7 Principles of Exercise and Sports Training

7 Principles of Exercise and Sports Training

When you approach your sport training, the best way to answer any questions you may have is to better understand the principles behind the work you are putting in to improve and then ensure that there is a direct correlation between your training and your sport. These are seven basic principles of exercise or sport training you will want to keep in mind:


Everyone is different and responds differently to training. Some people are able to handle higher volumes of training while others may respond better to higher intensities. This is based on a combination of factors like genetic ability, predominance of muscle fibre types, other factors in your life, chronological or athletic age, and mental state. I would advise that you always keep communication lines open with your coach and give as much feedback as possible to them so that they can tweak you training to best suit you. 

Consult also with your physiotherapist if you feel there are elements of your training that maybe causing a spike in soft tissue injuries or abnormal fatigue levels. You may also seek the advice of a sports nutritionist who will help you meet your calorie needs and maximise your training output and boost recovery.


Improving your ability in a sport is very specific. If you want to be a great gaelic footballer or hurler, running laps will help your overall conditioning but it won’t develop your skills at kicking/ball striking or improve the power and muscular endurance required to excel in the physical aspects of the game. 

Another example could be that cycling will help improve your aerobic endurance but it won’t develop tissue resiliency and muscular endurance for your running legs and so you will become more prone to soft tissue injuries and reduced aerobic/anaerobic performance. As I have said to many players I have yet to see a bicycle in a gaelic football or hurling game so why have cycling as a major component of you training.


To reach the roof of your ability, you have to climb the first flight of stairs before you can exit the 20th floor and stare out over the landscape and wallow in victory. 

You can view this from both a technical skills standpoint as well as from a strength and conditioning standpoint. In order to perform a back squat you need to be able to maintain your body position and breathing pattern to execute the exercise. There is a technique that needs to be mastered so if it means you start with just a 20kg bar or broom handle in order to perfect the exercise then so be it. 

In order to progress and complete 6 sets of 5 reps in a strength block you also need to build your foundation and your muscular endurance well enough before even considering such a progression. 


To increase strength and endurance, you need to add new resistance or time/intensity to your efforts. This principle works in concert with progression. For example to run a 10-kilometre race, athletes need to build up distance over repeated sessions in a reasonable manner in order to improve muscle adaptation as well as improve soft tissue strength/resiliency. Any demanding exercise attempted too soon risks injury. 

The same principle holds true for strength and power exercises especially if you are a young athlete or if you are returning from an injury and you are stepping up your training. Overload in a graduated fashion.


Over time the body becomes accustomed to exercising at a given level. This adaptation results in improved efficiency, less effort and less muscle breakdown at that level. That is why in the days after completing your first gym session of a new season or training block you experience muscle soreness and take an extra day or two to recover. After a few sessions your body and mind begins to adapt and you begin to feel stronger and more powerful and over the course of a block your body has adapted to the stressors that you have placed on it.

This is why you need to change the stimulus via higher intensity or longer duration in order to continue improvements. The same holds true for adapting to lesser amounts of exercise.


The body cannot repair itself without rest and time to recover. Both short periods like hours between multiple sessions in a day and longer periods like days or weeks to recover from a long season are necessary to ensure your body does not suffer from exhaustion or overuse injuries.

Jumping back into the world of gaelic football and hurling we have seen the dangers of not allowing players ample time to recover specifically with the national leagues and third level colleges competitions running concurrently with some players suffering season ending injuries in February. Managers of teams and dare I say Strength and Conditioning Coaches who should know better placed huge work loads on players with little or no understanding of recovery principles.

My advice to any player or athlete in any discipline is to listen to your own body and communicate effectively with your coaches should you feel your training is suffering. Motivated athletes often neglect this. At the basic level, the more you train the more sleep your body needs, despite the adaptations you have made to said training. So get your nutrition input on point and sleep sleep sleep!


If you discontinue application of a particular exercise like running five miles or bench pressing 80 kgs 10 times, you will lose the ability to successfully complete that exercise. Your muscles will atrophy and the cellular adaptations like increased capillaries (blood flow to the muscles) and mitochondria density will reverse. You can slow this rate of loss substantially by conducting a maintenance/reduced program of training during periods where life gets in the way, and is why just about all sports coaches ask their athletes to stay active in the offseason.

The principles of specificity, progression, overload, adaptation, and reversibility are why practicing frequently and consistently are so important if you want to improve your performance. 

Missed sessions cannot really be made up within the context of a single season. They are lost opportunities for improvement. Skipping your long ride on a weekend means you can’t or shouldn’t go as far as originally planned the following weekend (progression & overload). 

Missing your Tuesday field session means your skills and muscles won’t be honed or stressed that day (specificity) and you will see reduced performance in your Thursday field session. Missing a week due to a holiday or that stag/hen weekend sets you back more than one week (adaptation and reversibility). 

Apply these principles to your training to get a better understanding of your body and how to achieve success and best of luck for the season and year ahead.