Program design is by far one of the hardest concepts for students to master. Being consistent with a dog’s workouts is also hard for many handlers to do. Below are a few principles that will help you to identify what needs to be part of your strength and skill training program. The below information will also help you understand the importance of designing a balanced program, of being consistent with your dog’s workouts and taking small breaks but never taking long breaks from fitness.

Many of my students come into their fitness appointment and say “I didn’t do my homework”. I am not one of those instructors that shames my students when this happens but it does suggests that their canine athlete has not been consistently performing fitness exercises for several weeks. This puts their canine athlete at a disadvantage due to a decrease in strength, flexibility and endurance. As a fitness coach that is trained to look at each dog individually, I must find ways to challenge the dog without over stressing the muscles, joints and tissues while also satisfying the customer. It is my job to decipher if the homework wasn’t done due to time or schedule, focus of the handler or training challenges with the dog so that I can design a doable fitness plan to help the dog and handler be successful while also working toward their specific training goals.

Working toward each canine athlete’s goals can be very complex. Afterall, the handler has to be motivated to train each exercise and build time into their schedule to complete multiple exercise as part of a fitness and skill training program.

Let’s talk about principles. In the human world there are all these different principles designed to make strength training more efficient for human athletes depending on their goals. I would like to focus on the three listed below when working with our canine athletes.

  • The Balance principle
  • The Overload Principle
  • The Principle of Reversibility

The Balance Principle

This principle suggests that the right combination of diet, training activities and healthy lifestyle all play apart in having an optimal functioning body and mind. The human body thrives when in balanced or in homeostasis. Over training or extreme efforts can keep the body out of balance which is detrimental to ideal performance. For physiological and psychological reasons athlete's need breaks from the intensity of training and competition. Fitness programs should allow athletes to overload and recover over time.

Tips for success with the Balance Principle

  • Design your plan for balanced intensity. Be sure to schedule in high, medium and low intensity workouts
  • Design your plan with exercises that strive for muscle symmetry
  • Design your exercises to engage the muscles in all planes of motion
  • Design exercise for the dog’s level of fitness (you can cause harm by making the exercise too hard)
  • Take short breaks
  • Be active and eat the right foods

The Overload Principle

In order to gain strength and improve performance, the muscles, ligaments and tendons need to adapt to the stress of exercise. The exercise and repetition chosen needs to push the tissue beyond what is normal. If the tissue is not properly overloaded, then no progress will be seen. No progress means, no improvement in strength, range of motion or performance.

Tips for success with the Overload Principle

  • Increase loads gradually (make the exercise more challenging over time)
  • Do not challenge muscles to failure
  • Be sure to give muscle enough time to recover
  • Plan your training
  • Track your progress
  • Cross-training to allow some muscles more recovery time
  • Make a plan and adjust your training around your schedule
  • Always train toward a goal and for specific skills

The Principle of Reversibility

Detraining occurs within a short period of time after an athlete stops training. Decreased performance can be seen as quickly as two weeks or sooner. This principle is simply put - “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Detraining causes strength, flexibility and endurance to be lost but the body’s coordination to execute a sport skill or movement remains. Precise timing may be a bit rusty and need practice to resume a previously mastered skill.

Tips to avoid the Principle of Reversibility

  • Avoid long breaks in your training regime
  • Design balanced fitness programs that engage the whole body
  • Participate in regular cross-training activities

What this all suggests is that your canine athlete needs a balanced fitness plan designed that includes cross training activities, is training toward a goal, is consistent (no large breaks) and also identifies nutritional needs and other healthy activities as part of your fitness plan. Seek help from a qualified fitness trainer or educate yourself on designing a balanced plan for your dog.