Originally published November 22, 2018. Updated and republished November 27, 2019.
With your goals set and events selected, you’re ready to dial in your Annual Training Plan for your season ahead. In part 3 of our Planning Your Season series of posts, we’ll layout the process of your Annual Training Plan. This road map of your training program is often referred to as your Annual Training Plan. It sets the foundation of your training progression allowing you to know ‘when you should be where’ in your build up. It also helps you stay on track and progressing towards your end goals.
WE at Waite Endurance prefer to use a TWO training phase model to reach a peak performance for an “A” race. We call them: Base Builder & Race Preparation.
Base Builder Phase
Base Builder (or your base phase) is about establishing a general aerobic & strength foundation of fitness. Our Base Builder Plans are 12-24 weeks in duration. The duration is dependent on time until your next “A” race. Our Base Builder progression goes from low-intensity to high-intensity. Building through the six major energy systems in a block periodization format with 2-4 week blocks based on duration of plan and intended rate of progression:
1. Aerobic Endurance
2. Aerobic Threshold
3. Anaerobic Threshold
4. Vo2 Max
5. Anaerobic Power
6. Peak Power
Overall volume is dependent on rider age, experience, time availability and level of goals. More experienced, higher level athletes will carry moderately-high to high levels of volume within their Base Builder; where as lower level riders and/or time constrained riders will carry lower levels of volume. Regardless of total volume goals, volume will gradually increase (at low intensity) over the course of the riders Base Building Phase.
Power Testing occurs at the beginning of the Base Build to set baseline training targets. Within the Base Builder testing reoccurs approximately every 8 weeks to check for progress and reassess training targets. Lighter recovery weeks typically occur concurrently with testing weeks to de-load fatigue and reload the enthusiasm.
On the strength training side of things, the first half of Base Builder Strength focuses on developing maximum strength (while aerobic intensity is at its lowest). The second half of Base Builder shifts towards a stability & power focus in the gym as intensity ramps up on the aerobic side.
The goal upon completion of your Base Builder phase is to be “generally fit”, able to handle a high training load, and ready to focus on becoming more “specifically fit” for your target event.
Race Preparation Phase
The Race Prep phase picks up where Base Builder phase leaves off. This time working backwards down the “ladder” of energy system model (above). The duration of the Race Prep phase is event dependent. Shorter, higher intensity events (such as criteriums, XC mountain bike) require a shorter Race Prep phase, moving only a few energy systems down through to the energy systems most used in the event. Longer, lower intensity events (such as road/gravel races, endurance mountain bike races) require a longer Race Prep phase to move down through to the lower intensity energy systems (the dominant systems used in the target events).
5. Anaerobic Power
4. Vo2 Max (crits, CX, often end here)
3. Anaerobic Threshold (XC MTB, time trials, short road races here)
2. Aerobic Threshold (3-6 hour endurance events end here)
1. Aerobic Endurance (ultra 6+ hour events go to here)
A typical strategy is move through these energy systems in 2 week blocks. Often we’ll allow for more focus on the higher intensity work through additional intervals, or sets of intervals, compared to the equivalent Base Builder block from the previous phase. As intensity lowers from block to block the volume will typically rise to extend endurance as needed for longer events.
Peak & Race
Upon completion of your last energy system block within Race Prep, we often wrap things up with a testing week to identify progress. Follow that with a Taper Week and final Race Week of training to “sharpen the sword” for race day. This allows for shedding of accumulated fatigue, while maintaining the high power output capabilities you’ve trained for.
Following race day is a recovery week of little to no training to allow for a mental & physical break. From there what you do is dependent on what’s next in your season… Another build towards an “A” race. Or perhaps a second week off for transitioning between seasons and then back to Base Builder training.
Building Fitness & Accumulating Fatigue: Managing Both
Training is a balancing act. As you train you gain both fitness and fatigue. Doing a big block of training takes a lot of energy. You’re expected to be tired (and slower) upon the conclusion of training blocks. With rest and recovery you absorb the load you just applied. Within time you recover, adapt, and bring freshness back to the body leading towards a stronger (faster) you than before the training load was applied.
Your Annual Training Plan should repeat this process in a gradual & appropriate manner for you. Then repeated over and over to apply stress and continue to accumulate fatigue followed by recovery. All of this allowing for the right amount of recovery and absorption of fitness you will see an upward trend of progression.
Do too much training (or do not allow enough absorption time) and you become rundown and progression slows. Or worse, you get sick, injured, or simply burnt out on the process and are forced to take a break. A proper training plan will have progressive training loads and include the right amount of recovery and absorption. Balancing these two elements can allow for a well timed peak of fitness and freshness for your “A” Race.
The tricky part of this equation is that in order to gain fitness you must acquire fatigue; and to gain freshness means you must reduce fatigue, which means lose fitness.
Understanding these concepts can be a bit confusing, or at least require a bit of experience. The training application Training Peaks, along with the makers of power meters, HRMs, smart trainers, and cycling computers, such as Wahoo Fitness, have helped to create (relatively) easy to use & follow training metrics that can be extremely helpful when creating your Annual Training Plan. The metrics of Training Stress Score (TSS), Chronic Training Load (CTL), and Training Stress Balance (TSB) can all be utilized to create an effective plan (learn more here).
Of course one must know exactly how these metrics relate to one another. These metrics fall right in line with this fitness vs. freshness concept by measuring your training loads, fatigue models, adaptation rates and overall training progressions. Combined with frequent (and effective) testing to establish and maintain accurate training zones you have access to some helpful tools that allow for better precision in your structured planning.
All this said, to reach a high level of fitness without fatigue is the challenge for both the coach and athlete to figure out. This takes time and practice. Often over several years to figure it out just right for the individual athlete. However there are some basic concepts to help get your annual planning process started.
1. Allow for the longest Base Builder (base period) you possibly can.
Don’t wait, start your training program early, right after a short break following your previous season! This allows for a gradual & steady progression of training, fatigue accumulation, and absorption of fitness to minimize overall stress application and minimize odds of illness or injury, while maximizing your fitness gains and year-to-year improvements.
2. Race Preparation Phase (build period) is only as long as needed for your event.
You will be in very good shape upon conclusion of your Base Build. The Race Prep gets you towards your peak. Top-end fitness comes quickly following a well trained base. Don’t drag it out. Train the energy systems that are required within your target event (specialization). Shorter events require short Race Prep phases; longer events require a bit more.
3. Rest & Repeat.
Multiple “A” races in one season? Take a short break after the first. Then get back into next Race Prep that builds towards your next event. Longer seasons of racing may require longer builds through a second Base Builder & Race Prep phase to not overdo time spent in Race Prep (ie. Base Fitness can be maintained year-round, Race Prep Fitness can only be maintained for a couple months).
4. Use Metrics to track your progress.
Training with HR & Power not only allows you to train with more structure, but it allows you to set up your entire season with more structure. Set weekly training goals based on Training Stress Score (TSS), track fitness through Chronic Training Load (CTL), and you can create your whole Annual Training Plan up based off fitness & freshness to maximize your progression and time your peak.
5. Your Plan is NOT set in stone.
Spend time to create your annual plan, but realize that plans often (almost always) change. That is okay. Use your plan to provide with direction. Have Point A (start of the new training season) and a Point B (your “A” race), and a reasonable plan to get from A to B. If something comes up as a disruption in your training, you can always edit your plan to make the most of what have to work with. Use it as a map of your season, and know that there are different roads that can get you to the same location.
Annual Training Plan Example
The example below is provided to give you a visual of what a (very simplistic “text book”) annual plan might look like for a two-peak season; with the first peak being a shorter power based event, and the second event being a longer endurance based event.
- The grey bars represent weekly TSS (training load) goals.
- The blue “mountain” in the back ground is your fitness… the more you train the bigger the mountain.
- The yellow “peaks & valleys” represent your freshness… as you train your freshness dips into the valleys; coming off recovery weeks freshness shoots up to a peak.
- Base Builder is October through March, gradually building fitness in 4 week blocks (3 build, 1 recover).
- Race Prep 1 is April through mid-May (6 weeks), descending TSS in two week blocks allowing fitness (blue) to remain high, and freshness (yellow) to gradually rise.
- During Taper (mid/late May) fitness declines gradually while freshness rises to allow for a peak performance (ie. highest fitness & freshness you can simultaneously achieve at “A” race.
- Following the week off at end of May freshness rises to it annual high points to allow for complete “refreshness”.
- Race Prep 2 begins June, starts with high intensity (Anaerobic Power), descends through each energy system while building volume, TSS, and fitness (blue) to a high point of the season.
- A sharp drop in volume for the recovery & taper allows freshness to rise rapidly while minimizing loss in fitness, ideal for a peak performance over a long course event.
- Following the second peak, in the end of season Transition period freshness is restored to highest levels (while fitness descends to low levels) and you’re ready to get back to structured training for the next year.
Of course this is a very simple and easy example of an annual plan. Throw in family and work commitments, holidays, additional “B” & “C” races, and other complications and the annual plan layout becomes a bit more tricky. This is where a coach can come in handy; although if you think through it all and lay it out on the calendar you can plan around the tricky spots in order to make the most of what you have to work with.
With your annual plan in place you have a better grasp of where you’d like your fitness to be a different points throughout your base and race prep build, and now you’re ready to really dig into your training and begin working towards your goals.
Let Us Help You With Your Annual Training Plan
We have 12, 18 and 24 week Base Builder Plans to fit your annual training plan programming needs, as well as Race Prep Plans for mountain bike, road, gravel, and triathlon. You can easily create your Annual Training Plan on Training Peaks (Premium account required), count out the weeks you have to work with, and then drop in the Base Builder & Race Prep plans that fit your timing needs. These plans will populate your weekly training schedule and follow the fitness building schemes referenced in the above examples.
Need more help? Or want to get your complicated schedule just right? Send us an email and we can get you dialed in. Happy to answer questions for free or do the planning for you as part of a low-cost Custom Plan option.
Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach, and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out his Stock Training Plans, Custom Training Plans, and Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.