Friday 16 November 2012

Training for SUP Part 4 – Structure of a Periodized Year Plan

So now it’s time to put everything together and develop your periodized yearlong training plan. I’ve attached an example that you’ll see below and you can download as an excel document to refer to as you read this post. Please do not attempt to use it as your own training plan as it is just an example. Instead, think of the things I’ve discussed in my last couple of posts and use the information I provide here to develop your own plan that suits your needs and will best help you meet your goals.

The first thing I recommend you do is go and get a large sheet of graph paper with approximately ¼ inch squares.   With it positioned lengthwise and using a ruler, draw a line along the length of the page about one inch from the bottom edge.  About 1 ½ inches from the right edge of the page, draw a vertical line to a point near the top of the page.   Now starting from the vertical line count out 52 squares along the horizontal line, each one corresponding to one week of the year and number them from right to left (52 should be at the far left, one at the far right).  Each square represents one week of your training year.

After reading the last post and setting some goals, you should have determined your main race(s) for the season.  Enter them on the graph paper near the top of the page, with the biggest race of your year (the race that is your main focus) in the column above the number 1 square.  Now everything you enter in your plan is counting down to your biggest race.   You know the date of the race so you know the week of the calendar year that week 1 on your page represents.  I like to put the month of the year on my page, so I know where I am in the calendar year at a glance.

Before going any further you need to know the basic structure of a periodized yearly plan.  The year is broken into a number of phases or cycles of training of varying sizes.  The largest training phase is the macrocycle.  Macrocycles represent major segments of the training year, each with specific physiological and technical aspects in mind as the main focus, and can be as long as 12 to 16 weeks in duration.  Each macrocycle is divided into smaller training phases called mesocycles, each devoted to progressive improvement of the major training objectives of the macrocycle.  These are usually 3 to 4 weeks in duration.   Each mesocycle can then be divided into smaller microcycles, which are usually 1 week in length.  These focus on the training objectives of the mesocycle, but represent an effective way to control progressive training load (both in terms of volume and intensity) within the mesocycle.

In general, if you have 4 microcycles within a mesocycle, the training load should increase slightly in each of the first three before dropping in the fourth to provide an easier week.  This easier week allows for the body to consolidate physiological and technical gains made in the mesocycle and recharge before beginning the next mesocycle and its progressively increasing training load. This pattern of progressive loading with built in consolidation/recovery ensures maximal gains in the components of fitness being trained, prevents overtraining and burnout and minimizes the risk of injury.

So how might these macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles fit together for a SUP paddler?   Let’s go back to our graph paper. Currently you’ve plotted the year out into 52 weeks, each represented by one square on your sheet, with your most important race of the year occurring in the week 1 column to the far right of your page. If you are a cold climate paddler a useful place to start is to look at what you’ve plotted on the graph paper so far and determine the weeks in the winter where you are most likely going to be frozen off the water (or at least have your paddling seriously curtailed by weather). Since you can’t paddle much during this period, this is an appropriate place to create a macrocycle dedicated primarily to general dry-land fitness training as opposed to specific on-water training. For me living in the Toronto area this phase starts at the beginning of December when the rivers and lakes usually begin to freeze and extends until early to mid March when the ice has usually melted or I am at a training camp somewhere in a warm climate. Since you’ve already plotted the months of the year on your page you should easily be able to define this macrocycle on your page. I call this macrocycle the general preparatory phase. If you are from a climate where you can paddle comfortably all year round you’ll need to consider where you want to fit your general preparatory phase within your year.

If I were from a warmer climate I’d probably keep my general preparatory phase in pretty much the same spot, but as I’ve been training for 35 years it is as much due to being comfortable with it there rather than due to any physiological reason. I think somewhere around a minimum of 20 weeks of uninterrupted on-water preparation is ideal for optimal race preparation so you have some flexibility as to where you locate your general preparatory phase within the year. Next let’s consider the period of time between your biggest race of the previous season and the start of the general preparatory phase which you just scheduled into your plan. This macrocycle consists primarily of on-water training (as winter weather hasn’t arrived yet) and should be used for the following:
  1. Recovery from the previous competitive season (usually about 3 weeks of active rest)
  2. Development of specific aerobic base (your aerobic fitness developed on the water)
  3. Correction of technical flaws/refinement of paddling technique
  4. Introduction to dry-land fitness training with particular focus on dry-land aerobic work and development of basic strength

I call this macrocycle the specific base development phase as the focus is on building a specific (paddling) base of both fitness and technique,while introducing the most basic dry-land training. As such it concentrates more on volume of training than intensity. For me this cycle usually lasts from mid to late September to the end of November(approximately 9 to 10 weeks.)

So now you’ve plotted out the first two macrocycles of your training year. At this point you need to consider what comes after your general preparatory macrocycle. This phase is called the specific preparatory phase.This phase generally covers about 16 weeks and covers your early season on-water preparation and much of the early season racing. The focus here should be on transferring gains made in general fitness during dry-land training to specific fitness required for paddling. Initially this macrocycle is characterized by relatively high volume, low intensity training, however as the cycle continues there is a progression to higher intensity and slightly lower volume.

As the general preparatory phase is a little too short to fully address all the strength/power requirements for SUP there is a need to continue to do dry-land strength/power training during the specific preparatory phase. Furthermore, as the paddling season between the end of the basic preparatory phase and the year’s most important race can be up to 28 weeks or more long, it is necessary to continue to do dry-land strength/power training to maintain abilities you’ve already developed. The main focus of strength/power training during this cycle should be the development of power endurance. This can be done effectively with short intense dry-land workouts 1x to 2x/week and on the water 1x to 2x/week by using a variety of brake-like mechanisms to increase resistance while paddling on your board.

The last macrocycle of the season is the competitive phase. It can be anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks in length and consists of on-water training designed to progressively address the high intensity effort required in racing. Depending on the nature of the race you’ve identified as the year’s most important, this cycle can include a lot of high intensity aerobic or even anaerobic work. As intensity increases in this phase there is a corresponding decrease in volume.

The last 2 to 3 weeks of this cycle are devoted to peaking for the year’s biggest race. This process is characterized by short, high intensity workouts with increasingly large amounts of rest and recovery in between. In theory, your body rebounds from the high training load it has endured and super compensates to the new, reduced training load. This allows it to be at its absolute strongest and most prepared for your most important race.

At this point I think it would be appropriate to make a few comments on the example of the year plan that I’ve included, particularly with reference to volume and intensity. It is important to note the following:
  • There is no scale to the volume and intensity bars in the year plan I’ve included. They simply represent the relative load in terms of each that is completed in each microcycle.
  • Volume is underneath intensity on the plan as volume is foundation training upon which increased intensity can be added
  • You can see the pattern of increased training load (volume and intensity) for the first 2 to 3 weeks (microcycles) of each mesocycle, followed by an easier week of reduced load for consolidation and recovery. You can see that the load also tends to increase from mesocycle to mesocycle. It is important to note that such an undulating increase in training load is ultimately more effective than a linear increase which is more likely to lead to overtraining injuries and burnout.
  • You can see that in the specific base development, general preparatory and specific preparatory phases volume is the main focus, although intensity does increase gradually
  • In the competitive phase volume is reduced and intensity becomes a greater part of the total training load
  • During the peaking mesocycle volume is cut way back but intensity remains fairly high
  • You can see that for “A” races there is generally some reduction in training load built in during the week leading up to the race, corresponding to what could be described as a “mini peak”. For “B” races there is no such reduction in training load. As such you are often racing tired in these events and using them as training exercises rather than performance indicators.

This should serve as a good overview of the structure of a periodized year plan.  I’ll dedicate each of the next few posts to a closer look at each of the macrocycles I’ve identified here, including their objectives, the type of training you should be doing to meet those objectives, the progression from mesocycle to mesocycle, some examples of workouts and exercises you can do, and how to manage the balance between volume and intensity.   Stay tuned!