Step Loading Strategies For The Athletic Population

Loading strategies directly affect the process of improvement in performance within the athletic population. The overall workloads of the athlete over the course of specified period of time must increase on a gradual basis and be manipulated over this time period in order for physiological performance characteristics to improve (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). The manipulations and variations in workloads and invariably load, are based upon physiological, cognitive, and psychological components of the athlete in addition to training experience, and competitive cycles (Bompa et al., 2019).

Training loads in general are a combination of intensity, volume, and frequency (Bompa et al., 2019). The training load is based upon these variables in which manipulation occurs in order to elicit the desired training effect within the athlete (Baechle et al., 1991). The training effect in general will result in a greater level a preparedness, improved performance capacities, and increases in training tolerances over time (Bompa et al., 2019).

Loading Strategies

            Loading strategies if organized correctly will over time increase gradually resulting in performance improvement (Bompa et al., 2016). Due to the requirement for performance improvements to occur with the utilization of the training variables of intensity, volume, frequency, and duration over a time period, the preferred loading strategy is a step loading strategy.

The choice of a step loading strategy is based upon a traditional periodization schedule. A periodization schedule is a defined training schedule, where peak performance is achieved through improvement in physiological performance parameters, management of fatigue, and the process of accommodation (Tuner et al., 2011). The periodization schedule is applied on a cyclic structure consisting of a macrocycle, typically one year in the length, split into a series of mesocycles (Baechle et al., 1991). A mesocycle is a set number of weeks where a distinct training goal is achieved through the manipulation of training variables (Baechle et al., 1991). Each mesocycle is comprised of a specified number of microcycles, which are typically seven-days in length (Turner et al., 2011).

The traditional periodization schedule in conjunction with a step loading strategy allows for the appropriate sequencing of training load relating to performance improvements over the course of a macrocycle (Bompa et al., 2019). The step loading model provides a progressive overload with an unloading phase allowing for regeneration, physiological adaptations, and psychological renewal within the structure of a traditional periodization schedule (Bompa et al., 2019). The progressive overload and unloading can occur within the mesocycles and microcycles of this type of schedule (Turner et al., 2011).

The overload, recovery, and adaption of the step loading strategy can be arranged with the mesocycle blocks in a 3:1 loading paradigm (Turner et al., 2011). Whereby the load gradually increases for the first 3 microcycles before an unloading phase is presented in the fourth microcycle (Turner et al., 2011).

A secondary component of the step loading strategy in conjunction with the traditional periodization schedule is the conjugated sequencing model (Bartoloemi et al., 2017). The conjugating sequencing model is based upon the adaptations from each cycle within the periodization schedule are contributing to the gains made in the subsequent training cycles (Bartoloemi et al., 2017). A step loading strategy allows for appropriate loading and unloading to occur for the elicited effects of the conjugating sequence model to occur within the macrocycle of a traditional periodization schedule.

Individualized Training Loads

Decisions on individualized training loads ultimately begin with the needs analysis of the athlete. A needs analysis is the process of analyzing the current physiological parameters of the athlete, qualities required for participation with the sport of choice, training history, gender, age, and injury analysis. The overall goal of the needs analysis is the collection of data to provide guidelines in the development of programming for the prevention of injury and improving performance of the athlete (Clark & Lucent, 2010). The data collected via this process will be part of the decision-making procedure of individualized loading strategies.

One step within the needs analysis incorporates an analyzation of the sport of choice. The physiological requirements of sports vary thus affecting the physiological parameters to address within the programming (Clark et al., 2001). The analyzation of the sport will influence loading strategy decisions. For example, an endurance orientated athlete will have differing loading requirements during training than a power orientated individual. Taking the analyzation of the sport one step further, team sports will have positions with varying requirements of physiological development. A pitcher and corner outfielder in baseball physiological requirements are vastly different during competition, thus affecting the needs analysis, and ultimately loading strategies within programming.

Outside of an analysis of the athlete’s sport and positional requirement a needs analysis will shift towards the analyzation of the athlete. This is section will entail profiling the athlete. The initial profile will be comprised of a comprehensive analysis of the athlete’s physiological, cognitive, and psychological parameters which will provide insight into the individual’s work capacity (Bompa et al., 2019). The initial profile will encompass the athlete’s biological age, training age, training experience, injury history, and gender (Bompa et al., 2019). These individual characteristics will have an effect of both programming design and loading strategies during workouts. Once the initial profile is complete, the next step in the process affecting program design and loading strategies will be performance testing to identify current strengths and weaknesses of the athlete. The performance testing may include though is not limited to the following areas: flexibility, range of motion, functional movement, balance, strength, endurance, and power capacities Completion of performance testing will entail aerobic and anaerobic analysis (Baechle et al., 1991). The performance testing results will affect loading strategies in terms of program design, repetition schemes, and percentage of 1 RM utilized. For example, an athlete during testing who is shown to be limited in maximal strength in the lower body will require adjustments in programming, exercise selection, and load.

The final component affecting individual loading strategies will be the periodization schedule implemented into the training program. A traditional periodization schedule will have a macrocycle implemented with a series of mesocycles. Each mesocycle will have distinct training goals requiring different loading schemes (Turner et al., 2011). Each mesocycle and microcycle will require different loading strategies. For example, the strength phase of the schedule will require a different loading scheme than the hypertrophy phase. Overall, individual loading strategies are comprised of many factors including sport of choice, position within the sport, performance testing data, individual profile, and programming goals. This comprehensive set of data collected will be utilized to determine individual loading strategies over the course of program implementation and execution.


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