Having goals is a great way to provide direction to your fitness and how complicated these goals need to be is really up to your personal needs and character. Some people will benefit from very specific goals that have been developed through a long and careful process whereas others will be better served by goals that are quick and simple. For athletes it is important to make sure that your goals do not get in the way of each other. They may conflict in regards to application or fitting into your lifestyle, or they may conflict in a strictly physiological sense: the topic I would like to focus on in this post.
First you should understand that our body is a wonderfully adaptive machine that will tend to improve in specific areas that receive appropriate training and not improve in those areas which training does not address. The body may take this one step further and actually diminish in an aspect of fitness if the opposing physiological ability is focused on. For example, if an individual is trying to improve their ability at running marathons and supplements their running with a bootcamp where lots of high intensity power and strength activities are performed, then the aerobic abilities of their muscles will actually decrease to favour the speed of contraction and strength characteristics of the muscles. This certainly doesn’t mean that strength training isn’t appropriate for endurance athletes, but it does have significant implications for how these athletes do their strength training. Running the types of volumes that these athletes do, means their joints and muscles need good stability and strength to allow them to avoid injury and endure the grueling training required to excel in their respective sport. This can be done without much interference as long as contraction speeds are kept slow and resistance moderate.
The other side of this coin is, as you may have guessed, the power athlete. An NFL lineman needs to be able to repeatedly generate peak force for about 5 seconds. Their muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance is also important so they can maintain their performance over long drives, but addressing this with slow, long distance aerobic training will decrease the power abilities of their muscles and reduce their effectiveness on the field. Instead repeated bouts of high intensity activity should be performed with while trying to minimize the rest time in between for sport specific conditioning.
The examples above are pretty straight forward, however when you start working with an athlete who needs to optimize two opposing areas for peak performance, program design gets trickier. MMA fighters need to have explosive power and strength to contend with their opponent, however they also need to have very high aerobic and muscular endurance to last up to 25 minutes in the ring with little rest in between rounds. These unique fitness requirements need a complex program that focuses on improving specific fitness areas within their fight preparation timeline, at different times to avoid interference of different training modalities. The same approach needs to be used for other athletes who require optimization of opposing fitness areas (eg. Rugby) however their programs may be structured differently because of differences in season, playing time, sport demands etc.
No matter how complicated your fitness goals, intelligently designing your plan to achieving these goals is will be drastically more effective than taking a lackadaisical approach. Consider all of the internal and external factors that will affect what to train and when, and re-evaluate often to make sure you are making improvements in the right areas of fitness. I love questions regarding athletic performance so please don’t hesitate to pick my brain about your program.