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Even a simple plan is better than a brilliant inconsistency. I would like to start this article with this statement because it perfectly captures the essence of this article. Here, I focus on the principles behind creating a good training plan and that can lead to a long-term growth in training and performance. 

Approximately 10,000 hours of training lead to mastery in any field of human activity. Exceptionally talented athletes will reach the peak performance in less needed time. Even so, many athletes, chess masters, musicians, and other artists, as well as surgeons and craftsmen, confirms the 10,000-hour rule. But this mentioned rule is not enough to simply pass in some way. In must always be a deliberate, systematic, and planned process. Especially in sport, the unthinking and haphazard nature of the training process can lead to either brilliant or tragic results. It can lead to an extremely rapid rise in fitness once, while the other time it can lead to fatal overtraining. A key characteristic of sophisticated training process management is the predictability (forecastability) of the performance or athletic form of the trainee. The coach doses the training units of a specific type, volume, and intensity so that the athlete's form peaks at the key events of the season.

Intuitive management of training is influenced by current and short-term moods or tendencies from both the coach and the athlete. An ill-considered process is the breeding ground for sudden impulsive decisions and missteps that can negatively affect an athlete's performance for months. These are most often sudden affective decisions after losing races or in moments when a competitor is not doing very well overall. In a rationally guided process, decisions are supported by a systematic retrospective analysis of performance, or the aspects that comprise it: technique (video analysis in comparative programs, time analysis of performance), current level of fitness (determining the degree of muscle fatigue, etc.), training activity (number of hours trained, composition of training units), and mental state (determining the degree of nervousness, concentration).

The rational management of the training process consists of 4 steps: planning, continuous recording, control of training (by testing or by actual competitive performance) and evaluation (diagram 1). All these steps together form the training log. 


Diagram 1: Schematic representation of the training log

Every athlete should keep a log. This is the only way to keep track of your training in the long term. Part of this overview should be knowing the ratio of specific (special, "on water") and non-specific (general, "on dry land") training. The training log should allow subtotals and totals to show the changing ratio of specific to general training. While in the winter months, a greater proportion is devoted to general training (e.g., gym, running, swimming), in the summer months, water should predominate. This is an important indicator not only in the preparation of adult athletes, but also of children and juniors, in whose case we emphasize versatility.    

Statistics of general and specific training indicators play an indispensable role in the development of follow-up plans and are also important for the athlete's self-knowledge. General Training Indicators (GTIs) include counts of load days, load units, competitions, days off, restricted days (injury, illness) and hourly totals of load and recovery (recovery procedures). Specific Training Indicators (STIs) for canoe sports are, for example, the number of full courses, the volume of load in track and higher pace (in minutes), or the distance covered in km.

GTIs and STIs are essential to monitor the volume-to-intensity ratio. In general, and very simplified, as the intensity of load increases, its volume decreases (Diagram 2).


Diagram 2: Relationship between volume and load intensity.

In general, the load volume decreases towards the race, with most of the TU devoted to track or higher intensity sections. However, I would not recommend a sharp reduction in the number of training units (TU). Rather, from experience, I recommend maintaining the number of TUs but reducing their time commitment by a third to a half. Keeping the length of the training with significantly more time devoted to quality (i.e., continuous video analysis, etc.) is also an option.

Sustainable growth in training and performance of an athlete is based on progression. Only a gradual increase in volume and intensity leads to adaptations of the organism to the load (diagram 3).    ¨


Diagram 3: Gradual increase in load (1 – 3) and decrease in recovery decline (4)

The load, acting as a stressor (adaptive stimulus), disturbs the biological balance (homeostasis) of the organism, while this deviation is super-compensated by an increase in the original capacity of the organism (adaptation) when the recovery time is kept. The aim of this adaptation is to ensure that the next time a similarly strong stimulus does not cause such a strong disturbance of homeostasis.  However, the organism does not waste energy to adapt immediately to random or accidental stimuli. Only long-term and cyclically repeated stimuli of increasing intensity induce true adaptation (Diagram 4). Cyclical alternation of load and rest, both short and long term.

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Diagram 4: Dependence of gradual increase in training load and performance growth.

The training plan takes place in cycles. A fixed terminology is usually used in the planning process (diagram 5). A microcycle most often refers to a period of one week, but in elite sport we can also encounter shorter microcycles (most often three days). Mesocycle refers to a period of 3 - 5 weeks and can be identified with the length of a month. A macrocycle is then a training unit consisting of several mesocycles, most often taking the form of a yearly training cycle (ATC).


Diagram 5: Training plan cycles.


Diagram 6: Correlation of TUs, microcycles, mesocycles, and macrocycles.

The ATC itself is divided into several characteristic periods. We summarized it very simply for the canoe sports in Table 1. 

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Table 1: Characteristics of the period of the annual training cycle (ATC).

Megacycles are also sometimes mentioned above the macrocycles in the ATCs. They are most often 4-year periods (following the Olympic periods) for the top athletes or multi-year periods respecting the stages of sports training in the case of children, youth and young adult athletes as well as respecting the “sensation periods” - periods particularly suitable for the development of movement abilities and skills. However, we will talk about the stages, the sensitive periods and the so-called LTAD concept (Long Term Athlete Development) next time. It will certainly come in handy when developing your offspring or young charges.             

Article also avaiable in pdf. here: How to make a training plan.pdf

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