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Program Design

This is an excerpt from Developing Endurance-2nd Edition by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association & Ben Reuter.

Recovery-based training should be a primary focus of program design. Without adequate recovery, athletes will not progress optimally and reach their full potential (8, 34). Recovery takes many forms, including rest, skill and technique practice, good sleep, aerobic cross-training, and proper nutrition (34). All are important when implementing recovery within a training program. Designing a training program for endurance athletes requires four steps:

  1. Gather information.
  2. Focus on initial planning components.
  3. Examine the training program in more detail.
  4. Plan the periodization of each cycle.

Step 1, information gathering, includes determining the athlete’s short- and long-term goals, overall focus for the competitive season, and race priorities and objectives (18, 27, 34). The coach needs to determine the athlete’s current training program and whether the athlete prefers group or individual training. The coach also should identify the current equipment available and any new equipment that will be needed throughout the training program. In addition, the coach should determine what type of terrain (geographical location) is available as well as the environment and climate in that area.

This step also involves determining the athlete’s sport background, competitive history, sport-specific strengths and weaknesses, injury history, muscular imbalances, physiological variables (based on lactate threshold, metabolic, and body composition testing), biochemical variables (based on blood work analysis), and biomechanical variables (body movement efficiency patterns). Most important, the coach and athlete need to determine the amount of time that the athlete realistically can devote to training daily. This should include identifying the athlete’s life commitments (e.g., family, social, and career) and details on the athlete’s daily commute (mode and time to and from work). Many new endurance athletes are overzealous and take on more than they can handle. Athletes must differentiate between realistic and idealistic time goals so that they can achieve a proper balance between sport and life.

Step 2 involves focusing on the initial planning components. These components include the type and frequency of high-quality training sessions, the time between training sessions, the type and frequency of recovery sessions, and the proper build-to-recover ratio of the periodization program (and when this may fluctuate throughout the training year) (14). In this step, the coach and athlete also should determine the mental training and nutritional strategies that will be used. In addition, they should identify the method of communication and type of feedback that will be used between the athlete and coach.

Step 3 begins the process of planning the training program in more detail. This includes determining the specific training techniques that will be used at specific times of the year. An additional part of the program design is ensuring that the athlete is able to work on tactical skills in relation to race-specific scenarios. The coach and athlete should work together to determine when and where specific training sessions should be placed throughout each training plan and identify the associated goals and outcomes, including specific physical, mental, and nutritional goals for each training session. Additionally, recovery opportunities should be emphasized, and the structure of recovery sessions throughout the training program should be planned in this step.

The last step includes planning each periodization cycle (11, 34). The goal of the training program is to systematically improve fitness to allow the athlete’s maximal performance in competitions.

Here are some additional things that coaches and athletes need to consider when determining the structure and timing of training throughout the year:

  • When and how resistance training fits into the program
  • When to implement drills that require fine movements and a high amount of focus
  • How many high-quality training sessions should be implemented during each training cycle
  • Whether two high-quality training sessions should be completed in one day (referred to as combo workouts or bricks for multisport athletes; referred to as doubles for single-sport athletes)
More Excerpts From Developing Endurance 2nd Edition