Admit it. You’ve seen patterns in your training and racing, and how the results are affected. There’s a time of year you find yourself “killing it” in training and races. There are other parts of the year where you struggle, battle plateaus, mentally struggle, and can’t seem to find the magic on race day that you found in other times of the year.
Phases and Concepts
It’s time to review your planning for those seasons, (or lack of planning), and try to learn from the patterns and plan your training so you can avoid the roller coaster. Ideally, a season shouldn’t have many up and downs, but sometimes a step back at the right time, both mentally and physically, can prevent big peaks and valleys. I prefer to use three phases when planning: Transition (period of recovery between seasons), General Preparation, and Specific Preparation. These will be discussed in more detail below.
In addition to planning out your season in phases, you need to look at a two key concepts that we know about training- variance and specificity. Both are necessary in order to plan your season effectively.
The body responds well to variance. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, even if it is successful at first, eventually you will plateau, or regress. The body simply can’t continue to improve on a linear or exponential basis. The trick is giving the body the right stimulus, at the right time. The typical timeline for this is anywhere between 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the athlete. Long periods of rest and recovery, like the Transition Period, are also good variance of training, as you can’t beat the body down year round.
If you want to get better a particular sport or event, you must train specifically for it. You can’t be a better bike racer by simply getting in the weight room, or running. A strength training plan or running might help, but it won’t be as effective as training on a bike. You can’t be a great aerobic endurance athlete by only training for short anaerobic events all the time.
The challenge is training specifically for your goal events, but still having the variance in the training to avoid the plateaus. If you plan your training correctly, you will build one period of training on top of another, so the variance of training happens while still building toward one specific event or performance.
Creating Your Plan
Below I have outlined how you can plan a season effectively. By keeping to three phases the process is simplified, easy to follow and highly effective.
Step 1 – Determine Peak/Goal Events
Find out where on the calendar your peak events are. You can’t make every weekend a peak race for you. Choose the events that will really determine how you judge your season. Which will give you bragging rights with your friends and training partners? That’s your peak event(s).
Step 2 – Specific Preparation Phase
Specific preparation means now all your training becomes focused on what you need to do to be successful at your peak event. It might seem backward to do this first, but when you mark on the calendar the date your training changes to be specific, you now have planned a key point where you can make sure you don’t peak too soon. Keep this date about 12 to 14 weeks out from your peak event, (16 if you plan a few more rest periods in the timeline), and you’ll likely come in ready and confident.
Step 3 – General Preparation Phase
The General phase is the best time for athletes to address specific weaknesses. Most athletes understand that training should go from periods of general preparation to specific. However, many skip the general preparation, looking to go straight to the race-like training and never address their weaknesses. General preparation is the best time to really work on your weaknesses. How long this period lasts depends on how much time you have to devote to it before your peak event, when you mark the Specific Prep period.
Step 4 – Transition Phases
One of the best things you can do for yourself as an athlete is understand your tendencies of when your mind just wasn’t as in to racing or training. This tends to come after major, peak events for most athletes, as the sole focus in their world being the big event can sometimes lead to a need for break. Sometimes athletes push themselves through a competitive part of the season so much, they fall apart late in the racing season. A quick review of seasons past can help you identify when this period might happen for you. Once you have them identified, plan for them, and insert a break before it’s needed, or plan for it after your major event. If you are racing a series of events, this becomes even more important, as you must be ready physically and mentally multiple times. You can’t afford to come into the championship event struggling physically and mentally.
Recognize your tendencies and plan for them around your peak events, and chances are you will get the breakthrough performance you’ve been looking for.