Implementing the Annual Training Plan
ToolBox: It has been said, “If you fail to plan, you may as well plan to fail.” If you want to get the most out of your training program, you need a plan. Jumping on your bike and riding at random will help for a short time, but without a plan, you’ll eventually plateau out and fail to make gains.
By Tim Cusick, PCG coach
In endurance sports, periodized planning is the format most frequently followed. In part one we reviewed the three steps of planning preparation. Now we are moving on to actual creation of the plan. Just to summarize, the total plan steps are:
Phase 1 is plan prep:
1. Set a goal.
2. Complete your diagnosis.
3. Develop your needs analysis.
Phase 2 is creating the plan:
4. Create the periodized plan.
5. Implement workouts.
6. Track and tweak results.
Step 4: Create the Periodized Plan
One of the most important things to consider in the development of an annual periodized plan is your key event data. The development of your plan should focus on getting you to perform at your “peak” on that day. Using that as the target, the periodization steps start to fall into place.
Part 1: Schedule your key event. This is simple. Start working with a calendar or basic spreadsheet and record the key date you need to perform. Then count back one week from that date and mark that day as the peak, because you want to target your peak at least a week before your big event.
Part 2: Count backward from your peak. Now that you know the date you want to be on form, count backward from that date to determine the start day of your training. Training plan lengths vary from 12 to 32 weeks; I typically target 24 to 32 weeks to maximize results.
• Twelve weeks: Reasonable form can be achieved in twelve weeks, but you need to forego some base training and complete a more high-intensity approach. This doesn’t mean you start out doing all-out efforts on the bike, but progression into sub-threshold efforts at around 90% of your functional threshold power (FTP), typically known as sweet sport training, comes early and progresses quickly to efforts at FTP and above.
• Twenty-four weeks: Peak form can typically be achieved in 24 weeks. This allows for the development of a solid aerobic base through the use of long(ish) steady miles and sweet spot training, with a steady progression of overload through duration and/or intensity.
• Thirty-two weeks: This length is ideal for peak form, allowing for full preparation for training season and steady progression. It also gives you a little more wiggle room for dealing with those little issues that tend to take you off the bike for periods in a season.
Part 3: Plan your rest phases. Training traditionally tends to flow on a three-week-on, one-week-off type of cycle. This is a pretty good starting point. As we age, we tend to need a little more rest, so I suggest beginning to consider reducing toward a two-week-on, one-week-rest cycle after forty years of age, though this is highly subjective.
Part 4: Plan progressive overload. This is crucial to the success of your plan. The body needs overload to keep improving or it will adapt to the same training stimulus and load and quickly plateau. The trick is understanding the relationship between duration and intensity in this process. A good rule of thumb is in the first half of your training plan, plan your progressive overload driven mainly by increases in duration without picking up much intensity. As you move into the second half of your training season, intensity starts to play a greater role, but be careful here; larger steps up in intensity create the need to reduce overall duration. This framework planning can be done by simply planning each week’s training frequency (number of days), duration (weekly time in training), and training intensity (aerobic, anaerobic, easy, hard…there are lots of systems here to determine).
Step 5: Implement Workouts
With the framework of your annual plan laid out, now you need to start to flesh it out. It is important to use your needs analysis here. A few ways to begin are as follows:
• Enter what you don’t have first. If you’re planning a vacation, have an important work trip, or need to take a specific time off, record it all. Also, if there is a specific day each week you cannot train, mark all of those days.
• Train your limiters. In your needs analysis you determined some limiters. Focus on these throughout the entire plan, but be cautious on how much you do. If, for example, your limiter is anaerobic capacity and your needs analysis points towards building more, you don’t want to start your training plan with five days of anaerobic capacity training right out of the gate, nor do you want to ignore that limiter to the end of the training plan. During the early phases I suggest adding two to three limiter workouts in each four-week training block, then increasing the frequency of limiter workouts as you get deeper into the training plan (season). So add these key workouts to your schedule first. By always scheduling the more important workouts second (after days off as mentioned above), you’ll keep the focus on your needs.
• Fill in the plan. Try to follow the progressive overload principle. It can be challenging to predict the intensity element, but do your best. If you’re training with a power meter, utilize the intensity factor (IF) metric to help predict.
• Flesh out the whole plan. This will take a little time, but it’s worth the effort. Once you see your plan completed, it will give you some good insight and will allow you to tweak key elements before implementing the plan.
Step 6: Monitor and Track Results
Now that you have the plan, you need a system to monitor and track results. There are great systems out there to do this. I recommend Trainingpeaks.com, which offers free basic accounts that will help you track your workout and training plan compliance, which basically tells you whether or not you are doing the work you planned.
The important thing is to be able to track your ability to do the planned workouts while measuring the success of your plan. The easiest way to measure your success is to develop and implement a test strategy. Testing is simple if you use a power meter; you can measure the increase in watts over a given time period. This does not work as well when using a heart rate monitor, because your heart rate will generally stay the same at maximal efforts; you’ll just put out more power.
A proxy to power is to measure distance traveled. For example, if you’re testing 20-minute efforts with a power meter, you can simply look at your average watts (and hopefully increases in your average watts over the season). For heart rate, I suggest using the same course to test and measure how far you get (total distance) for the allotted time period. There are some outside factors here (wind, bike condition, etc.), but it will give you a base understanding. If you’re improving, your plan is generally working. If you’re not improving, you might need to reevaluate.
At the end of the day, a training plan will help you meet your training goals, make improvements, and do well at your targeted events. But remember that cycling is meant to be fun! If every day becomes a workout grind, mix it up, do something different, and keep it all fresh.
About Tim Cusick
Tim Cusick is a USA Cycling Coach and Master Coach with Peaks Coaching Group. Tim has been coaching for over 10 years, focusing on training and racing with power data. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] , and check out Tim and the entire Peaks Coaching Group for more information on coaching services, camps, and products.