How to Develop a Yearly Training Plan

We review the art and science of developing and maintaining an annual training plan, which helps athletes progress and perform at their best.

How to Build an Annual Training Plan
This sample training plan is segmented into several different categories for an athlete to focus on at any given time of the year.

As a concept, the yearly training plan (YTP), also known as an annual training plan, has existed in sports for decades. With it, an athlete can visualize his or her entire season, including the various phases, milestones, and target events.

The main reason for developing a YTP is to create a systematic approach to training, competition, and rest/recovery. Crafting a YTP is a highly developed coaching art form, drawing on coaching experience, athlete history, and the most current research and science.

The “art” of YTP design has to do with the fact that it needs to be as simple as possible while still addressing the complexities of training. A YTP is a living document that needs to be monitored, maintained, and modified.

A comprehensive plan gives the coach and athlete the ability to plan better for the future, and manage, record, and measure all the various aspects of their training.

A YTP divides the athlete’s season into periods, with “peaks” at certain key points in the year. This is the essence of periodization. It can be divided into one, two, three, or a greater number of periods, depending on the athlete’s or team’s needs, their competition schedule, their level of experience for planning goals, and whether the YTP is focused on development or performance.

The phases of a YTP, also called macrocycles, can be further refined into mesocycles and microcycles. These three components each have a different goal or function. Fundamentally, they are dependent on how far or how close the cycles are from competition.

The basics of plan-building

I typically create microcycles that last seven days. The length and type of the microcycles depend on an athlete’s or team’s needs. The cycle is personalized for neural or metabolic adaptations. Neural adaptations include things like improved pedal stroke or movement. Metabolic adaptations refer to the ways in which our bodies produce energy (e.g. improving your aerobic or fat-burning systems.)

Before I can develop a YTP for an athlete, I must know basic but key information about the athlete, such as his or her chronological vs. biological age (which takes into account things like diet and lifestyle habits), as well as their training age (i.e., how long they’ve been training).

Then I utilize those figures to identify an athlete’s stage in the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model. This model, developed in Canada, is taking hold in the U.S. and many other countries. It introduces best practices for developing life-long athletes, starting in youth categories and going all the way to Olympic hopefuls.

The stages of the LTAD include: Fundamentals (to introduce youth to the fun side of sports), Learning to Train, Train to Train, Train to Compete, and Train to Win (for the highest-level athletes at the peak of their careers).

It is important to point out that while the LTAD initially focused on developing youth for high level competition, it has since been modified to include life-long sport focus for master’s athletes.

Identifying which LTAD stage an athlete is in is critical because it informs the focus on the YTP. For example, is the athlete still developing the assets they need to progress in the sport? Or is the athlete at a point where he or she can focus on the results they need to be selected by a team, either trade or national?

Beyond LTAD considerations, the most important part of a good YTP is balancing competition with school or work schedules. It is essential to know the dates of all races on the athlete’s calendar, and to categorize them in terms of importance.

I start with the most important race of the year and develop the plan backwards, which aids in creating a roadmap for the athlete to reach their peak form for that event. This includes determining the total volume for the YTP and maximum volume per microcycle. In cycling, volume is measured by time and distance.

Maintaining the plan

Once those parameters have been confirmed, the next step is to determine how the YTP will be maintained, modified, and evaluated. Deciding how the athlete will report back to their coach and what sort of data they will provide is fundamental to this process.

Based on the chosen methods, I then decide on the aim of the YTP—whether to focus on development or performance. I also select the periodization component (whether single, double, triple or multiple), and build the duration of each period or macrocycle. This is often broken down into Preparation, Competition, and Transition.

Next, I choose the type and duration of the phases (or mesocycles) within each period: these are broken down into General Preparatory, Specific Preparatory, Pre-Competition, Competition, and Transition. Others can include Developmental, Stabilizing, and Restorative.

The length of each YTP is usually about 52 weeks—the length of the entire year. Each month and week is organized and built around the athlete’s race program.

Building the plan is an intricate process with a lot of puzzle pieces to fit together. Unfortunately, it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain all the decisions that go into figuring out the various phases and how long they should be. As I mentioned before, it’s a coaching art that takes years to learn.

The best way to develop the right YTP for you is to find a coach with the experience and education to customize one to you. A good YTP will take you much further than any fancy interval prescription.

Included in the program is a constant monitoring system for medical, physiological, psychological, nutritional, and recovery/regeneration needs.

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