The life of an athlete is often over-simplified through the slogan “eat, sleep, train, repeat”. If the life of a coach were to be drilled down to a similar catchphrase, “assess, plan, do and review” would probably be the most appropriate.
Largely, professional coaches and the wider MDT are competent and well organised through the assessment, planning and implementation stages of training load prescription. However, the review process is often passed over as the rush to restart the planning process for the next training cycle begins. It is important to measure and acknowledge your training prescription’s impact and effectiveness. The review process can occur on a daily basis, should occur at the end of a training block and must occur at the end of a training cycle. There are many ways to conduct an effective review but it is most important to review what actually occurred as opposed to what the coach planned. It is only by reviewing the actual training stimulus that you can accurately assess the training or performance outcome. This is a simple concept, but one that is often neglected in an applied setting. This blog will briefly present four key areas for consideration which often get overlooked when conducting an effective review.
Step1: The review process should only start once the key data under consideration is accurate and complete. Reviewing inaccurate or incomplete data can be a fatal mistake in an elite performance setting. Data accuracy is the most important characteristic that sets the foundation of the review process. Once data accuracy is ensured the review process can begin.
Primarily, the best place to start is with a planned versus actual review. Did the athlete train as the schedule planned, did the athletes experience the planned training intensity and did the athlete experience the planned training volume.
Step2: Training density is a key metric that we as coaches use to manipulate the fitness/fatigue balance. Athlete’s training as per the planned schedule has a direct link to training density. Athletes, in consultation with coaches, regularly alter the planned training schedule to fit external demands (college, work etc.). Figure one and two below show an example of how an athlete altered a Tuesday morning swim session to fit academic demands. The planned and actual training schedules both maintain the same training load and volume but the density of work is shifted to the latter half of the week. In a singular instance, this will have little effect on the training outcome but if repeated can have a greater impact. Importantly, if these alterations in the training schedule and thus the density of the applied training stress are not taken into account during the review process, training outcomes are not being considered within the correct context.
Figure 1. Planned weekly schedule
Figure 2. Actual weekly schedule where Tuesday morning has been altered to Thursday morning.
Step3: The planned intensity of the session is equally as important for precise training load control and manipulation to occur. Some studies have shown a disagreement between the athletes’ and coaches’ perceived loads for a given training session. In swimming, a lack of correspondence between athlete and coach was found when using the sRPE method. Findings showed that athletes found sessions planned to be easy (RPE3) were harder than planned and found hard (RPE5) sessions easier than expected (Wallace et al. 2009). This is a key element to review and seek agreement upon as it has important implications and may demonstrate poor training load control and place athletes at increased risk of maladaptation. Coaches should have an idea of their planned training session intensity and review how the athlete actually rated the session in comparison.
Step4: The third aspect to review is the planned volume, where frequent and minor alterations in the planned training schedule may cause the athletes’ training volume to be impacted over larger periods. This often has a greater knock-on effect where coaches often pre-plan training volume in blocks of 4-6weeks and potentially forget to adjust for missed sessions on a week-by-week basis. As seen in figure 3, the athlete week on week has adjustments to the volume leading to an overall deficit of 25.692km, essentially losing a large training stimulus. Coaches, during the review process need to ensure the actual volume of training is being considered in relation to the performance outcome achieved.
Figure 3. Planned versus actual volume (km) over a ten-week period.
Once all four aspects of the review process have been completed, the MDT can dig further into the training outcomes. This often takes the form of reviewing training loads against resulting performance changes or alterations in the athletes health (wellbeing/injury/illness surveillance). These reviews should take place on a case by case basis, particularly outside of the team sport environment where individual sport athletes tend to follow specialised training plans and race calendars.
Lorna Barry is a UKSCA accredited strength and conditioning coach (S&C) working with Swim Ireland while managing her role as a Ph.D. researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Previously, Lorna has worked as an S&C for several years, spending two seasons working with Rugby Canadas Men’s 15’s and 7’s programmes where she was S&C on their Sevens World Cup campaign in 2013 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014. More recently Lorna held a rehabilitation role with the Sports Surgery Clinic musculoskeletal team and was lead S&C with Munster Rugby’s Women’s Senior squad. Lorna has a Master of Science (MSc.) in Sports Performance (University of Limerick, 2012) and a BSc. in Sport and Exercise Sciences (University of Limerick, 2005-2009).