Designing an effective training plan is an incredibly important measure for success. We’ve all heard the saying ‘If you fail to plan then you're planning to fail'.
Without adhering to a consistent and progressive regime, athletes will go into their field under-prepared, at risk of injury, and under-conditioned. Training plans are also crucial for developing self-discipline and yielding consistency.
Let’s get started by exploring the all-important factors which make training plans effective, and why these are crucial for the success of any athlete including yourself.
FIRSTLY, SET PROPER SMART GOALS
Before you can construct an effective training plan, you need to clarify exactly what it is you want to achieve. You need to set yourself detailed goals.
No individual is the same, and therefore no training plan should be either. Your goals are specific to you and should be as detailed as possible. Skipping this step will result in a generalised and ineffective training plan.
This step is so critical because it sets in stone not only what you hope to achieve, but the process of breaking your goals down in order to achieve them. Don’t be one of those people who proudly states that their goals are ‘to lose weight’ or ‘to get fitter and run more’.
These are quite frankly useless statements…
Sadly, I see all too often many people failing to set themselves proper goals and with no break down either. They therefore lose motivation in only a matter of weeks.
But that’s not you!
You may have heard of these before, but in case you haven’t, please allow me to introduce… SMART GOALS!
All goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Let’s say you want to run your fastest ever 5k (check out my new course here). Your goal must include the specifics as to how exactly you plan to achieve this.
How do you intend on measuring your progress?
Is it realistic to set yourself this goal? (I’m not being pessimistic here… The flip side of course, is your goal too easy?)
Why are you setting this goal? Is it aligned with your overall objectives?
Set yourself a deadline to achieve your goal. Time pressure is key.
If you’ve considered all of the above factors when writing down your goals, then it will be detailed enough for you to know exactly what your goal is, how you can get there, and by when.
HOW FULL ON SHOULD MY TRAINING PLAN BE? (VOLUME vs INTENSITY)
Volume and intensity are key components of an effective training plan. We’re all guilty of over-committing ourselves when we feel motivated and ready to take on the world…
But, as admirable as this optimistic approach is, it’s just not realistic for the long term.
Whilst volume refers to the amount of training performed; intensity refers to what level of difficulty this training is performed at.
For an endurance athlete, volume training would be more beneficial, and they can measure their progress against it. Powerlifting and strength training, however, would benefit more from intensity-focused planning.
The Sport Journal talks of volume and intensity within periodisation- ‘When deciding the amount of work and type of work to prescribe athletes, it is vital to understand the inverse relationship between intensity and volume. As the volume of workload increases for athletes, the intensity of the work will have a planned decrease. Athletes cannot maintain a high intensity over a high volume of work...This means the athletes can only have a high intensity, a high volume, or moderate amounts of both.’
Therefore, a training plan which differentiates between volume and intensity is key to success. An athlete who does not have a training plan might try and execute both, leaving them more prone to injury and less prepared.
So, what is ‘periodisation?’
The Sport Journal goes on to state that ‘Periodisation is used to promote long-term training and performance improvements. It is a design strategy that includes pre-planned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume, organized in periods or cycles within an overall program.’
‘It implies that for optimal training adaptations to occur, training loads, volume, and bioenergetic specificity should be methodically interchanged.’
This means there is structure in place, to ensure progression is gradual, effective, and safe. However, there is still room to create variety and maintain high levels of motivation.
HOW TO ACCELERATE YOUR TRAINING PLAN: PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
Another crucial factor you will find is built into well-executed training plans, regardless of level, is progressive overload.
‘Training must include overload and progression to be successful. The body must be overloaded so that it has to work harder than normal. As the body adapts to a particular workload, the person should progress to a higher work level.’
In other words, as you work your way through the weeks and months of your plan, the goal is to progressively push yourself harder and further. The progressive increase in difficulty will go hand-in-hand with your heightened fitness and ability to perform at a higher level.
So, it’s essentially like continuously setting yourself targets to work towards each week knowing that next week you’ll be levelling up. This is the best way to keep pushing yourself, optimise your performance and hold yourself accountable for your efforts in the here and now, knowing it all counts towards your ever intensifying plan.
This strategy will accelerate your progress towards your goals, with less risk of getting injured and a noticeable strengthening of your mindset too as you continually focus on upping your performance week on week.
KEEP YOUR PLAN VARIED
So, by now you have a good idea of how to set and break down your goals. You should also have a decent idea about how to strike the right balance of volume vs intensity to strategically optimise your performance in the required timeframe while preventing you from burning out.
The next thing to do is ensure you are mixing it up enough to ensure you training plan is varied and interesting. You can do this in a number of ways…
Taking a higher-level view, your training plan be systematic and designed to consistently develop what it is you want to get better at.
For example, if your SMART goal is to run your fastest ever 5k in under 21 minutes within just one month, then it goes without saying you need to schedule a decent amount of runs per week to achieve this.
(…if you’d actually like to run your fastest ever 5k, then register your interest for my fantastic new course here)
However, it’s important to schedule in auxiliary exercises and variations on the core exercise to prevent your training plan from becoming too repetitive. Taking the above example, you may wish to mix up your running route, or do some other form of cardio for a change.
The mix is all down to your professional judgement. Any training plan that doesn’t include consistent variety can result in sub-optimal performance. Equally, there must be a systemized approach within the programme, so that the plan doesn’t become too random.
INCLUDE REST DAYS IN YOUR TRAINING PLAN
Let’s get one thing straight now...
REST, REST, REST! …I think you get the message.
Planned rest days are so important and often overlooked by many. Just because you’re not training doesn’t mean you’re not progressing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rest days allow your body to recover such that you can ATTACK your next session with maximum aggression.
Rest days must be factored into any training plan, to encourage adherence, recovery, and prevent injury.
Factoring in too much rest may negatively impact the progress of the athlete, whilst too little increases the likelihood of injury. This is another reason why effective training plans are so important, because if you don’t follow a plan, then you’re increasing the chances of over or under-training.
By now, you can consider yourself a subject matter expert on the importance of effective plans and the core components they include.
To put all of this theory into practice, check out my other blog post ‘How To Create Your Own Training Plan: A Step-By-Step Guide’ by clicking here.
See you in the next blog post!