5 Steps for Planning a Successful Season
As the winter sun begins to set ever earlier and the end of another season is upon us, coaches and athletes begin to reflect upon the past year and plan for the next season. However, there is a significant change in 2017, and this is the advances in TrainingPeaks’ Annual Training Plan. Traditionally, there is a conversation around volume, base phases, intensity building through to a competition phase and peaking for our main races. However, this year planning has been revolutionised. This year, it is possible to plan by Training Stress Score®(TSS®) or Fitness (CTL) as well as by the traditional duration model.
This is a substantial improvement, especially with the automatic periodization option on the Annual Training Plan (ATP), giving athletes the opportunity to improve their planning for the season ahead. The changes begin to ensure that planning through the season is a lot more specific to the challenges of the event(s) in mind. Going forward, being able to individualize an athlete’s season plan and tailor the program specifically to the individual and the sport will make the finesse of planning so much more rewarding.
With these new changes in mind, it's now time to plan your upcoming season. Use these 5 steps to get started:
1. Outline Your Season
“Failing to plan, is planning to fail” - Benjamin Franklin | The ATP is the backbone of the upcoming season. It plants the direction and outline of how things will progress at a macro (training phase) level. Everyone is aware of the fact that meso (training block) or micro (training ‘week’) scale targets need to be frequently adjusted throughout the season. However, the season plan always remains more static. At the end of the day, the date of the world championship event won’t be moved, nor the qualifier or the first triathlon the athlete has signed up for. All of these dates will be fixed in time. The great thing about training towards a desired Fitness (CTL) value or TSS per week is that there is a lot of scope for ingenuity without over stressing someone. There becomes more flexibility in a plan. That, combined with understanding the phase of training, and tracking the right metrics, makes it easy to stay on top of the correct training dosage and constantly adapting how you achieve a plan without ‘operating’ on the backbone!
2. Define Your Fitness Goals
“The Main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing” - Stephen Covey | Defining the goal is the critical part to any coach-athlete relationship. Jim Vance outlines various targets for long and middle distance racing based on Fitness (CTL) and Functional Threshold Power (FTP) values. As the season progresses and training is started, it may be that these values are changed or refined. However, the actual goal is still consistent. Using a Fitness (CTL) value for the ATP or TSS values for training takes the focus partly away from “doing hours” or “intensity” which are very vague but helps keep focus for the athlete and coach on a measurable objective. It also makes the coach more accountable. It keeps them on their toes, earning their keep!
3. Review Your Past Season
“Study the past if you would define the future” - Confucius | It is always important to go back over the previous season and ask each individual athlete the questions around what went well and what could be improved. Examples include:
Can certain power, pace or swim values be identified that could be improved to help achieve the goal?
What about that point in the season where injury, illness or fatigue got in the way, what are the Acute Training Load values or the ramp rates that shouldn’t be exceeded?
What Training Stress Balance (TSB) worked best when racing B-priority races, what was an ideal TSB value for racing at the A-priority race.
How do the above points change for different sports?
What are the sport specific metrics, the race specific metrics that need to be monitored for the next season?
All of these points (and a host of others surrounding age, gender, time in sport, life, work, balance etc.) can affect the ATP. With the methods now available to create an ATP, these can be allowed for, modified and exploited or avoided depending on what needs to be achieved. Though this is far out from the end of the season, it is plausible now to set out the targets and the goals based on historic data, and predicted training responses.
4. Carefully Calculate Your Training
“It’s a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get” - Arnold Palmer | Based on targeting Fitness (CTL), the TSS per week can be calculated (or TrainingPeaks can do this automatically). This is important as now we can ensure that the athlete trains to the desired training stress of the race and then the intensity of the race. For example, someone racing an IRONMAN 70.3, may need to look at training for a bike TSS of about 150. They may be aiming for an Intensity Factor®(IF®) of about 0.75. In training that looks like a ride of about 2:40 hours at that IF to reach that training stress, specific to the race. In the base phase, that may look more like a 4 hour ride at an IF of 0.61. This could be increased through the season to the desired IF. Suddenly, organising the training micro cycle by budgeting dosages of training, or TSS per day, setting training and response becomes a lot more accurate as long as there is a reason behind it.
5. Pay Attention to the Details
“When you assume, you make an A** out of U and Me!” - Oscar Wilde | As is often said, it is important to note that the TSS is never equal between sports. Having a different target Fitness (CTL) and ramp rate for different sports helps to negate that. Also, keeping a constant and up-to-date eye on key metrics such as: sFTP, threshold pace, and other inputs to the Performance Management Chart (PMC) that affect the credibility of the plan are critical to ensuring that training is going in the right direction and what is being planned is accurate. However, life can throw people lemons. Irrespective of how much fine tuning and planning goes into it, real life gets in the way; “stuff” happens. The better understood all these intricate parts of planning are, the easier it is to adapt a plan and roll with the punch rather than lie on the floor wondering what just happened.
All of these advancements can be incredibly powerful and can revolutionize how someone plans for a season, and therefore how someone trains and performs through the season. However, without monitoring, adapting and improving the plan, the plan is obsolete. As coaches and as athletes we have been given the chance to advance the way we work, we must now step up and use these changes to their full potential as we all continue to innovate coaching practices.