Time to Read
Points of Interest
- Establish key events and races
- Your current condition
- Planning your peak
- Factor in rest
- Be realistic
- Concluding thoughts
As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a dream.
Unless you have a clear road map and strategy for success, you're highly unlikely to achieve your training and competitive aims as an athlete, especially if you are beyond the early stages where almost any effort will see you make improvements to your performances.
In this article we're going to look at how you should go about planning your training year – what considerations you need to make, how to structure your year, what to think about when deciding your competition schedule and how to factor in appropriate recovery.
For reference, this article is written with endurance sports in mind – think running, cycling, triathlon.
Establish Key Events and Races First
The purpose of training is to improve performance in competition, so key races and events have to be established first. Once you know your competitive calendar you can organise your training around that.
Give yourself time to be at peak condition for your major events. Depending on your level of fitness, I'd allow at least 12 weeks of training time in the lead up to a key race.
There's value in putting in a smaller, less important race in the build-up to a key event. This will help you to get race sharp, get your psychology back into competition mode and to also give you clear feedback on where you are in terms of performance. Make sure there is at least a two week gap between smaller races ad key events though, giving you time to recovery and work on weaknesses you've discovered through racing.
Measure and Assess Your Current Condition
At the start of the training year you should measure your current condition. This is specific to different sports, but the information you get from it is vital. Across all professional sports this is a key staple of off-season training, but amongst amateurs it's rarely seen as important.
Once you establish your exact level of fitness, you can tailor the rest of your training year. There's little value in going through long blocks of base level stamina building work if you're already posting great VO2 max numbers for example.
Take key metrics for your event and test yourself. When you know where you are starting from, make a plan. Using runners as an example, a base level set of tests could be…
- VO2 Max
- 1 Mile Time
- 5km Time
- 10km Time
You'll then know what you need to work on to peak in time for your key events. It also allows you to establish your winter mileage and general training volume. If you're miles away from where you need to be, the hard work starts early!
Peak at the Right Time
If you follow a Lydiard-style training approach, you'll know that whatever your sport, your ‘marathon conditioning' (low intensity, high volume base endurance work) will be an ever-present element of your training. The amount you do varies, but the endurance work doesn't stop.
What changes is the inclusion of higher intensity work. A 2013 meta-analysis showed that the addition of high intensity, higher speed work forces a beneficial adaption of both VO2 max and general endurance, meaning that even when training focus changes from steady-state endurance training to higher intensity speed work, there is benefit to both elements of fitness.
Switching from steady state to high intensity work 8-12 weeks out will see your performance improve at the right time for the event. As you get closer to the race, the intensity goes up until it reaches a peak a week before the event. Typically a taper week follows, allowing you to recover in time for the race.
Factor in Rest
It's tempting to build on a great performance by increasing intensity, increasing volume and pushing harder than ever with a view to making even further improvements. That's a good thing to do, but only when you've rested.
The intensity of training in the lead up to an event is sufficient enough to warrant a rest. Although the principles of training determine that reversibility is a key symptom of a lack of training, a short term rest of up to two weeks is unlikely to do much damage to your conditioning.
It'll certainly give the muscles, bones and connective tissues the recovery time they require.
This is another aspect of professional sport that rarely translates to amateur athletes. In professional sports athletes will prioritise only a small number of events, maybe 2-3 per year. Amongst amateurs, this figure of often much, much higher.
You physically can't perform at your maximum all year round – physiologically, psychologically and logistically it is very difficult to produce optimum output. Fatigue accumulates over time and without sufficient recovery, especially in older athletes , injury rates are likely to increase dramatically.
Look across sports such as cycling, where riders will isolate a couple of races per year. In athletics, World Championships and Olympics are the over-arching goal, with smaller meets merely a qualification or progress hurdle. Work sensibly, work strategically and enjoy the success it brings.
Planning Your Training Year: Concluded
With a little extra time and focus, you'll make your training and recovery more effective. Use the tips in the article, work out the races and events that mean something to you and focus your effort on ensuring you hit the targets you set yourself.
Do this and you'll enjoy your most successful competitive year yet.
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