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How to design and plan successful training phases.

Nigel Hetherington explains how to design and plan successful training phases.

A training phase could be anything from a few weeks to many weeks long and is usually characterised as being part of an overall series of sequential or partially overlapping phases called a 'period' aimed at attaining a specific performance goal. Traditionally, coaches use names such as 'general conditioning', 'specific conditioning' or 'pre-competition' to describe phases. These suggest many activities but tend not to be very enlightening. More practical help to the coach and athlete may be to consider what the intermediate goals are for each phase, how to identify them and what to do to achieve them.


We are concerned with training one or more of the fitness components - speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and skill - all of these can be trained, and all can be trained in various sub-categories, e.g. maximal strength/core strength. The key to success is working on the basis that it is firstly important to identify what needs to be improved, by how much and why. Furthermore, consider how we will be able to measure the improvement and understand the timescales involved, e.g. it will typically take 6 to 8 weeks to train consistent and measurable progress and often longer to achieve the desired goal. We also need to consider how this change may impact other factors, e.g. strength gains may cause a specific reduction in flexibility unless worked on in parallel.

Example phase goal

The following is an example of an intermediate goal

" Improve flexibility in lower back/hamstrings over 12 weeks by more than 12cm, measured with the 'sit and reach test', to reduce the occurrence of chronic tightness in these areas. Initial test result: 28cm; goal: 40cm; ultimate goal: 48cm.

Examples of (stretching) activities (seek expert guidance if not certain)

  • Seated hamstring stretch - knee partially flexed
  • Standing hamstring stretch - feet wide apart; bending forward at the waist aiming to achieve back parallel to ground with arms in alignment with the back.
  • Lateral stretch (sideways) from the waist with feet wide apart and sliding a hand down the leg while bringing the opposite arm over the top of the head.

How much and how long

  • 20 to 30-second static hold in a stretched position
  • 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 stretches each performed 3 to 5 times per week for a minimum of 6 weeks.

To achieve optimum results, the programme should be progressive in terms of the number of stretches performed in a given session and the number of sessions per week.


Warm-up thoroughly before performing any stretches. You should not be fatigued when stretching. Treat this as a training session in itself and perform it in a warm, comfortable environment. Gently cooldown afterwards.

Do not overstretch; pain should not be experienced during stretching.

Measure progress using the sit and reach test every two weeks. Reassess goal after six weeks and relative success of measures employed. Record all sessions! Devise a maintenance program once a goal is achieved. Setting intermediate goals for athletes can be highly motivating in terms of achieving meaningful results without exposing them, for example, to the rigours of competition.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2005) How to design and plan successful training phases. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 22 / May), p. 9

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2005) How to design and plan successful training phases [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Nigel Hetherington was the Head Track & Field Coach at the internationally acclaimed Singapore Sports School. He is a former National Performance Development Manager for Scottish Athletics and National Sprints Coach for Wales. Qualified and highly active as a British Athletics level 4 performance coach in all events he has coached athletes to National and International honours in sprints, hurdles as well as a World Record holder in the Paralympic shot. He has ten years of experience as a senior coach educator and assessor trainer on behalf of British Athletics. Nigel is also an experienced athlete in sprint (World Masters Championship level) and endurance (3-hour marathon runner plus completed the 24 hour 'Bob Graham Round' ultra-endurance event up and down 42 mountain peaks in the English Lake District). He is a chartered chemist with 26 years of experience in scientific research and publishing.