Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everything you need to know to create your own customized annual training plan!

Last week I led a workshop that taught participants how to create their own custom, periodized, annual triathlon training plan (ATP) using the tried and true Sweet method! There are many solid, free, training plans on the web, but they all share a few shortcomings.  #1 Almost all of them assume equal ability in all 3 sports when in reality this is rarely the case.  #2 They don't take into account your personal conflicts (family, job, etc).  #3 They are static. When you understand the underlying structure of an ATP, then you can then easily make adjustments for missed workouts, injuries, missed races, etc.

The steps outlined below are the same ones that I have used to structure my own training and to create custom training plans for other athletes. The whole thing is certainly an over-simplified version of what an experienced, knowledgeable coach would create, but beyond this being the free D.I.Y. method, it can also yield a training plan that makes better use of your time and yields better results than just picking a random plan off the web.

You can create your plan with a blank calendar and pencil and then transfer to something like Google Calendar or Training Peaks or use this Excel Spreadsheet.

If you want these directions in an easier to print format, use this Word document.

1. Always start with clearly defined goals.  These should include:
  • 3-5 year long-term goals
  • Yearly goals (3 or 4 specific goals for this year)
  • Monthly goals (these goals help you to reach yearly goals)
  • Weekly goals (do these later on)
2. Put all known family commitments, work travel, etc. onto your ATP. Decide if these will be no-training times, or maybe just a run focus (because you don’t have your bike or pool access for example).

3. Identify your A/B and some C priority events for the year.
  • “A” races: Generally you should have 2-3 “A” races per season.  If your focus is sprint/Olympic maybe 4. Your season is built around “A” priority races.  You do a full taper for these and take time off afterwards.
  • “B” races: These are stepping stones to your “A” races.  No more than 1-2 per month. You do a short taper (2-4 days) for these races and a short recovery (2-3 days). 
  • “C” races.  These are just part of your weekly training load.  Tuesday night time trials are an example for me.  You do not schedule a taper or extra recovery for “C” races. Do not expect to perform at your best for these events. It is not critical to have all your “C” events planned out for the year.
4.Build in taper and recovery time around your “A” races
  • Taper: 3 weeks IM, 2 weeks 1/2 IM or Oly, 10 days for a sprint. 
  • Recovery: 2 weeks IM, 10 days ½ IM, week for Oly/Sprint
5. Create defined periods for the entire season.  If you train pretty much year round you should have 2 complete training cycles, plus a couple months of off-season training. If you follow the guidelines below a full cycle takes a minimum of 20 weeks and a maximum of 40 weeks. When structuring your training plan start with your “A” races and work backwards. Here are simplified guidelines for traditional endurance periodization:
  • Pre-Season / Off-Season (4-12 weeks long)
  • Either complete rest or significantly lower volume
  • Low intensity-workouts
  • Often includes strength training and cross-training activities
  • No racing
  • Base (8-12 weeks)
  • Build into higher volume during this period
  • Primarily low-intensity workouts
  • OK to have a few “B” or “C” races in this period
  • Build (6-8 weeks)
  • Fairly high volume (can be less than base)
  • This period must include some high intensity / interval-type of workouts 2-4 times per week
  • Some of your “B” and “C” events should be in this period
  • Peak (3-4 weeks)
  • Somewhat less overall volume than Base/Build
  • Workouts during this period must mimic goal race pace/intensity.
  • A “B” or “C” race during the first half of the Peak period  is ok.  Be careful racing any later than that as it could negatively affect your “A” race.
  • Taper/Race (1-3) weeks
  • If you followed the step #4 above this period should already be on your training plan.  Tapering involves first reducing volume then reducing intensity prior to an important race
6. Create discrete training blocks within each period: I recommend 3 weeks focused, hard training then one step-back week at 50% volume.

7. Add-in regular benchmark workouts that will both keep your training zones current and tell you whether or not your training program is working.
  • I recommend benchmarking once every 5-8 weeks (around a month and half)
  • Benchmark workouts can also serve as threshold tests to determine current training zones
  • My basic recommendations are 1000yd all-out swim, 20min bike and run threshold tests.
  • The "Field Testing" section of this presentation has the benchmark protocols.
  • Do these all in the same week, but schedule an easy day between each.
  • If you are not seeing benchmark progress during your build/peak phases then you need to make changes to your overall training program structure.

8. Add-in some blocks of complete rest / no training.
  • These rest blocks should be 5-10 days in length.
  • Aim for one roughly every 3 months. 
  • Good times for rest blocks are right after an “A” or “B” event, during family vacations or work travel, or instead of one of the step-back weeks discussed above.
9. Add-in some sport-specific blocks to address weaknesses.  These should be a minimum of 1 week long and can be as long as 2-3 months if done in the pre-season period.

PRESTO!  That’s it!  You now have a custom, periodized annual training plan.  Now you just need to know how to structure a week and add in specific, period-appropriate workouts.  You can use this basic template for planning your weekly workouts in a given period.
Designing a period-appropriate week
  • Begin by reviewing total available time for that week.
  • Next look at what training period the week falls in. For example, the majority of workouts in the base period should be longer and low-intensity.  During your peak period, workouts will mimic race intensity (and sometimes duration).
  • One day of complete rest is a usually a good rule of thumb to follow.
  • Weekends are key for most triathletes. This is usually the best time to get a long ride in.
  • Long runs are also essential, but I recommend doing them every other week.  I also recommend mid-week long runs. Even for IM most long runs should stay at, or under, 2 hours.
  • Doubles (two workouts a day) are great if you can fit them in.
  • Try to space out key workouts. If you have 3 key workouts for the week every other day is a great pattern (part of the reason why I recommend a mid-week long run) 
  • Be sure to clearly identify those key workouts.  There should be 2-4 per week.  During the base period these should be your long workouts.  During build/peak they may be your shorter interval days.

Resources for filling in the specific workouts:

Websites Workouts for all disciplines   Swim workouts by ability

Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt and Eric Hansen
Workouts in a binder for swimmers, triathletes and coaches by Gale Bernhardt and Eric Hansen
One-Hour Workouts: 50 Swim, Bike, and Run Workouts for Busy Athletes by Amy White and Scott Molina
Run Workouts for Runners and Triathletes by Bobby McGee
For Swimmers 365 Main Sets by Andrew Starykowicz
Time Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael

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