of sporting movements.


There are 5 principles of DC. Exercises with high levels of correspondance to sports performance generally tick off all 5 of these principles.


1) Amplitude and direction of movement

2) Accenuated region of force production

3) Dynamics of the effort

4) Rate and time of max force production

5) Regime of muscular work.


These 5 factors can be summarised down to two forms of specificity: movement pattern and physiological stimulus.


Exercise Classification

Capacity development exists on a continuum that ranges from pure capacity development, to specialised capacity deveopment. Dr Anatoliy Bondarchuk created an exercise classification system to plan and implement training programmes. Within this system, there are 4 classifications of exercise, with the movement pattern and the physiological stimulus defining what classification an exercise falls into:


1) General Preparatory Exercises (GPE): do not train the sporting movement or the physiological demands.

2) Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE): do not train the sporting movement, but trains the physiological demands.

3) Specific Development Exercises (SDE): Repeat part of the sporting movement.

4) Competitive Exercises (CE): Identical to the sporting movement.


Below are sample exercise classification exercises for varying skills in Gaelic Football:


Exercise Classification and it's role in periodisation

Its one thing identifying and classifying various exercises within an athlete preparation program, but it is another to incorporate the various exercise categories into a cohesive plan to positively influence athlete development or performance. This is the challenge as a coach, and decision making will depend on numerous factors. I will discuss 2 factors that will affect the training planning process: competition structure and athlete status


Competition structure

Competition structure can vary from sport to sport, but comparing the competition structure of indivudual sports to that of team sports provides a useful platform to analyse the differences in exercise classification. Individual sports (many of them, not all) have competitions spaced out over the year and athletes are able to plan out their training to taper into certain competitions and arrive in peak physical condition. This can be common in track and field sports, with scheduled competition meets throughtout the year, but a sport I will use is MMA, and specifically the UFC competition. In 2019, I listened to Duncan French speak about fighter preparation in the UFC. Training camps for fighters are a tradeoff between weight management and performance optimization. Typically, fighters come in for 8-week training camps in the lead up to fights, termed “fight camps”. These are 8 weeks long because of tradition and that’s the way it has always been done. During his presentation, Duncan detailed a possible alternative for fighters, through a linear or block periodisation strategy:

  • 6 week GPP

  • 6 week SPP

  • 4 week competition phase

A major difficulty for UFC fighters and coaches is that it is difficult to make a plan of longer than 2/3 months as fights don’t get arranged a long time in advance. It could easily be a case that a fighter has less than 2 weeks to prepare for a fight. However, if the opportunity arises, fighters can go through a relatively linear progression from GPP, to SPP, to competition preparation in the build up to a fight with the aim of peaking on the big night.


Contrast this (ideal) competition structure in the UFC, with the competition structure in team sports. In many team sport competitions, players are expected to perform every week, if not multiple times per week. For example, this season Liverpool competed in 3 cup finals and were in contention for the Premier League on the last day of the season. Typically, they had Premier League games on every weekend from August to May, but also had to play midweek games in the League Cup, Champions League, or postponed games. With this competition structure, players cannot go through a period of GPP, followed by SPP and then competition prep and then peak once every 2/3 months. Instead they need to continuosly develop capacities and prepare for competition. A linear or block periodisation model isn't feasible in this case. A useful philosophy for team sports is Charlie Francis' Vertical Integration training system. Using this system, no training quality is ever removed from the training program, instead different qualities are prioritsed at different stages. Simply: practitioners should look to train all qualities, all of the time, and identify windows of opportunities to develop certain qualities at appropriate times in a given week or phase.


It is important to clarify the difference here between training a quality and developing it. Training a quality is implementing the principle of revesibility: use it or lose it. Take max speed for example. It is important that a player is routinely exposed to max speed sprinting (>95% max velocity) at least once every 7-14 days to ensure they do not lose that quality. This can be achieved within 2 x 40m sprint efforts after a warm up, so the total tume to train the quality is very low. 2 phrases to describe training a quality is "scratch the surface" or "tickle the dragon". Developing max speed however might require a greater investment of time. Time is a finite resource, so if athletes are spending more time working on their max speed, training time for something else will have to be reduced. There may be periods in a year that this is possible and suitable for the circumstances, and it will likely pay benefits from a physical performance and injury prevention point of view. But to put it simply, football players need to train their sport, like rugby players need to train their sport.


To give an example of vertical integration, these examples may highlight the role of "microdosing" physical qualities into a given training week.

  • Incorporating SPE (as shown above) work into warm-ups. Following a RAMP warm up protocol, for the Potentiaition aspect prior to the main session, players can go through a mini circuit consisting of SL/DL hops, hurdle jumps and med ball throw/toss. This is a very small does that may happen once or twice per week depending on the number of warm-ups and session structures. But it is enough to scratch the surface of the physical qualites to ensure athletes don't lose it.

  • Using SDE work in the build up to a pitch session. As a follow on to a warm up for a "fast" pitch session, players can undergo some resisted sprints, sled work etc. This will allow them to hit this quality in a small does to ensure it doesn't have a fatiguing effect on players, and may actually prime players for their session.

Athlete status

When I speak about athlete status, I am talking about the developmental stage of an athlete. Are they in a talent development environment or a high performance environment? Is their focus to perform to their best in their game in 3 days time, or develop to maximise their performance in 5 years? Where does the athlete currently sit on the development-performance continuum? This awareness will assist with exercise selection within training sessions during a given week or period.


When looking at this factor, it is useful to look at one physical quality specifically. In this case, I will look at the aerobic system (which I have spoken about previously here). The scenario is:

You have a Thursday night session before a Saturday game (MD-2). You have 20 minutes of training time left to plan for. How does athlete staus influence your decision?

  • If the team you are working with is an under 14 team, I would look to use that 20 minutes to service their long term development, even if it means they are a little bit more fatigued going into the game on the Saturday (GPP focus). My priority would be to use that 20 mins for Aerobic development at the end of the session, through a combination of conditioning games and maybe some tempo runs (prioritising the conditioning games at that age).

  • If the team was a professional adult team, I would look to ensure that whatever I do minimises fatigue. Something like a small number of max intensity sprints, over varying distances with long rest periods in between would be suitable (SDE of CE focused). I would ensure that this happens at the start of a session, post warm-up. Minimise fatigue and maximise readiness to perform.

Conclusion

This post explained the importance of Dynamic Correspondance and Exercise Classification on exercise selection. It is important to be aware of the capacity continuum to ensure that you are maximising either physical development or physical performance as needed. However, it is even more important to be aware that the capacity continuum exists within the Capacity-Skill Continuum. While it may maximise the capacity to perform, attention must still be given to the performance itself, and athletes must be prepared to deal with the problems and specifying information they face in the competitive arena. In the context of sprinting (one of the examples shown), CE would be sprints of varying distances. However, there is another layer to speed, and that is gamespeed. Gamespeed is a skill and must also be developed.

It is important to remember this:

HPTFS v2. Chapter 17 - Translating Athletic Qualities into Sports Performance, by Duncan French


Further reading

ALTIS, Foundation Course.

HPTFS v2. Chapter 17 - Translating Athletic Qualities into Sports Performance





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