The Map for Boundless Progress: The Annual Plan – Part I

Results in the gym and on the platform don’t just happen. It takes a careful, thoughtful approach to truly maximize an individual’s athletic potential. Today we’re going to take a look at something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: let’s talk programming! …but not just any programming. 

Unlike when I was starting out, the basics are easily found on the internet nowadays. So rather than repeat what’s already been done very well, we’re going to take a different approach to illustrating the training process for you. Instead of telling you what’s what, and starting by naming all the tools in the coach’s toolbox, we’re just going to show you how it’s done…

This article is going to be the first in a quarterly series we produce over the course of the year outlining the fundamentals of how to design and implement a periodized training program. First, let’s look at the frame that holds our intentions together: the Annual Plan.

At its core, an annual plan is a chronologically ordered series of training and performance outcomes that, in their aggregate, form the basis for achieving a significant goal or milestone. In the process of athletic development, an annual plan is exactly what it sounds like: a roadmap for navigating the year’s training and competition cycle. Let’s give it some context…

If you’re reading this post, then, you’re probably familiar with the usual approach that lifters take. They do a 12-Week program, assess how they did, and then decide on the next one to do. For the most part, it works. People get better… But, they also get distracted, trying out programs because they’re “shiny” and novel, not because they’re what’s needed to get better. There’s no greater plan other than training and (hopefully) progressing along the way. Sometimes there are long-term goals, but nothing that resembles an actual plan. These lifters get stuck because, even though they have big goals to direct their training, they’re chaining these general programs together, hoping that the next 12-week cycle will be the one to finally work. Sound familiar? I definitely did it when I didn’t know any better. The irony is that both of these categories of trainees likely already know what a good annual plan looks like. After all, like you, they’ve probably done one before…

Did you go to school? Then you know the gist of what an annual plan is. The curriculum was taught in an ordered manner, starting with the fundamentals. Imagine what your experience would have been like had your teachers only decided on what to do in 12-week intervals!

An athlete who wishes to reach their full potential needs to approach training the same way schools think longitudinally about what knowledge and skills their students will need.

When we had a gym it wasn’t uncommon for us to require members to hit certain strength standards before we even attempted to teach them the Olympic lifts. If just holding the bar overhead for more than 10 seconds was a significant challenge, then, how could we possibly teach someone to Snatch or Jerk confidently? That’s not fun! The key principle you need to understand about creating and following an annual plan is that a good one is built on enablers

Big goals are hacked away at by achieving smaller milestones first. You want to Deadlift 500lbs one day? We’re going to need you pulling 400 first. Want to Snatch but can’t hold your arms fixed overhead? Then we’ll need to work on your mobility first. Even a legendary sprinter like Usain Bolt had to learn to walk first.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this piece, it’s that training has to revolve around producing the tertiary and secondary outcomes/qualities that lead to the ultimate one.

Since you now know what an annual plan is, it’s time for the fun part! Making sense of all the elements and variables in a plan for long-term development. Of course, that’s THE question which we’ll be answering throughout this series! 

In the next article, I’ll be discussing:

  1. The outline for Team JustLift’s training in 2021.
  2. The design process and goals for our Winter training period.


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