Track and field for Masters Athletes 4: Planning Basics

News Article / May 15, 2020

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This is the fourth in a series of articles covering all aspects of Masters Athletes’ training and nutrition for track and field events. Here, we will take a look at how proper planning will greatly impact your success.

By Major Serge Faucher

In my last article, we discussed getting a physical assessment to determine strengths and weaknesses before starting a high-intensity training program. Since every athlete is different, has unique attributes, and may differ in age, she or he cannot expect a ready-made program to meet her or his needs. Therefore, proper planning will greatly impact success. Fail to plan, plan to fail!

The first thing you need to do is identify the work you must carry out to achieve your goals. You should draw up training plans to identify your long-term objectives (up to four years) as well as your short-term plans for the upcoming season. An Olympian, for example, may lay out a multi-year plan in order to peak for the Olympics, while the rest of us might focus on one year at a time.

In its simplest form, the plan has a single periodization. This means, for example, that you will develop a plan that will let you peak only once for a specific track meet in a given year. Personally, I follow a plan that has me in peak form twice each year, for the indoor and outdoor seasons.

You will often hear the terms “single periodization” or “double periodization”… as in, peaking once or twice each year.

The start of your training year will depend on your circumstances and objectives, but if your goal is to peak for a specific championship in March, for example, then the start of your training year would generally be in the previous fall, around October.

Periodization

Periodization is the long-term cycle of training designed and built so that, timing-wise, your maximum performance coincides with an important competition. It determines how you organize your training year into phases, with each phase “housing” a specific aim for your athletic development. It’s used to maximize your gains while reducing your risk of injury and of experiencing the staleness that may set in over the long-term.

This is easier said than done; “peaking” at the right moment is difficult. 

You can use periodization to determine how you break up your training program into the off-season (Recovery), phase I (Base Training), phase II (Pre-Competitive Season), and phase III (Competitive Season).

Benefits of Planning

There are many proven benefits to developing a training plan based on periodization and the phases for your planned progression, including:

  • Managing fatigue and reducing the risk of over-training by managing factors such as intensity, volume, and recovery;
  • Giving you the ability to optimize your performance over a specific period of time; and
  • Incorporating factors such as time constraints, age, fitness level, and training environment (indoor training facility vs. outdoor).

Developing Your Training Plan

As mentioned earlier, periodization divides the year-long conditioning program into phases of training that focus on different goals. It takes time to get in shape, and each of these phases should be seen as a building block; each needs to be in place before you progress to the next one.

The length of time allocated to each phase depends on your strengths and weaknesses. This is something you must discuss with a coach while building your program.

It also depends on the time you have until the big competition, and this leads us into other training terminology such as macro-, meso-, and microcycles.

Cycles

Macrocycle

The length of your periodization is based on the available preparation time before a major competition (macrocycle). In order to develop your training plan, you will have to identify which major event(s) you intend to peak for, and consider other significant dates that could impact your plan, such as a move to another city, a new job, participating in a wedding, work deadlines, etc. Life invariably gets in the way, and that will affect your training planning.

Once you have established the date of your major competition in the macrocycle, you must work chronologically backwards, outlining the weeks and months back to the day you plan to start your program. While doing this, you will divide the plan into major training phases (mesocycles).  These are your building blocks I mentioned earlier.

Mesocycles

A mesocycle may span weeks or even months, based on how much time you need to focus on your weaknesses. Furthermore, mesocycles may have very specific objectives such as recovery, base training, pre-competition, and competition. You can also count the “tapering period” at the end of the competition mesocycle as a cycle of its own, if you wish to plan it that way.

If you plan to race eight months down the road, you may want to have a Phase I that will last four months in order to build a solid “base”. Your phase II might last three months, with the remaining month for phase III.  Keep in mind that some athletes will peak only for a week or two at best, while others can hold that peak form for up to six weeks. This would definitely affect the length of your Phase III.

Learn what kind of athlete you are, and make the plan your own!

Microcycles

Next, you would break each mesocycle into the desired microcycles, incorporating the appropriate training and recovery periods, including plyometric, weight training and cross training exercises. A microcycle is a shorter training period of about seven to 10 days, and includes more detailed information on the volume, intensity, frequency, duration and sequencing of the training sessions. Keeping to the weekly schedule might prove difficult for some athletes that have to cover a lot of different energy systems and disciplines such as triathletes. Again, you will have to try it and figure out what works best for you.

Training Log

So, how do you capture all this training? There are several training apps available for you that will let you track your workouts, break down the data into easily-understandable graphs, and show you how your fitness is improving over time, including a summary of your performance history. Since I’m an older vintage, I like the feel of writing my workout data on paper. I usually print a few months of the Microsoft Outlook Monthly Style calendar (blank) sheets from my computer and mark all of the significant races I plan to do. From there, I work backwards writing down the main track workouts I know I will need to complete in that particular phase of my training program. I use different colored pens to differentiate between cross-training, running, plyometric exercises, and weight training workouts. This usually takes a few tries to get it right. Once you have a solid plan, it’s time to go to work!

Cycling your Training & Recovery Time

Regardless of whether a specific phase of training lasts two months, three months, or longer, you should cycle your training through three weeks of progressive loading followed by one week of unloading (recovery). During the competitive season (Phase III), I would recommend reducing the loading to two weeks only, with one week of unloading to compensate for the increase in intensity of each workout, the need for more rest days, and also adapt to the racing schedule as you may compete several times leading to the big track meet. While this is what I usually follow, this loading / unloading schedule should be adapted to your own ability to recover from training as you age.

When I say “loading,” you will have to consider volume and intensity. Focusing only on total mileage will give you a false picture of your energy expenditure for that period. If you keep training steadily for five, six or more weeks without an easy week, there is a good chance you will sustain an injury. The same goes for the number of hard sessions each week. For example, a former Olympian I compete with will not do more than three “quality workouts” per week, and he’s been a world champion on multiple occasions. 

Below is a basic guide in managing the relationship of volume, intensity and recovery within the blocks or phases:

 Phase I – Base TrainingPhase II – Pre-Competitive SeasonPhase III – Competitive SeasonOff Season – Recovery
Intensity Low Med High Low
Volume High Med Low Low
Recovery Low Med High High

Table 1 – Relationship between intensity, volume, and recovery for the different phases.

As expected, phase I will have plenty of volume (mileage) done at a much lower intensity.  This is where you build your base.  As you progress through phase II and phase III, the volume reduces while the intensity goes up.

If you don’t follow the basic loading guidelines and train excessively hard, there is a good chance you will not be at your best.  At the very least, you will not sleep well, you will be tired all the time, and feel stale. You can also expect to see your times at the track slow down.

I’ve made the mistake a few times in the past where my 100m race times kept slowing down week after week. Upon review of my training log, I’d discovered that I had taken virtually no rest days in many weeks! For a dedicated athlete with a Type A personality, it’s quite difficult to rest when it’s a beautiful day outside and you’re feeling good. It’s a common mistake, and only experience and a good coach allows you to rein it in! At this point, it’s often wise to take a whole week off to regenerate the body and mind. If you feel you need more time off, take it! That’s what I did, and came back to run a personal best in my next 100m race. This is one of the reasons I write everything down in my log, which includes detailed training records going back to 2008.  

Now, you should be ready to determine the target training load percentages for each microcycle within the phases of training. Don’t forget to incorporate a method of monitoring your progress into the plan. It could be a race or a time trial.  In the next article, we will take a closer look at the phases of training and how to build them.


 

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