Each Championship Season is broken into five phases: General Preparation Phase (GP), Specific Preparation Phase (SP), Competition Phase (XCO/ICO/OCO), Championship/Peak Phase (XCH/ICH/OCH), Transition/Post-Season Phase (XIT/IOT/POS).
General Preparation Phase
This phase is where you establish your fitness and strength base for the season. The younger your training age (number of years of organized training), the longer your General Prep Phase should last. It is extremely important to include a thorough flexibility program during this phase. Fitness elements may include a greater degree of cross training. The key is to be consistently very active. Strength training should include very high repetition workouts (20-30 reps to promote connective tissue strength) and general strength endurance sessions (12-15 reps).
For Cross Country, this phase is done early in the summer (June/July). Other fall sport athletes get their Track & Field GP work by way of training for their other sport. For the rest, the summer and early fall offers an opportunity to develop a very broad base for the year’s training.
Specific Preparation Phase
As the first competitions draw nearer, the preparations become more specific to the needs of the events. Emphasis shifts to lots of drill work and generally establishing the foundations for the key elements of your events. This is the time to translate your general fitness and athleticism in to Track & Field/Cross Country readiness.
In some literature, the General Prep and Specific Prep phases are described as “Training to Train”.
Once we enter the competition phase of the season, the training schedule changes to accommodate meets and travel. Getting sufficient rest is imperative not only to allow your body to recover and build from your training, but also to be well prepared mentally and physically for competition. For veteran athletes, this is when weight training turns to power (speed) focus. For the younger athletes, we will continue the strength oriented lifting, but with more intensity. Distance runners may begin to see an increase in race-specific elements of their training plan. Technical work shifts to more complex drills and rhythm work. In the Competition Phase, we are “Training to Compete”.
Peaking is a process of increasing the intensity (speed) of training to very high levels while decreasing the volume of training. This allows you to sharpen your skills and readiness for the Championships. A full peaking cycle may require a few weeks to allow your body to recover from the fatigue of earlier training phases, maximize stored substrates (energy sources), and acclimate to the stresses of very high intensity work.
For younger athletes and for the Indoor Championships, the length of the peaking cycle may be relatively shorter in order to preserve training reps and to minimize wear and tear on your systems. The training intensity will increase, but to a lesser extent so that you can maintain a higher workload with continued emphasis on drill work and development of fundamental elements of your event(s).
Those athletes focused on Nationals will start their peaking phases later than those pointing towards Conference. “Surprise Qualifiers” will stretch their peaking phase from the Conference Championships on to the National Championships.
With more recovery time between reps, mental preparation and focus techniques will be emphasized and rehearsed. Physically and mentally, the championship phases are about “Training to Win”.
It is extremely demanding physiologically and psychologically to taper to a high competitive peak. Further, it is impossible to build on a peak and nearly impossible to sustain a peak for more than a few weeks. After the Cross Country and Indoor Championships, we have two to three more months of training and competition before the next Championships. In order to have any hope of continuing to develop and improve through the subsequent seasons and be ready to challenge again at the Championships meets, we must reset our bodies and prepare to get back to normal training. The transition process includes a reduction in training intensity and longer recovery time between training sessions before gradually rebuilding the training volume. This is a return to “Training to Train”.
After your final Championship Season of the year, the first order of business is to recover mentally and to give your body the necessary rest so that it is ready to start the pre-season General Prep Phase with vigor, health, and anticipation for another even better year. This does not mean it is time to become a couch potato. It is a time for moderate activity levels and participation in physical activities outside of Track & Field/Cross Country. Those involved in Cross Country and other fall sports will have a shorter recovery time before they start in on their pre-season training regimens for those programs.