Creating an Annual Training Plan

In dinghy sailing the calendar year revolves around your world championship, with this season wrapping up we look to take away what we have learned and what skills we need to build. While many have a strong desire to improve, few systematically organize their training to maximise their potential. The annual training plan (ATP) is a key tool in preparing for the coming year and keeping focuses and goals in check as the season progresses.

At the core of the ATP we are looking at the events that matter the most. This could be the Olympics or a club championship and requires some thought when determining what your most important regatta is. We will refer to these as “A” events, and we can only realistically select two of these in a season. The reason for this is because they require a high level of freshness as well as a build and taper period leading into them. Typically the events will be space withing 1-2 months of each other.

With that said we need to sail more than one event a year in order to keep racing skills sharp and gain experience. We rate these other events as “B” and “C” regattas. A “B” regatta is still an important competition such as a continental championship or Europa cup and requires a will have a taper leading into it. Schedule permitting we can do one of these a month. A “C” regatta we consider as training and can be done potentially every weekend, again schedule permitting.

Now that we have laid out the events we will be doing on the calendar it is time to work backward from our “A” events and figure out what volume of sailing and training we are to do by calculating our weekly average training time. This is done by summing the total time spent training during an average week and will include sailing, gym, cycling, etc. For example: sailing five days a week for 3 hours/day, three gym sessions at 1 hour/day, and three cycling sessions for 2 hours/day would bring the weekly average to 24 hours of training per week.

The reason we need to calculate our weekly training average is to figure out how each month will be structured for training. When we look at a month typically we will see training volume rise for the first three weeks and then offload the fourth week. Following our previous example the training time of 4 weeks a month will look something like this:

Week 1- 21 hours
Week 2- 25 hours
Week 3- 28 hours
Week 4- 13 hours

As we can see the volume increases throughout the month and culminates with a deloading week to facilitate recovery.

Now we know what events we will be doing and how to structure our weekly and monthly training but what does year actually entail? For this part we will take the case of a full time athlete who has just completed their final “A” regatta.

Typically the year will start with a large amount of time off, in the neighborhood of one to two months. However time off doesn’t mean being sedentary, yes it is a time to recharge but fun activities such as big boat sailing, cycling, and light gym sessions should be done to maintain fitness as much as possible.

With creating an annual training plan before the start of your season you have set yourself up for success. With measurable goals and planning it takes a large part of the guesswork out of training.

We then move into the base phase of the season and the theme is volume. On the water we are focusing on: long iterations of straight line boat speed, boat handling, starting skills are developed in this block. Essentially any technique we don’t want to worry about come race time. In the gym the focus is gaining as much strength as possible, typically done with hypertrophy training. On the bike long rides with low effort are done to build oxygen efficiency. This phase typically takes three to four months to complete and sets the foundation for the season.

Next is the build phase, this arrives during our main regatta season. The focus here is building racing skills both in and out of competition. We are still working on other skills but there are more practice races built into training. The sessions are slightly shorter but the intensity is increased. In the gym we move into a strength cycle, we add weight and decrease volume and move toward more explosive exercises. Interval training is implemented on the bike to increase high-end outputs. This phase can take three to four months and takes place during the main concentration of regattas.

Finally we reach the zenith of the season in our peaking phase. Water session are kept shorter and mainly focus on practice racing and any fine tuning that is required. The goal here is to keep the body awake but also fresh for the upcoming “A” event. Gym work consists of explosive movements and fast circuit training to ensure the nervous system is awake. On the bike only shorty rides are done and they are very high intensity short intervals. This phase requires a solid taper but that is a whole other discussion on its own.

For those who are not full-time athletes, the recommendation would be to split the annual training plan into two parts. Non-sailing and sailing seasons. For the non sailing season one should follow the fitness piece from the base phase for the first half of the time, and the build phase for the second half of the time. For the part of the season where you are sailing it best to follow the build phase for sailing skills and the peaking for the fitness part. It is important to note that sailing takes priority when you have the opportunity to do so.

Writing it out in an agenda can be taxing and limit the ability to change when alterations need to be made. It is worthwhile considering software such as training peaks or google calendar to input events and training to keep you on track with ease.

With creating an annual training plan before the start of your season you have set yourself up for success. With measurable goals and planning it takes a large part of the guesswork out of training. It is important to speak with your coaches and training partners when planning to gain as much perspective as possible. The plan is not set in stone and can be altered as the year progresses. Don’t go overboard with changes though, it is important to have faith in the process, sailing takes an immense amount of time and experience.

Justin Norton