Block training planning

One of the first things to do when we start planning a training season (or multi-season) is to decide which kind of plannification we will have. One of the major factors on that decision is in my opinion the racing/goals shedule and the diversity among them.

Last month during a trip to Lyon I had the chance to meet the staff and players of the LOU rugby (Lyon olympique universitaire rugby) one of the major rugby clubs in france. We had some time to talk and the conversation rapidly set into the specifics of training. Benjamin del Moral, its physiologist, and Pierre Mignoni, the head coach explained the dificulty they had to find time to train since the season has at least one match every week from august to the end of june, so it is basically a bit of preparation in the inter season but then mostly a cycle of recovery-tactics-some training-preparation-match every week. So it is not possible to do big charges of training but is a huge amount of competition. The coaches struggle to put the charges to make physical improvements because it is not time for that, so the competitions are used somehow as training too.

This format can be extrapolated to some endurance sports such as cross-country skiing, biathlon, cycling in a minor way or in mountain running if the racing shedule is full. Long seasons means shorter training periods, and so the plannification need to take this into account. I remember when doing around 25-30 races during winter in skimo (december to april) and 15 trail running races in different disciplines, from VK to Ultra (may to october) that it was just november and december where I was able to fully train, normally doing some training camps in Tignes to do a good amount of volume. Then, since it was almost a race every week end it was only possible to place 2 good training sessions in between races but it was mostly easy recovery or pre-race sessions during the week, and only when it was a full week without competition or some races that wasn’t as important that it was possible to put some short block of training. The goal in those kind of plannification is to have not really any continued huge charges of work and peak during a short period but to have a steady shape with some higher points.

In the opposite side we can have sports or racing shedules with a low number of competitions that allows big training periods. As an example we have marathon runners that normally do 2 races every year with 4 to 6 month preparation periods that enable to put a big amount of charges. How to distribute those charges depends of the coach, it can be more steady (a constant or lightly increasing repetition of the same charges during that period) a periodisation (with very different charges distributed in general preparation period, a specific period, a pre-race period…) or a big amount of variations on the charges distribution.

Those examples are used when is one sport we’re practicing. When the sport/s we’re practicing are different it is a bit more complicated, since it needs different qualities and some time for transfert. When practicing 2 different sports, normally those are separated for periods (skimo during 6 month – trail running during 6 month / Cycling during 6 month – skiing during 6 month…) So the periodization of the training is quite simple and the transfert is more or less quick.

When we plan on training for different activities in shorter periods of time we can do a steady training during the year where we include all the disciplines during our micro-cyles, like climbing 2 days a week, doing 3 ski tours, 2 runs, some longer and some shorter… Which is a good way to keep a steady perfomance in all those activities and be ready-for-anything at all times but it is hard to have big improvements due to the differences of capacities required for each activity. Training in specific blocks is one way to program the training to progress and get a much better performance on each discipline.

Training in Specific Blocks

1) Identify the qualities required for each activity.

First of all we need to decompose the activity to see what we need to improve. Looking for the physical, technical and mental capacities we need to reach. We should look the duration of effort, the metabolism, the endurance, strenght, explosivity, speed, technical specifics, mental… for each of them.

For example for a skimo sprint with a duration of 3′ total with 2′ of real effort we use mostly a anaerobic lactic metabolism. Explosivity is important, speed also, and technical skills on the transitions. In the oposite side we can have high altitude alpinism with a duration of 20-40h on a slow pace but because the lack of oxygen and the opening track or climbing the metabolism will be switching from aerobic (Z2-3) to anaerobic. Technical skills from use of gear and climbing, speed is not at all important but strenght yes on carring and on opening track. Mentaly the decision taking on adverse situations and control of complicate moments is key…

2) Find the training sessions / charges to improve those qualities

When we have the characteristics of each activity we will look at the specific sessions to improve it (treshold, short intervals, uphill intervals, hangboard, endurance, tempo, technical circuits, VMA, sprints…) and place those key sessions into a micro-cycle (5 to 10 days) taking into account the rest needs by each effort and placing other not-key sessions.

example of key sessions

Because some of those disciplines can be very different (f.ex: sport climbing vs ultra trail) it can be interesting to keep a reminder on some sessions introduced in the micro cycle, as a climbing afternoon inside a volume flat running microcycle, some afternoon or key sessions in running during a skimo cycle…

example of different microcycles with key sessions in red

3) Make a general planning

Some activities require a longer adaptation than others. This can be because our background (If we have been doing 10 years of high level sport climbing probably in 2-3 weeks of specific training after a endurance period we will reach a great level, if we have a flat running background the specific period will require some months of specific climbing training before improving) and also the physiological adaptation time (the number of sessions to improve speed, strenght, endurance… are different)

Taking into account those timming limitations to adapt and our shedule we can start placing blocks of X microcycles in between the goals. If the periods in between goals are big, it can be interesting to place a specific microcycle of one of the future activities in the middle of the first specific period. for example, if we have a endurance goal in 4 month and after that a sport climbing goal, we will have a specific session of sport climbing into our microcycle (f.ex: 1 day a week) but it can be good to do 2 month of endurance, 1 microcycle of sport climbing and 2 more month of endurance, so we do a good remainder of the qualities required for the next period.

different blocks for different disciplines