My coaching methodology
New athletes get a little overwhelmed when they see my training plans for the first time. I usually spend a fair amount of time with each athlete explaining how the plan is set up, but it’s worth it. I’ve found that once the athlete becomes more familiar with the plan, they like the detail and direction it provides. While there’s a lot of background information included in my plan, athletes quickly learn that there’s only one table to focus on each week. They can print it out so they can quickly review what they need to do.
I build my training plans in Excel. When I first started working on my basic template for my training plan, training software was limited. While the software is now more robust, I’ve developed and refined my own system to work well for my athletes and better reflect my coaching methodology.
All training begins with purpose
My coaching style is all about purpose—it is essential that athletes understand the purpose of the workout, of the week, of the block. If an athlete is looking for a coach to just tell them what to do so they don’t have to think about it, I’m not the right coach for them. I always want them to understand not just what they are doing, but why they are doing it. As I tell them, if they ever go out for a workout and don’t understand why they are doing it, they should turn around, go home, and call me.
Adaptation relies on recovery
The other pivotal metric in my training plans and coaching approach is my recovery system. Every week I give the athlete a recovery goal between 1 and 5, where 5 indicates the athlete is fully recovered and 1 indicates they are needing full rest. A typical week of training would be rated as a 3—meaning they did some good training and they could repeat that week somewhat indefinitely.
My athletes know that the recovery goal takes priority each week. If they miss all of the other targets but hit the recovery goal, it was an okay week. Conversely, if they do everything else on the plan but miss the recovery goal, then it was an unsuccessful week.
I like positioning recovery as a goal because it’s a good guide for athlete’s decision-making throughout the week. I have borrowed ideas from a lot of coaches (including Joe Friel) and books, but the recovery goal is something that I’ve developed and evolved myself. I think it simplifies the target for the the athlete.
The Yearly Training Plan
Target energy systems: I am a big believer that the best training targets key energy systems and we should only target one or two energy systems at a time. If you target all energy systems at once, I believe that you will either overtrain, or not stress any one system enough to produce an adaptation. I color-code the season to clearly communicate to the athlete when to focus on the various systems.
Goals and purpose: The goals and purpose of the various blocks are detailed both in my Yearly Training Plan template (though omitted from the graphic below), as well as in the detail for each period.
Metrics: The key targets each week on the plan are volume and the recovery goal. But I also built formulas into the plan to approximate the weekly training stress based on the athlete’s volume, recovery goal for the week, and their level as an athlete. The calculations are just guidelines. I adjust them when we get to the actual weeks.
The training plan I designed for Cynthia is not complex in terms of builds or blocks. It’s worth noting that Cynthia had to start the season later than normal. You will notice this is reflected in the carryover of base training through the end of March. It’s helpful to have a year or more of experience in working with an athlete, which was the case here. Still, regardless of how long an athlete has worked with you, there will be adjustments that need to be made along the way.
(My Yearly Training Plan is based on the training plan that my former coach, Houshang Amiri, gave to me, and also strongly influenced by Joe Friel’s model.)
With this high-level view of the season as a guide, I work with the athlete to execute the specific training blocks and each individual week.
Specific training blocks
Using the Yearly Training Plan as the guide, I then build 4- to 7-week blocks for my athletes throughout the season. I tell all of my athletes that this snapshot of the current training block is what they should really focus on. A few notes about it:
- Notice again that it’s all purpose-based. There’s a purpose to the block stated clearly at the top. There’s also a purpose/description for each week and even for each workout.
- The primary and secondary workouts that the athlete should to focus on during this block make up the bulk of the page (highlighted in red and green). The workouts are selected based on the target energy systems during the phase. They are listed in order of importance. I also make the workouts available on TrainingPeaks.
- The weekly overview at the bottom of the training block is key. For each week, I’ve included the recovery goal, purpose, target volume, and key work (sessions) to be completed. I don’t map out the days here or in TrainingPeaks. That’s something I like to have my athletes do so that they can think through their week and make a plan. As part of the learning process, I then give them feedback on how they structured it.
I’ve included the training detail for the final Build phase leading up to Cynthia’s ambitious goals at Nationals.
Individual training weeks
I use TrainingPeaks to map out each week of training for the athlete. Here’s a look at my process:
- At the start of the week, I transfer the recovery goal, volume goal, and purpose of the week to a card that I place on the Monday of the week.
- At the end of the week, the athlete will assess whether they accomplished the goals by adding in their actual values. I also ask the athlete to write a report on the week in a Notes card. I don’t want athlete to simply focus on executing the prescribed workouts⏤I want them to think about the week as a whole and how the workouts fit together. The athlete begins the week knowing that on Sunday they will need to assess the week of training and explain anything that wasn’t on track.
Here’s an example of what the Monday cards look like after the athlete has completed their assessment:
While it’s a little extra work, one of the reasons I go through these steps of preparing a Yearly Training Plan (YTP), training blocks, and finally mapping out individual weeks is so that we can have a “best of both worlds” approach to training. By starting with the YTP, the season is very goal-focused and training is directed toward key peaks.
Moving from an YTP to training blocks to weekly plans also allows flexibility. If one week doesn’t go as planned, we can adjust the following week. Doing this with the bigger picture in mind, we can get the athlete back on track and continue making progress toward the goal.