Planning the Training Program

FROM: IAAF "Introduction to Coaching Theory"

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    One of the most important responsibilities of the coach is planning the athlete's training programme. Planning is a long term process since elite athletes may not reach their full performance capabilities until 24 years of age or older.
    In this long term planning the coach usually looks at what the athlete wants to achieve for a particular year and divides this year into a number of periods. For younger inexperienced athletes performance targets may need to occur at more frequent intervals, such as the immediate season ahead. This is because young athletes are often unable to work towards objectives that they think of as being too distant.


    The term 'periodisation' is used to describe the division of the training programme into a number of periods of time. Each of these periods will have specific training objectives.
    The major objective of any plan is to bring the athlete to the most important competitions of the season, fully prepared and in a physical and mental state to perform at a level never previously achieved. Achieving optimum performance at the right place and time is called "peaking".
    Planning for the year or season ahead is done backwards. The coach and athlete decide what, where and when the major competitions will be for the season ahead. The next task is to work back in time through the early season competitions and the training periods until arriving at the beginning of the training year. All training plans should be simple and flexible as the plan will be modified according to the athlete's progress and improvements in the coach's knowledge and experience.

Gymboss Timers

What to do and When to do it
    The time that the coach and athlete have available for training for a major competition can be divided into specific periods. These periods of training should be followed whether the time available is a full year, six months, twelve weeks or any other amount. There are three main periods to any training programme:

●     A preparation period

●     A competition period

●     A transition period


    In the illustration, lines indicate the relative levels of both volume and intensity during the three periods of the training programme. But what are volume and intensity, and how can we measure them?

Volume and Intensity
    Volume refers to the quantity of any training. It is the total of all repetitions, such as meters for running or kilograms for weight training. For endurance training it is the kilometres or miles covered in training runs. In the jumps and throws it is the total number of jumps or throws performed.
    Intensity is the quality of training. In speed training it may be the time taken to cover a set distance. In endurance running it may be related to heart rates reached during the run. If the best an athlete can achieve at any distance, height or weight is 100%, the intensity of training will be a percentage of this best performance.


    The training load is a combination of both volume and intensity. Throughout the training programme there is a progressive increase in loading. This increase is always an increase in volume before there is an increase in intensity.

Preparation Period
    The first and longest period of any training programme is the preparation period. In this period the athlete will move gradually from very general to specific training. The main objective of the period is, as its name suggests, to prepare the athlete for the competition period. The general training can be thought of as "training to train" and may last as much as one third of the whole plan of preparation, competition and transition. All round general fitness is developed by gradually increasing the volume of training. This general fitness will allow the athlete to do the more demanding specific training which follows without injury. Volume should not increase in a straight line, but in steps to allow time for recovery and overcompensation.


    The beginning of the preparation period when general training is taking place is the best time to introduce new techniques or modify existing skills. Technique work should always be carried out when the athlete is not fatigued and so should come before any general fitness training in a session.
    Following the general preparation comes a specific preparation. This is when training is increased in both volume and intensity. For the runner, mileage will reach its highest levels. The training becomes more specific to the athlete's event with conditioning training emphasising the energy systems used in the event.

Competition Period
    In the competition period the volume of training is gradually reduced and the intensity is increased. Heavier weights can be lifted, but less often. The speed of specific runs should be faster with longer recovery times. The training during this period is most related to the characteristics of competition. Training loads should be heavy enough to keep the athlete's fitness improving and light enough to keep the athlete enthusiastic and with high energy levels for competition. "Athletic shape" refers to how fit an athlete is for his chosen event. This athletic shape will be at its highest in the last part of the competition period.

Transition Period
    The transition period comes at the end of a season and can be thought of as an "active rest". The main objectives of the transition period is to allow the athlete an opportunity to recover mentally and physically from the training loads of the preparation and competition periods. Athletes should be encouraged to try different types of low volume, low intensity activities away from the usual training environment. The activity should provide change and allow the athlete to return to athletics refreshed and eager to resume training for the following season. The transition period is also a useful time for the coach and athlete to evaluate what was achieved and to make plans for the future.


The Plan in Action
Dividing the training plan into periods gives the coach guidelines for developing fitness and technique relative to volume and intensity. The coach also needs to know what types of training to do for a particular event. Since each event has its own relative needs for strength, endurance, speed, flexibility and coordination the specific preparation and competition training should reflect this. The following diagram illustrates when the biomotor abilities should be developed for particular events, in this example, the jumps.

    At the beginning it was stated that training plans need to be flexible. There will always be factors in practice that change the athlete's situation. These may be injury, sickness or longer than anticipated recovery from training loads. The track may be unavailable or the weather conditions unsuitable for the planned sessions. The athlete may also progress faster than anticipated. Whatever these factors, the coach must make allowances and change the training plans to suit the athlete's situation. The most effective coaches are those who not only plan, but know when and how to change.

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