USA Triathlon says that planning helps you identify clear goals, understand your current level of readiness and establish an accurate training regimen.
Planning also requires you to take a realistic look at your current position on a frequent basis throughout the season, acquire new information and then make decisions on the way you are going to train.
According to Sharone Aharon, a contributor to Complete Triathlon Guide, the gold standard of developing an annual training plan and avoiding the pitfalls of poor planning is periodization. This refers to dividing a certain amount of time, in this case the training year, into smaller, easier-to-manage phases. The most common periodization refers to three segments of time that repeat themselves and differ by size:
1. Macrocycle. This is a long stretch of training that focuses on accomplishing a major overall goal or completing a race. “For example, if the Chicago Triathlon is your most important race of the season, the time from the first day of training at the beginning of the season until that race will be considered your macrocycle,” says Aharon.
A macrocycle is then made up of several small- and medium-size phases and covers a period of a few weeks to 11 months. For most athletes, especially beginners, a macrocycle covers the entire racing season, focusing on one big race for the year and the development of their basic physical and technical skills.
2. Mesocycle. This is a shorter block of training within the macrocycle that focuses on achieving a particular goal. It usually covers 3 to 16 weeks and will repeat a few times, each time with a different training objective or goal. Coaches often use three mesocycles, or phases, within the annual training plan: preparatory, competitive and transition.
The preparatory phase establishes the physical, technical and psychological base from which the competitive phase is developed. The competitive sub-phases are dedicated to maximizing fitness for ideal performance; coaches refer to these as build, race, or peak phases. The transition phase, finally, is the rest and rejuvenation period in between training cycles or seasons. “Keep in mind that the level of the athlete will also influence the length of each phase,” Aharon comments. “A beginner most likely will have a very long preparatory phase, up to 22 weeks, to develop a strong foundation that will enable him or her to endure the load of progressive, more advanced training.”
3. Microcycle. This is the basic training phase that repeats itself within the annual plan. It is the smallest training period and is structured according to the objectives, volume and intensity of each mesocycle. The microcycle is probably the most important and functional unit of training, since its structure and content determine the quality of the training process.
A microcycle can last for 3 to 10 days but typically refers to the weekly training schedule. “The progression of the microcycles within the mesocycle has to take into consideration the important balance between work and rest,” stresses Aharon. “Too much work without appropriate rest will lead to overtraining and injuries. On the other hand, too little work with too much rest will lead to underperformance.”