Going Dry Part VII- Creating an Effective Program
Planning a Season and a Training Week
‘Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’
Prior articles have described the different adaptations an effective dryland program should seek to establish. There are multiple components of a dryland program; it is not just about getting fit or strong or core or stretching, it is all of those things blended into a cohesive mix. We’ve explored why these adaptations are important, the different considerations as to when to train these components, as well as how to address each aspect of performance. Hopefully, this information has stimulated your thought processes about what your swimmers might need, as well as what types of work can help to meet those needs.
In this installment, we’ll walk through the process of actually designing and implementing a comprehensive dryland training program. This process consists of identifying the desired outcomes, assessing the current status of your team, and deciding what needs to happen to bridge the gap between the two. This process occurs for each training season, training week, and training session. We’ll take a look at the considerations for making decisions, and apply that process to the unique demands of planning a season, week, and training session.
The point is not to create a rigid, pre-determined plan that can’t be altered. The purpose of planning is to force coaches to better understand their current situation, clearly outline their priorities, and identify the potential obstacles they’ll face. By doing so, coaches create more flexibility because they have a clearer understanding of where they need to go, what’s important, and how their decisions will affect future circumstances.
When planning and executing a dryland training program, mistakes will be made at each level of the planning process. By constantly observing and reflecting upon performance trends, coaches can refine their practice over time. Following each cycle, they can answer each question discussed below with increasing accuracy.
What Are the Goals?
Simply put, what do you want to achieve from the dryland program? Be specific. Which components do you believe are most important for performance? Prioritize each component based upon what you want to accomplish, as well as the amount of time you have to accomplish these goals.
Where Are They At?
Coaches need to evaluate the current abilities of their swimmers. This doesn’t have to be a formal assessment process. If you have new swimmers or are starting a new program, start conservatively and see how they handle it. You can add more over time to calibrate what their abilities are.
What Needs to Happen?
Once you know where you want to go as well as the current abilities of your team, you can decide the types of training you need to implement, how much time you want to spend on each component, and where your overall focus should be. At each level of planning (season, week, session), the actual plan will be more and more specific in terms of what is actually happening day to day.
Each of these three considerations feedback on each other. While it may seem like the planning process occurs sequentially, it should actually occur concurrently. Realistic goals will be determined by the current physical abilities of your swimmers. Time and equipment availability will determine what you can actually do. What you can actually do will determine what goals are realistic.
Planning a Season
Creating a simple and flexible plan allows coaches to provide direction for their training. It forces coaches to concretely identify what needs to be accomplished and a structure for realizing those goals. The planning is what is important, more so than the plan itself. Here, we’ll take a look at the critical questions that need to be considered and answered with reasonable confidence during the planning process. By answering these questions, you can develop a plan that works for you.
The first step comes from identifying what you want to accomplish.
Determine Your Goals
By establishing your overarching goals for the dryland program, you create objectives around which the entire plan should be developed. If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there. By answering the following questions, you can establish where the training is headed.
What do your swimmers need most? Of the four training components we discussed, what is the biggest priority for the season? In most cases, coaches are limited by time. Everything can’t be done to the extent we’d like. Prioritize what your swimmers need most, based upon their current skillsets and abilities.
What do your swimmers need to do, to do what they need most? As an example, if your swimmers need to develop strength, they should have established a reasonable base of torso stability and joint range of motion``. If they haven’t, these qualities will need to be addressed to a reasonable standard first.
How much time are you willing to commit to dryland? What you can accomplish is related to the investment you put into training on land. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, just understand expectations should be aligned with investment.
Please note that the younger your swimmers are, or the less exposure your swimmers have to dryland, the greater the focus should be on the foundational stages of torso development and acquiring basic strength and control through a full range of motion of the appropriate joints.
Define the Current Abilities of Your Swimmers
Once you know what you want to accomplish, you have to identify the current skills and physical abilities of your swimmers. By identifying what your swimmers can do now, you have the information required to bridge the gap between their current abilities and where they need to go. The size of this gap can inform the coach about what goals are realistic. The more in tune you are with where they’re at, the more aggressive you can be to start, while still remaining safe.
What volumes and intensities have the swimmers completed successfully in the past? What have they done recently? Knowing what has been done in the past, recently and over time, provides a framework for what is possible now, and where the program needs to go to moving forward. If very low loads have been used in the past, more caution should be used when introducing training. However, if high loads have been successfully used in the past, that remains a viable option.
What exercises are the swimmers capable of executing soundly? The actual exercises performed are the backbone of any dryland program. What the swimmers know how to do and what they can do determines your options in the short term and the long term. Evaluating their skillset gives you a starting point from which you can design training programs, beginning with what they know and moving towards what they need to learn. If there are entire types of movements that the swimmers have not been exposed to, progress slowly. Novel movements may cause unanticipated joint issues, and less work will be required for improvement anyway.
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, be very conservative. Wherever you think they are, assume they are MUCH worse. If necessary, you can always accelerate the program. If you assume they’re better than they are, they’re going to get hurt eventually.
What Needs to Happen?
Once you’ve identified what you want to accomplish and you've identified the current abilities of your swimmers, it’s time to determine what needs to happen to move from where they are to where they need to be. The following questions can help you determine what you’ll need to do to make it happen. Many of the considerations are related to time, as planning a season necessarily takes place over time.
How much time is available? Time is a limited resource that dictates what you can and can’t do. How long is the season? How much time will you have to train on land? In this case, time availability is referring not to what you’re willing to do, but what you’re able to do.
How long will it take to improve each training component? How long will it take to see the desired improvement? How long are you willing to wait? How much time is required each week to facilitate improvement? It’s important to really consider what type of time investment you’re willing to make, able to make, and need to make.
Are you goals realistic based upon your time constraints? The time you have determines what is possible. Make sure the time you’re willing to commit is in line with what you want to accomplish. There isn’t right or wrong, just realistic or not.
Which training outcomes are most important? If time becomes limited, what’s most important? What will you do, and as critically, what will you NOT do?
How much time is necessary or ideal for each training component? A certain amount of work is going to be required for improvement. Based upon what you’ve seen from your swimmers, you past experiences, and currently accepted training concepts, you have to decide what’s necessary for improvement.
When are certain training components most important? What should you be working on at what points of the season? What training components are foundational? They should be implemented first. At different points in the training season, training priorities may shift. When do you expect that to happen? Your plan should reflect that. Is your dryland focus compatible with your focus in the pool? As much as possible, it should be.
How much time are you willing to commit to each training component? Once you know how much time you have, what’s most important, and what’s required, how much time are you willing to commit to each training component? As you’ve also determined when different components should be addressed, how does that time commitment shift over the course of a training year?
For the training components you have chosen NOT to prioritize, what is the LEAST you can do to ensure that there are no holes in your swimmers’ physical preparation? While we can’t accomplish everything we’d like, we have to avoid allowing gross physical limitations to develop. At other points, we have to choose to reduce the amount of work in a given area. What’s the least that can be done to prevent this from happening? When can you sneak that work in? We may not choose to emphasize lower body strength, but doing NO work doesn’t really make sense, especially if something as simple as 50 body weight squats once per week only requires 90 seconds of time per week.
Once you’ve identified your time constraints and your training goals, it’s important to roughly assign training priorities for different portions of the year, as well as roughly how much time you’re willing to spend in each area at any given time. That is the essence of planning a season. It is about establishing priorities and managing time so that the important work gets done when it needs to get done.
Build into it! Be patient with loading and give yourself enough time to make progress.
Identify which components are foundational and start with those training components. Make sure there is enough time for improvement in the fundamentals.
What prerequisites need to be developed to appropriately perform the next step of the plan? How does what you are doing today prepare you for what you want to do tomorrow?
Make sure there is planned change over the course of the season to allow for continued progress. How do you plan on implementing progression? More volume, more intensity, different training focus, different exercises?
Start with lower intensity work and build work capacity through increased volume and density. Later in the season, you can intensify the work, if desired.
What’s the least amount of work required to create change? Start there. The less you do for a given component, the more you can do for another.
Your plan will not go as planned. That’s okay. What’s important is how you adjust moving forward. Below are some ideas as to how to manage the process.
If it’s taking longer than expected, it’s okay. You can continue to make progress and adjust the plan moving forward. Conversely, you can accept that your goals were unrealistic for whatever reason.
If you are ahead of schedule, you can switch gears early or push for more. Both are acceptable. Watch to see how the process plays out so you can make adjustment for the future.
If the swimmers are not ready for what you’re asking them to do, back off a bit and reduce the load and/or take a step back to the fundamentals. Focus on the long-term improvement.
If the swimmers are dominating everything, option #1 is to stay the course. They’re having success and improving, so why change? If the work your giving them is just too easy, accelerate the program. Being too good is a fine problem to have.
After the season, it’s important to reflect on how the season went as a whole. By reflecting on how the season went, we can better identify what big picture elements need to change in the future. Below are some good questions to ask.
Were all of the training goals achieved? Why? Why not?
Were the swimmers able to smoothly transition between phases where the emphasis of training changed?
Were the swimmers always ready for what was coming next? Did each phase prepare them for the next phase?
Did the swimmers stay healthy?
Did the swimmers progress steadily over the course of the year?
Where did you do too much work? Where can this time and effort be more effectively applied?
Where did you do to little work? What will have to be given up to allow for more work in this area?
Did you stay with any types of work for too long?
Planning a Training Week
Planning a training week is a reflection of the priorities established during the seasonal planning process. When designing a training week, coaches should consider what changes, if any, need to be made,
How well was training performed during the previous week? The effectiveness of prior training will determine if changes need to be made, more time is necessary for skills to be learned and adaptations to be secured, or if it’s time to move on. Are the swimmers handling dryland well?
How much time are you willing to commit to dryland training each week? The amount of time available will dictate what can be done and what can’t be done. Knowing the available time allows coaches to decide what is most important, and plan accordingly.
With the available training time, what training components are going to be included in the plan, and how much emphasis will be placed on each component? This decision should be the result of the intersecting constraints of available time and seasonal goals.
Do the chosen training components reflect the season plan? As discussed earlier, training should build upon itself in a progressive manner. Assuming no major deviations, the weekly training goals and training components should reflect the goals of the season plan. If major deviations are necessary, the overall plan will need to be adjusted as well.
How are you going to distribute the dryland components over the course of a week? Coaches must examine what days they are going to perform what types of training. As much as possible, these training components should be harmonious with each other, as well as with the swimming training. As an example, it’s best to avoid placing a focused strength session immediately following a voluminous endurance training set.
When are the dryland sessions going to take place? Based upon the time you have available, you’ll need to decide when to conduct the actual dryland sessions. When placing dryland training, coaches should consider what will be happening in the pool. At the same time, logistical issues may lock in set days and times for dryland work.
What you get out of dryland is reflective of what is invested in dryland. For significant changes, a significant time investment is necessary.
Smooth transitions between training weeks will be handled best by swimmers and it reduces the risk of errors in loading.
Place compatible dryland training components on the same day. Avoid focusing on strength and work capacity on the same day.
Ensure that dryland and swimming training are as compatible as possible. Pair strength with strength, endurance with endurance, and speed with speed.
When possible, avoid placing the most challenging dryland sessions before the most challenging swimming sessions. The opposite is true as well.
Placing dryland before swimming will usually still result in reasonable swimming sessions. Placing dryland after swimming often results in poor dryland training sessions. If given a choice, do dryland first. If there is no choice, set up the training and expectations so that dryland can be performed well.
Spread the training components out as much as possible. Try to avoid placing all of the work for one component on the same day. Avoid working on the same training component multiple days in a row.
Once the training week has concluded, it’s important to reflect on how the weekly plan is supporting or impeding progress. The following questions can aid in the reflection process.
Did the training performed reflect the goals of the seasonal plan?
Were the training sessions optimally placed to allow for effective dryland sessions and swim sessions? If certain sessions were compromised, what adjustments can ensure these compromises are minimized?
Is more or less training time required? If necessary, can small amounts of dryland be included in the program in other areas?
Does more or less work need to be assigned to different training components?
Was water work compromised by the dryland program? If so, was this compromise ‘worth it’? If not, how can the issue be resolved?
Effectively planning a season and a training week is a skill that starts with knowing what you want to accomplish. Once you know where you want to go, you have to critically consider how those goals are going to be realized. Throughout this article, I’ve worked to outline the questions that can be asked to help with this process. Careful planning and foresight can prevent problems from arising in the future. To reiterate, the magic is not in the plan, but the planning.
Planning a training season and training week provides the coach with the foundational framework upon which effective decisions can be made on a daily basis. We’ll explore just how to do that in a subsequent article on planning training sessions.