Design and Planning for Endurance Training

by Developing Endurance: PP 45-47
Kinetic Select February 2019


This section from the book, Developing Endurance, gives an overview of how to plan and develop a program for endurance athletes by following four steps.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Endurance, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Recovery-based training should be a primary focus of program design. Without adequate recovery, athletes will not optimally progress and reach their full potential. Note that recovery does not only mean days of rest without activity. Recovery takes many forms, including things such as skill and technique practice, massage, good sleep, aerobic cross-training, and proper nutrition. All of these are important in implementing recovery within a training program. Designing a training program for endurance athletes requires four steps:

  1. Gather information
  2. Focus on initial planning components
  3. Examine the training program in more detail
  4. Plan the periodization of each cycle

Step 1, information gathering, includes determining the athlete’s short- and long-term goals, overall focus for the competitive season, and race priorities and objectives. The coach needs to find out about the athlete’s current training program and whether the athlete prefers group or individual training. The coach should also identify the current equipment available and any new equipment that will be needed throughout the training program. In addition, the coach should determine what type of terrain (geographical location) is available, as well as the type of environment and climate in that area.

This step also involves determining the athlete’s sport background, competitive history, sport-specific strengths and weaknesses, injury history, muscular imbalances, physiological variables (based on lactate threshold, metabolic, and body composition testing), biochemical variables (based on blood work analysis), and biomechanical variables (body movement efficiency patterns). Most important, the coach and the athlete need to determine the amount of time that the athlete can realistically devote to training on a daily basis. This should include identifying the athlete’s life commitments (such as family, social, and career) and details on the athlete’s daily commute (mode and time to and from work). Many new endurance athletes are a bit overzealous and take on more than they can handle. Athletes must differentiate between realistic and idealistic time goals so that they can achieve a proper balance between sport and life.

Step 2 involves focusing on the initial planning components. These components include the type and frequency of high-quality training sessions, the time between training sessions, the type and frequency of recovery sessions, and the proper build-to-recover ratio of the periodization program (and when this may fluctuate throughout the training year). In this step, the coach and athlete should also determine the mental training and nutritional strategies that will be used. In addition, they should identify the method of communication and type of feedback that will be used between the athlete and coach.

Step 3 begins the process of planning the training program in more detail. This includes determining the specific training techniques that will be used at specific times of the year and throughout the meso- and microcycles. In addition, the coach and athlete should determine when tactical skills will be worked on in relation to race-specific scenarios, determine when and where specific training sessions should be placed throughout each training cycle, and identify the associated goals and outcomes for each specific workout. Athletes need to have specific physical, mental, and nutritional goals for each training session throughout the training plan. Non-quality training sessions are not exempt from this rule. Each training session, regardless of type, should include specific goals and objectives, and recovery opportunities should be emphasized. The structure of recovery sessions throughout the training program should be planned in this step.

The last step includes planning each periodization cycle. In general, the preparatory cycle lasts 12 to 16 weeks. In a traditional periodization plan, the preparatory cycle enables the athlete to build the aerobic foundation, strength, and flexibility needed to progress to the next cycle (the next cycle is more physically, mentally, and nutritionally challenging). The precompetition build cycle is where the goals of improving speed, economy, power, and race-specific strength are normally implemented (in 2- to 8-week cycles). This provides the athlete with optimal recovery time before the race season begins. As the race season approaches, properly implemented tapers will become crucial in getting the athlete to the start line feeling rested and ready to race.

The actual competition season can be quite long—up to 36 weeks for some athletes—but race blocks are often separated into 1- to 4-week periods if competitions will take place each week. This allows the body to recover well. In addition, because most athletes can only achieve two or three formal peaks in the competition season, top-priority competitions are often separated into two or three separate blocks throughout the season. A transition between competitions or intense training blocks can be included in order to implement short recovery bouts between competitions. These recovery bouts usually last 1 or 2 weeks. Additionally, a full transition cycle of 2 to 8 weeks can be scheduled at the end of the competition season. This gives the athlete a full block of recovery. During this transition cycle, the athlete’s goals are to exercise without structure, cross-train, have fun, and take a mental and physical reprieve.


Here are some additional things that coaches and athletes need to consider when determining the structure and timing of training cycles:

  • When and where strength training fits into the program
  • When to implement drills that require fine movements and a high amount of focus
  • How many high-quality training sessions should be implemented during each training cycle
  • Whether two high-quality training sessions should be completed in one day (referred to as combo workouts or bricks for multisport athletes; referred to as doubles for single-sport athletes)

The popularity of endurance sports continues to grow worldwide. Now, from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) comes the definitive resource for developing the endurance training programs that maximize performance and minimize injuries. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

#NSCAStrong #NSCAStrong

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