Developing a Strength + Conditioning Program: Planning

Developing a Strength + Conditioning Program: Planning

Planning is the final step to put in place before the commencement of the actual hard work of training. So far in our previous posts we have looked at Goal Setting, Benchmarking and Testing. If you have missed our earlier posts start at our earlier Introduction post. I will also make reference to concepts which are discussed in our Scientific Principals of Training post so if you are feeling like you missed something, take a look to get up to speed.

Introduction to Planning

Planning for an event or season happens at multiple levels. This will vary slightly based on the event, the amount of lead time and the level of competition. However, most will involve an annual plan, and monthly plan, and a weekly plan. These are sometimes referred to as the macrocycle, mesocycle and macrocycle respectively. I have avoided using this terminology as it does not aid understanding and makes a simple topic more complicated.

It is worth noting that sometimes for practical reasons this duration of these will change slightly. Many shift workers for example work a two-day, two-night, four off pattern. As such it may make more sense for a program to follow an eight, rather than seven day “weekly” block.  The other notable factor that I am going to omit is athletes competing at an international level who will often use a four-year cycle to reflect the four-yearly cycle of the Olympics. My assumption here is that athletes at this level likely have professional resources available.

Annual Training Plan: Overview

The annual plan is your broad-brush-stroke plan for the year. This will include your competition and testing dates and help guide the progression of training form more general to more specific. I am going to be using TrainingPeaks to both help develop my training plan, and to track my fitness and progression towards my goals. A major benefit of using this software is that from the annual training plan, training phases and monthly cycles are automatically created.

In setting up your training plan in Training Peaks events are divided into priority A, B and C. Designation of the events as A, B or C reflects how important they are. Following this model Master’s Nationals will be my A event. For the B events I will attend the Victorian State Championships, the Master’s State Championships. The C events I am using to designate testing dates.

One of the great benefits in using this software is the guidance it provides in structuring phases in training. If you refer to the image below a few simple but important things are shown:

Annual Training Plan

Annual Training Plan: Starting

Firstly, the preparation block is a five-week introduction to training. Given we have all been lock out of the gyms at the moment, this is a practical concession to avoid injury and calm my enthusiasm with getting back to training. Take away message – start easy.

Annual Training Plan: Sub-phases

The second is the structured sequence of base phases, followed by build phase, peak and taper. The aim of the base phase is to build an aerobic and strength base. As we have discussed previously in our section on benchmarking, performance in rowing is closely related to aerobic capacity and peak strength. As such the build of the training year is dedicated to developing these attributes. My intention is to delay any significant intensification of my workload until February. This is an all eggs in one basket strategy, but gives me the greatest time to build base, with enough time to transition. It also avoids prolonged phases of intensive work, which can result in large accumulation of fatigue. Take away message – build slowly.

Annual Training Plan: Annual Hours

The third is the total training hours. This is an important consideration for multiple reasons. Firstly, and practically, as a small business owner, husband, puppy father, there are limits to the amount of time that I can reasonably spend training. Here I have nominated an average of 12 hours per week as being sustainable. The second consideration is that are some strong links between total training hours and performance. International level rowers will carry a training year well in excess of 1000 hours, or 20 hours per week. If you only have 500 hours to give it is unlikely that you are going to be able to compete at an international level. Take away message – be realistic.

Annual Training Plan: Recovery

The final point to note is the use of a cyclical three week on, to one off training pattern. This periodic use of a planned deload allows the body to refresh and recover from the demands of the previous weeks training. It is crucial here to remember that improving fitness happens in the recovery form training. No recovery no positive adaption. Take away message – the magic happens in the recovery.


Development of an annual training plan helps guide program development and ensure that physical attributes are developed in time and in order to support performance when needed. As important as planning out session however, is planning for adequate recovery. No one want to be on a first name basis with their sports physiotherapist and one keyway to stay training and injury free is to manage not just workload but recovery as well.

Until next time, happy training

Michael Hedger