| | | Principles of Training: Science VS Practice

Author / Christopher McQuilkin

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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Christopher McQuilkin

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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.


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