Chasing Greatness

3 Keys to Workout Planning

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3 Keys to Workout Planning

When it comes to designing training programs for their athletes, people tend to be all over the map.

But if you follow these three simple ideas, you’ll make your life a whole lot easier and your athletes a whole lot better.

1. Simplicity

Some people take this to the extreme, i.e., they don’t actually create a program. If you don’t at least outline your training goals for the entire season before the season starts, you’re not really creating a training program, you’re winging it.

If you only focus on 'sport specific' drills and movements, that’s not a program, it’s just random drills and workouts. You shouldn't expect consistent performances.

You may avoid sitting down and taking the time to map out the specifics of your athletes' training needs because you've made it an enormous process in your mind.

It will be if you try to make it more complicated than it is. And, in truth, it's not that complicated.

The younger the athletes you work with, the easier the workout planning. And it’s never all that complicated if you work with high school, middle school or pre-teen athletes. Because these athletes always have basic problems that require basic solutions. Solutions rooted in all around (not sport specific) athletic development.

Your 13 year old who plays soccer doesn’t need special ’soccer’ training and your 15 year old who plays football doesn’t need special ‘football’ training. What they do need is to develop foundational movement skills, strength, coordination, speed, flexibility and endurance.

This approach will make them better at everything they do.

Some coaches and parents tend to become obsessive about their particular sport and forget that their athletes can’t perform the basics. Without the basics, technical application of sport specific skills is not going to happen. They simply won't be able to do it right. Everyone gets frustrated and no one gets better.

Keep it simple and cover all the bases.


2. Flexibility

When planning workouts, don’t focus on the workout itself, but think about how you want the workout to affect the athlete's speed, strength and/or conditioning. This means that the structure of the workout is aimed at the energy system you’re working that day.

For example, repeat 200’s can mean a lot of different things. At 70% intensity it’s working the aerobic system. Well coached high school athletes might be able to do 10 or more intervals in a workout, depending on rest time. At 80-85% intensity it’s mixed aerobic/anaerobic. Well coached high school athletes might be able to do 6-8 intervals, depending on rest time. At 95% intensity it’s a lactic acid workout. Well coached high school athletes might be able to do 2-3 quality repetitions, depending on rest time.

You have to first decide what the goal of the workout is and then plug in the particular specifics. Average coaches do it the other way around. They decide which workout they want to do and then they hope it does the trick. And that's why they don't get consistent results or improvements in their athletes. This idea is critical because this understanding of how different workouts affect your athletes allows you to be flexible. I live in a cold weather environment. If I have repeat 200s at 80% planned and it snows or is 10 degrees out, I can’t really go outside and do that. But, because I’m flexible and understand how I want today's workout to affect my athletes' conditioning, I can do something different and still get the same result. But if I’m rigidly attached to a particular workout at a particular distance for a particular number of intervals or repetitions on a particular day, then I’m in serious trouble if (and when) weather doesn’t allow it, kids are sick, excessively sore, etc.

Be flexible and always have a Plan B. And Plan C.

3. Variability

The natural tendency of our body is to reach a balance. Our bodies quickly adapt to whatever stimulus it repeatedly encounters. If we give our athletes the same warm up every day, before long, it no longer has the same effect. We can’t always go for a 2 mile run on Monday, do 10×30m from a crouch on Tuesday, 2×10×100 @ 75% on Wednesday, 5 x fly 30 on Thursday and Split 600s on Friday…week after week after week.

Here's a quick question:

Do you understand why I chose that particular order
of workouts? For example, Why not switch Thursday
and Friday’s workouts?

Answer: Don’t do speed work the day after lactic

Now, you can keep the order of workouts the same (if you immediately knew the answer to the above question you are on the right path) but you have to continuously make the workouts more challenging if you want to 'stimulate an adaptation', i.e. you want your athletes too keep getting faster, stronger and in better ’shape’. This requires changing the volume (amount of work done), intensity (pace of the work done) and density (amount of rest between bouts of effort). Not only does it keep athletes from getting extremely bored with their training (which reduces performance in and of itself), but it leads to continuous improvement, assuming, of course, you effectively address all the variables involved in your athletes' traininig.

If you do some basic planning in advance, keep records of workout results and regularly try to improve your system, then workout planning gets easier and easier as time goes on. I used to get overwhelmed by this entire process.The
way I got better was by not trying to hit a home run with my workout planning right off the bat. Instead, I just tried to hit singles and get on base. My athletes got better, I got better and everyone was happy.

And you'll experience similar results when you begin to apply these ideas to your coaching.



  • My Situation: I’m taking over the Strength & Conditioning Program at a University (D-II). I’ve never trained a cross country team, women’s Water Polo, and M & W Soccer. According to your article on 3 Keys…2-Flexibility, and knowing what energy systems to work on, which I have an understanding of, but here’s my question: what type of workouts do you prepare as far as drills, distances, and times? The recovery times I can figure that out according to their workouts for the day and in between days. Programs for 12 months!!!
    I feel confident on what to do but now I’m training athletes at the University level, please advise!
    Hiram N. Akina

    >>> Tough question Hiram because that’s a very long answer. I would try and find out what they’ve done in the past because if you are new to the collegiate level (and therefore don’t have your own baseline) you’ll spend a lot of time guessing. And no matter what you do, it’s all a guessing game so don’t get too stressed out. Are you responsible for their conditioning and their strenght training????


  • misi says:

    I have a great competition 6 month many weeks shoud i be in GPP and how many in SPP?

    >>>> Generally speaking, GPP is going to be 30% of your annual plan and SPP is going to be 15% of your annual plan. I take these numbers directly from USATF. That said, USATF gears their info to collegiate and post collegiate coaches and athletes. I work with high school and younger athletes who will benefit from more general training due to their low training age. So I tend to go more like 40% of the annual plan for GPP and 20-25% for SPP. So depending on those variables, those are the general guidelines I would recommend you follow.

    – LT

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