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Planning your athlete's training is essential - here is how to do it

Brian Mackenzie explains how to prepare an athlete's training program to ensure both short and long-term objectives are achieved at the right time in the season.

Training Plan

The purpose of a Training Plan is to identify the work to be carried out to achieve agreed objectives. Training Plans should be drawn up to identify long-term (4 years) objectives as well as short-term plans for the forthcoming season. For the rest of this topic, I will concentrate on the development of the short-term annual Training Plan. In its simplest form, the plan could comprise of a single, A4 sheet identifying the overall plan for the year, and more detailed weekly plans identifying the specific activities the athlete is to carry out.

Training year

The start of the training year will depend upon the athlete's circumstances and objectives, but this would generally be around October for track and field athletics.

Information Gathering

The first stage of preparing a Training Plan is to gather background information about your athlete and the objectives for the forthcoming season. The sort of information to collect is as follows:

  • Personal details
  • Name, address, date of birth, telephone numbers, transport arrangements
  • Objectives
  • Performance (time, height, distance)
  • Technical (development of event technique)
  • Indoor and/or outdoor season
  • Experience
  • Personal best (PB's)
  • Competition experience (club, county, national, country)
  • Equipment
    • Does the athlete have their equipment (e.g. starting blocks, javelin, etc.)?
    • Harness and tyre
    • Elastic harness
    • Weight jackets
    • Video Camera
    • Distance, time, % effort matrix chart
  • Finance
    • Where can grants be obtained from?
  • Competition
    • Date of the main competition
    • National and Area Championships
    • School, University competitions
    • Required qualification times for competitions
  • Fixture lists - Club, County etc.
  • Open Meetings
  • Competitors
    • Who is the competition and what are their PB's?
  • Recent competition results
  • Competition behaviour
  • Athlete's other Commitments
    • School, college, work, part-time jobs
    • Family and partner
    • Hobbies and other sports
  • Time available for training
  • Planned holidays
  • Medical
    • Previous injuries or illness
    • Current problems (diabetes, asthma, etc.)
    • Access to medical support
    • Physiotherapy support
    • On any medication - is it a banned substance?
    • Using asthma inhaler - application to use Beta 2 agent inhalers
  • Training facilities
    • Tracks and other running facilities (bad weather)
    • Gymnasiums and weight training
    • Swimming pools, saunas and massage
  • Coaching Workshops
  • Last season
    • What can be learned from last season - good and bad aspects
  • Key questions for the athlete
    • How serious are you about your athletics?
    • What do expect from your coach?


It is the method of organising the training year into phases where each phase has its specific aims for the development of the athlete.

The phases of a training year

The training year is divided into 6 phases as follows:

  • Phase 1 - 16 weeks - Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan
  • Phase 2 - 8 weeks - Feb, Mar
  • Phase 3 - 8 weeks - Apr, May
  • Phase 4 - 8 weeks - Jun, Jul
  • Phase 5 - 8 weeks - Jul, Aug
  • Phase 6 - 4 weeks - Sep

This assumes that the competition climax will be in August

What if there is an indoor and an outdoor season?

For the athlete with competitive objectives for both the indoor and outdoor season then the phase allocation for the indoor season could be as follows:

  • Phase 1 - 6 weeks - Oct, Nov
  • Phase 2 - 8 weeks - Nov, Dec, Jan
  • Phase 3 - 6 weeks - Jan, Feb

and the outdoor season as follows:

  • Phase 1 - 4 weeks - Feb, Mar
  • Phase 2 - 6 weeks - Mar, Apr
  • Phase 3 - 5 weeks - Apr, May
  • Phase 4 - 7 weeks - Jun, Jul
  • Phase 5 - 6 weeks - Jul, Aug
  • Phase 6 - 4 weeks - Sep

This assumes that the climax of the indoor season is in February and the outdoor season in August. Depending on your athlete's objectives and abilities, then the year start, and the duration of each phase may have to be adjusted to achieve appropriate development.

Objectives of each phase

The objectives of each phase are as follows:

  • Phase 1 - General development of strength, mobility, endurance, and basic technique
  • Phase 2 - Development of specific fitness and advanced technical skills
  • Phase 3 - Competition experience - the achievement of indoor objectives
  • Phase 4 - Adjustment of the technical model, preparation for the main competition
  • Phase 5 - Competition experience and achievement of outdoor objectives
  • Phase 6 - Active recovery - planning preparation for next season

Activities of each Phase

The athlete's physical needs that require development are:

Each of these needs should be seen as a building block, where specific blocks need to be in place before you progress to the next. Failure to do this may result in injury. How you allocate the blocks to each phase depends upon the athlete's weaknesses and strengths and is for you as the coach to decide with the athlete.

One approach is to progress the building blocks as follows:

  • basic body conditioning
  • general strength, endurance, mobility, and technique
  • specific strength, endurance, mobility, and technique
  • speed

When progressing from one block to the next, remember to fade one out as the other comes in and not to switch from one block to the next overnight. Some blocks once started may continue to the end of the season but at a less intense level e.g. mobility. Other blocks to consider are relaxation, visualisation, and psychology (mental attitude).

Preparing a plan

The steps in producing a Training Plan are as follows:

  • Gathering information
  • Produce an overall plan template and identify the months/weeks of the year
  • Identify in the plan at the appropriate period
    • the main competition
    • area, national, school, etc. championships
    • qualification competitions
    • club fixture meetings
    • the 6 phases based on the main competition in phase 5
  • Identify in the plan
    • the blocks (e.g. strength, endurance) to be developed in each phase
    • the period of development for each block
    • the intensity of training week by week
    • number of training sessions per week
    • evaluation points to monitor progress
  • Identify appropriate training units for each block as appropriate to the phase of development.
  • Group the training units for each block into training schedules taking into consideration the number of training sessions the athlete can complete per week, the required training intensity, and the phase of development.

What are a training unit and a training session?

A training unit is a single activity (e.g. 6x60m at 90% effort with 2 min recovery) with a set objective (e.g. develop specific endurance). A training session is made up of one or more training units e.g. warm-up unit, Technique drills unit, Speed Endurance unit, and a cool-down unit.

What is the training schedule?

A training schedule (microcycle) comprises many training units that can span from 7 to 30 days.

What are a Microcycle, Mesocycle & Macrocycle

A microcycle, also known as a training schedule, is a group of training units. The mesocycle, also known as a macrocycle, is several repeats of a microcycle.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is a simple, yet often misused motivational technique which can provide some structure for your training and competition programme. Goals give a focus, and there are two well-known acronyms to guide goal setting.


  • S - goals must be Specific
  • M - training targets should be Measurable
  • A - goals should be Adjustable
  • R - goals must be Realistic
  • T - training targets should be Time based
  • E - goals should be challenging and Exciting
  • R - goals should be Recorded


  • S - goals must be Specific
  • C - within the Control of the athlete
  • C - goals are Challenging
  • A - goals must be Attainable
  • M - training targets should be Measurable
  • P - goals are Personal

FITT Principles

The basic principles of fitness training are summed up in the acronym FITT.

  • F - Frequency - how often
  • I - Intensity - how hard
  • T - Time - how long
  • T - Type - the type of training (strength, endurance, etc.)

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Planning your athlete's training is essential - here is how to do it. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 3 / July), p. 1-3

Page Reference

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

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Planning your athlete's training is essential - here is how to do it [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.