How to Design an Endurance Training Program in Four Easy Steps

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In new book from Human Kinetics, National Strength and Conditioning Association outlines how recovery-based training should be a primary focus of program design

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Many new endurance athletes are a bit overzealous when it comes to taking on more than they can handle; thus, it is important to differentiate between realistic and idealistic time goals so that proper balance between sport and life is achieved."

Endurance athletes often believe the more they train, the better the results. But according to Ben Reuter, editor of "Developing Endurance" (Human Kinetics, March 2012), recovery time is just as important when developing an effective endurance training program. “Recovery-based training should be a primary focus of program design,” Reuter says. “Without adequate recovery, athletes will not optimally progress and reach their full potential.” He notes that recovery does not always mean days of rest; it can take many forms, including skill and technique practice, massage, high-quality sleep, aerobic cross-training, and proper nutrition.

In "Developing Endurance," Reuter breaks down the four steps to designing a well-balanced training program for endurance athletes.

Step 1: Gather information.
This includes determining the athlete’s short- and long-term goals, sport background and competitive history, overall focus for the competitive season, race priorities and objectives, sport-specific strengths and weaknesses, history of injury, muscular imbalances, and a variety of other contributing factors. Most important, though, athletes must determine how much time they can realistically devote to training on a daily basis. “Many new endurance athletes are a bit overzealous when it comes to taking on more than they can handle; thus, it is important to differentiate between realistic and idealistic time goals so that proper balance between sport and life is achieved,” Reuter says.

Step 2: Focus on the initial planning components.
These include the type and frequency of recovery sessions that will be implemented, the type and frequency of high-quality training sessions, time between training sessions, the proper build-to-recover ratio of the periodization program and when it might fluctuate throughout the training year, and mental and nutritional training opportunities. According to Reuter, athletes and coaches must also discuss the type of feedback that will be provided by each to determine what method is most successful in delivering and receiving information.

Step 3: Look at the training program plan in detail.
Included in this step is determining the specific techniques that should be included and at what times of the year and throughout the meso- and microcycle, the teaching of tactical skills in relation to race-specific scenarios, when and where specific training sessions should be placed throughout each training cycle, and the associated goals and outcomes of each workout. “It is very important for athletes to have and know their specific physical, mental, and nutritional goals for each training session throughout the training plan,” Reuter says. “Each training session, regardless of type, should have specific goals and objectives with recovery opportunities emphasized.”

Step 4: Plan each periodization cycle.
A preparatory cycle lasts about 12 to 16 weeks; in a traditional periodization plan, the preparatory cycle provides the foundation of aerobic, strength, and flexibility skills needed for athletes to progress to the next cycle, which is more physically, mentally, and nutritionally challenging. “The precompetition build cycle is where the goals of improving speed, economy, power, and race-specific strength are normally implemented in 2- to 8-week cycles to provide optimal recovery time before the race season begins,” Reuter explains. “As the race season approaches, properly implemented tapers become crucial in getting to the start line feeling rested and ready to race.”

Reuter notes that the actual competition season can be 9 to 36 weeks for some athletes, and he recommends that race blocks be separated into 1 to 4 weeks if competitions will take place each week. “This allows the body to recover well and, because most athletes can achieve only about two or three formal peaks in the competition season, it is best to separate important, top-priority competitions into two or three blocks throughout the season.”

"Developing Endurance" is the latest entry in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Sport Performance Series and provides endurance athletes and coaches with a research-based regimen for improving athletic stamina and minimizing chronic injuries. For more information on "Developing Endurance" or other health and fitness resources, visit

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