Developing a Training Plan: What Should I Do? – Step 2

By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist

In the last issue we discussed using reflections from the season just finished, combined with detailed profiling, to help establish a series of well thought through training goals across all aspects of your performance as a squash player and athlete. These goals can now be used to provide structure and direction to your training plan over the coming months.

Building your training plan

First of all you need to consider the time each week that you have available for training—can you fit in one session a day for 1 hour? Do you have more time available at the weekend or during the week? Most adult players will have a full-time job to fit their training around along with possible family commitments! Junior players will have their academic commitments during the school year but potentially more free time during the summer months to focus on training.

Understanding what time you can consistently commit to your training on a weekly basis is important as this will help determine realistically how many areas of development you should focus on during each training week.

Building Training Blocks
At this stage it is essential to have some form of training template to start building the structure to your program. I like to see a 4 week block on one page as it helps me visualize the overall flow and progression in a player’s plan over a specific phase of training.

I have included a diagram of a 4 week training template I used recently with the US Junior Men’s Squad to help with the design of their training plans in the build up to the World Junior Championships (see opposite). A simple template that allows a player to put in their training goals for this phase at the bottom of the page, and on each day has space to put in a short description of the training to be performed and at what time of day. Find something that works for you, whether it is pen and paper diary format, or an electronic document/calendar.

Above is a training template that was created for the US Junior Men in preparation for the World Championships this summer.
Above is a training template that was created for the US Junior Men in preparation for the World Championships this summer.

I would recommend you start building your training plan in weekly blocks across a 3-4 week period. This is a more manageable way of building your program as opposed to trying to plan months in advance which will seem a little overwhelming. It also encourages the important process of reviewing your progress through each 3-4 week phase, which will help guide appropriate changes to your plan going into subsequent phases.

Putting together a training plan can be a very scientific and complex process and many books have been written entirely on this topic. For the purpose of this much shorter article I want to highlight a number of areas that I believe are important elements of any successful training plan.

Developing skills in all aspects of life whether music, business or athletics requires a level of consistent and purposeful practice over a sustained period. We have already seen in previous articles that those individuals who get to the very top of their professions in music, business and athletics have almost always gone through a period of around 10,000 hours of purposeful practice or training!

Within a 3-4 week training block, if you are hoping to make an improvement in any specific area, you should aim to have 3-4 sessions each week either completely dedicated to (or incorporating significant aspects of) this training area. It will typically take a period of 8-12 weeks for more notable changes to be observed.

Don’t get caught in the trap that I have seen, even with many elite level athletes, of doing the same sessions week after week and expecting the same improvements. As your body responds and adapts to the training stimulus imposed by each session, you will also need to respond by increasing the challenge of the sessions as the weeks progress. Progressions in physical sessions can be made by manipulating the volume and intensity of the training blocks and, where appropriate, by adapting the rest periods. The harder part of all of this can be knowing when to increase the demand of a training session and by how much? My advice would be to make small adjustments in each of your sessions and make these changes on a weekly basis.

While consistency is a key part of any successful training plan, variety is also important to keep challenging the body, and it also helps to play a role in reducing the incidence of overuse injuries which tend to occur in individuals who repeat exactly the same session time and time again. For example, if you are running to help improve your endurance then don’t simply run the same distance at the same pace on the same surface 3-4 times a week! Bring in variety by changing the length and intensity of runs, adding in interval sessions, changing the surface you run on, and using other types of endurance training to mix things up (i.e., biking, swimming etc.).

Balanced Training Load
I think of training load as the overall stress placed on the body (and mind) by a specific session or training day. Training load is essentially a reflection of both volume and intensity of training. A session could be long in duration (e.g., 2 hours) but at a low intensity so the overall training load of the session might only be classed as moderate. Equally you could have a short session (30 minutes) with extremely high intensity work (i.e., strength & power circuits) which is classed as high training load. As you develop your training plan make sure there is variation in training load as you go through the week. If every day has a high training load then you will probably be ready to pack it in by Thursday! Equally if every training day has a low training load then you are not providing enough challenge in your training to get any results.

You could use the classification of low/ moderate/high, or even use a number rating from 1-10 as shown in the example training template—whichever you feel best allows you to express the overall stress of each training day.

Rest & Regeneration
If you are training consistently well on a day to day basis it is also vital to have periods of rest and regeneration to help your body recover and adapt to the imposed training stress. An athlete who continuously trains hard with insufficient recovery runs the risk of ‘overreaching’ which can then lend to ‘overtraining’. Most of the World’s leading professional players will take at least one full day of recovery each week during a demanding training phase.

As part of your recovery between sessions also be aware of the key role played by nutrition and sleep, and how to incorporate active and passive recovery techniques into your program. For more details refer to a series of 3 articles on Recovery in 2010.

Plenty to think on already as you set about building your training plan. Refer back to your training goals and profiling to determine the priority areas of training that should form the basis of your training plan over the next 6-8 weeks, and look to incorporate all the aspects of a successful training plan that we have discussed above.

In the next issue we will look at techniques to monitor and evaluate your training, and also provide examples of training weeks from professionals and amateur players.