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Training Program Development

By Wayne Spaulding | Jan. 04, 2010, 12 p.m. (ET)

Training program development is the art of mixing an athlete's unique needs with the established science of what induces improvements in the body. The purpose of this article is to offer a "learn to fish" rather than "eat the fish handed to you" approach for program development that addresses the unique needs of every athlete. The following information is drawn from a simple process developed over many years of working with athletes - from the first-time sprinter to the veteran Ironman. I have found this process exponentially increases the chance for training and subsequent racing success because of the deeper inherent customization of the program.

I recommend a clean slate approach each season. Use a few sheets of easel board paper and a few marker pens to structure what the season ahead looks like as you roll through the following steps.

On the first sheet of paper, identify where you have come from with your athletic endeavors.  List your successes, your lessons learned and your intuitive thoughts on how the future might look based on the past. Are you a couch potato who wants to get in shape, a short distance triathlete who is moving to long course, or an experienced racer who wants to streamline the time required to attain personal race goals?

Tied to this stage in your program development is personal awareness of the current trends in training philosophies. Ownership of your training program means owning a knowledge base of what makes a triathlete's body and mind work. Pick up a few books recommended by fellow racers or coaches and become book smart. Use the information to help write some bullet points with a bold marker on what you will incorporate into this season.

Now move to the next step. Identify the end state. On the second sheet of paper, to the far right, list your final race or races that comprise your season. The window of time might be a year or only three months, but it is important to start with the end. Know where you are going, otherwise the road will be fraught with interruptions and excuses as to why resources are not available to stay on track. 

After you map out your end state, identify your personal performance expectations for the races you have chosen. You might simply want to finish, tone your body, or shave a few minutes. Whatever your goals, write them next to your chosen races.

Next, plot opportunities to measure ongoing development; these are checkpoints on the road to your end state. They are commonly referred to as marker sets. Marker sets can be workouts or lower priority races. I recommend monthly evaluations, but determine a tool and process based on what works best for you. Refer to books or talk with your coach for a recognized process.

Now we fill in the details. Move from your end state, backward on your easel sheet to the start of your program. Fill in workouts to develop your weaknesses, maintain your strengths and allow for recovery. Refer to the first sheet you completed during this stage of the process so your lessons learned are applied to the program as it takes shape. 

Assign purpose to every activity in your program. Purpose comes from awareness of the body's current state, how it responds to training stimulus, and how that response can be measured over time.  Purpose for every activity will empower you to arrive at your destination with the goods you expect. 

The cookie cutter training programs outlining every activity for every day in a generic format is where you can draw ideas for your customized program. The trap most athletes fall into here is not accommodating the unique needs of their body in their program. Apply the workouts that fit your fitness level, your strengths and your identified weaknesses. Modify the ones that don't address your needs, and scrap that ones that do not fit any of your needs. 

Now you have a unique training program that will enhance your needs. Take your easel paper artwork and formalize it in with your favorite scheduling tool.  For some that means an online log; for others it is a calendar that hangs in the garage next to your bike.  Whatever the tool, make sure it's what works best for you to use and track your daily, weekly and monthly progress.  Sure, there is a lot of work involved in this process.  But when you are suited up, ready for the gun to go off, I am confident that you will be ready for the challenge at hand.

Wayne Spaulding is a 20-year veteran coach and triathlete. He is a Level II USAT certified coach who lives, races and coaches in Northern California. He can be reached at