| | | Principles of Training: Science VS Practice

Author / John

Power Athlete Radio has been on a tear, formally earning the once self-proclaimed crown of the Premiere Podcast in Strength & Conditioning. As we near 350 episodes, our spectrum of guests have expanded well beyond strength and conditioningDisparate vocations notwithstanding, one thread binds all: discovery and application of best practice.

Disregard Who Said It, Listen To What They Say

Two guests in particular brought up a term I feel has been lost within the Strength and Conditioning community: Principlea general or basic truth upon which other truths or theories can be based.
In episode 161, CEO Strength Coach, Ron McKeefery discussed the difference between a principlebased and a philosophybased coaching approach. McKeefery explained how philosophies can push out countering schools of thought, beneficial or otherwise. Principles however, anchor program design. This allows coaches to sift through nonsense.
In episode 172, Jay Dawes PhD discussed the connection between training and science. Not long into our conversation, the secret was revealed…Principles.  Jay broke them down into biological laws and application to training.
Errors abound, but the big one Jay discussed is mistiming application. For example, if a novice follows a trained athlete’s program, this premature application can decrease performance and affect long term trainability. Conversely, a trained athlete following a program that does not physiologically challenge them will not progress.
This article will breakdown the connections among training, theory, and the science of training.  Ultimately, we aim to establish biological laws of training and the training principles which Empower Performance.

How did we get here?

Training principles are not a relatively new thing.  Coaches have always trained athletes to improve performance and empower them to peak at the right moment. But, unless they made an effort to collaborate, most were islands in the sea of sport performance. As a result, they formed and taught their own philosophies.
When coaches started sharing experiences (especially rampant as this internet fad thing grew), distilling years of trial and error into best practices, then mixing in relevant psychology, sociology, and physiology, the recipe for training principles was born.  Today we can employ these principles to design a plan relevant to the training goal.  You kids have it easy!

Principles of Training

The scientific shift has done wonders for athletic performance, but where does a coach draw the line? Now it seems that any time a coach wants to apply a methodology or new tool, they’d better have some science to back it up. I’ve got news for you, training athletes will never be completely scientific (1).

Difference between Science and Practice

A coach’s experience and connection to their athlete(s) is indispensable. Although sports and science appear to be complementary, contradictions remain. While sports science strives to generalize, a coach focuses on specific athlete or team needs. Scientists report in publications., while coaches keep their training practice away from competition.
One of the biggest differences I’ve observed is ego. Coaches handle an infinite list of problems, issues, and inquiries from sport coaches, and they cannot give the impression of doubt. Scientists on the other hand, are allowed a degree of uncertainty, and in fact, generally welcome challenges.  Along the same lines, a challenged sport scientist feels misunderstood, while the coach can see science as a threat (1).
Ultimately though, while science and coaching have glaring differences, they share a common goal: improving performance.
Dive into the Power Athlete Principles and how they unlock athletic potential in the Power Athlete Methodology – Level One Course.


  1. Bosch, F., & Klomp, R. (2005). Running: Biomechanics and exercise physiology in practice. Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


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