Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Planning your Season

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans”
- Peter Drucker

The pic above is of one of the foremost experts in the field of seasonal planning, Professor Tudor Bompa.

I spend a lot of time writing about the ‘whys’ of my particular training philosophy, the scientific rationale behind some of the decisions that I make in my day to day dealings as a coach to a wide range of athletes. I presented a summary of these ‘why’ considerations in regards to planning a season, a month and a week in previous blogs.

I thought it might be timely in this blog to talk a little more about the ‘how’. How I apply the research and training theory into a step-by-step approach to formulating the athlete’s Annual Training Plan.

So let's roll up the sleeves, leave the theory behind and dive into the practicalities of constructing your 2009 training plan.....

Step 1: Determine cycle volume

Look at last years volume, your non-training life, your fitness level and your recovery profile to determine volume goals in 2009. Some general recommendations on typical volume increases from the previous season:

- Novice: Plus 20-30%
- Intermediate: Plus 10-20%
- Advanced: Plus 0-10%

So, that’s step 1. Come up with a realistic # that’s not based on your goals or what you think you may be able to do, but is instead based on what you’ve proven you can do. In this way, both your habit, your body and your belief in yourself are progressively strengthened.

Note: While volume increases represent the central component to your long term development as an athlete, they must not occur at the expense of recovery (sleep, good nutrition, stress management etc.) for some athletes who are already pushing their recovery limits, their best route to further improvement will come from addressing specific limiters rather than simply adding volume.

Step 2: Determine phases in line with non-training calendar and competition schedule.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I favor a 5-7 month cycle with a basic structure along the lines of the following:

Month 1: Transition (Objective: Shed fatigue)
Month 2: Preparatory (Objective: Very gently progress back to normal training volumes – at reduced intensity)
Month 3-5: Basic (Objective: Build fitness with an appropriate maximal yet chronically tolerated training load)
Month 4-6: Specific /Sharpening (Objective: Consolidate basic fitness and maximize central fitness and specific race execution)
Month 5-7: Taper/Competition (Objective: Freshen up for your best race result)

For advanced Ironman athletes, particularly for later cycles in the year the basic and specific cycles can be consolidated to allow for 3 annual peaks.

One Annual structure that I particularly like, because it goes a long way towards maintaining athletic 'balance' is a longer cycle with a short-course or HIM focus early in the year followed by a shorter dedicated IM prep later in the year.

Of course, the race distance that the athlete should focus on for each peak will ultimately be more related to their preferences and (more importantly) their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Step 3: Determine performance goals (along with physiological component goals)

Probably the most important thing for the athlete to track throughout the year is performance. It is only by monitoring performance that we are able to accurately assess the relative benefit of different training means for an individual athlete.

In absolute terms, it’s a pretty simple matter to determine reasonable performance goals for the season based on average rate of improvement over the previous seasons.

In a general sense, performance, like most physiological mechanisms follows a curve of diminished returns. Similarly, performance response, like most physiological mechanisms is quite individual. However, based on what I have seen, some typical seasonal rates of improvement (in relation to training age)

Year 1: 10-15%
Year 2: 5-10%
Year 3-5: 3-5%
Year 5-10: 1-3%

It is also important that the athlete understands how performance is likely to change over the course of the training season. In particular, intermediate to advanced athletes can expect performance dynamics along the following lines:

Start of period: Last season peak performance minus 25-30%
End of base period: Last season peak performance minus 10%
End of specific period: Equal to last season best performance
End of peak period: Last season best +3-5%

Expecting big early season performance decrements and expecting relative mid-season plateaus can help the athlete maintain confidence throughout the season despite some apparently ‘funky’ performance responses to similar or increased training loads.

Over the long term, the best indicators for an Ironman athlete are aerobic (steady-moderately hard) testing. This testing can be done throughout the season and is also the most specific to actual Ironman performance.

While general performance dynamics are illustrated, these are very individual and it is only through watching the athlete over a number of seasons that a true ‘feel’ of an individual athlete’s performance dynamics and consequent performance goals is established.

Step 4: Determine volume for each week and phase

The optimal volume distribution will differ with the athlete. However, general guidelines would be to start the volume during the preparatory period at 30-50% of the peak volume for the season and to build to at least 80% at the culmination of the prep period. That steep ramp rate (~10%pw) is (contrary to popular belief and popular literature) not maintainable ad finitum. It is important to remember that maintainable long term volume increases are in the vicinity of 10-20% per season, not per week!!

With the exception of your initial volume ramp during the prep period, any volume camps and your planned rest/test weeks, your weekly volume should remain relatively stable throughout each respective phase.

Step 5: Determine time in zone and consequent intensity for each phase.

Look at your training threshold, last year’s intensity, your volume limitations and your fitness level to determine intensity goals for 2009. Some intensty suggestions based on what I’ve found to typically work for various phases:

- Prep Weeks: 70% intensity
- Base Weeks: 72% intensity
- Specific Weeks (IM): 72-75% depending upon race demands/level of athlete
- Specific Weeks (HIM/Oly): 75-78% “ “ “ “
- Sharpening/Peak Weeks: 78-80% intensity
- Transition/Off-Season Weeks: ~60% But wearing a HRM in your aquarobics class is kind of dorky :-)

Visually, if we compare volume and intensity for an early season peak into a traditional Bompa Chart of the Annual Training Plan, it may look something like this:

With volume (hours) along the left axis and intensity (% max) on the right.

Look at specific limiters to determine how this breaks down into personal time in zone. Some typical e.g’s:

Prep week (70% average intensity)
Easy: 75% of total volume
Steady: 25% of total volume
Mod-Hard: Zero volume (i.e. Mod-Hard cap)

Basic week (72% average intensity)
Easy: 55% of total volume
Steady: 25-40% of total volume
Mod-Hard: 5-15% of total volume

Specific week (advanced age-grouper: 75% average intensity)
Easy: 30% of total volume
Steady: 40-50% of total volume
Mod-Hard: 15-20% of total volume
Hard: 5-10% of total volume

Step 6: Determine weekly structure based on life, single sport limiters and physiological objectives of main sets.

As a general rule, my main sets will fall within the following ranges:

Steady: 45min – 4hrs
Mod-Hard: 45-90mins
Hard: 20-40mins

These should be sprinkled through your week in accordance with your own zone breakdown (derived on the basis of personal limiters) and your own life schedule.

In my opinion, a hard-easy approach is an absolute necessity, with only 2-3 ‘serious’ workouts per week, 2-3 maintenance workouts and 1-2 easy or OFF days. For this reason, it is all the more important to determine what the athlete's personal limiters are and what physiological quality the 'serious workouts' should focus on.

Step 7: Test the plan.
Keep track of what you actually achieved vs what you plan to achieve and what impact this has on your performance dynamics and modify as needed.

A plan is only good if you can:
a) Do it
b) Get better by doing it.

The plan needs to be flexible enough that you are able to modify it through the year in accordance with your life and personal training response.


If you are looking for some help in formulating (and sticking to) your training plan for the 2009 season, drop me a line. I have 2 athlete openings on my roster for 09. I work with a wide range of athletes from first time IMers to pro’s and welcome the opportunity to work with you!

Train smart.



ll said...

good stuff Alan, once again!

Alan Couzens said...

Thanks Buddy.

You still livin' it up in Brazil?