How to build a tailored training programme by Terry O'Neill

Posted on: 31st March, 2017 by Oar Sport

“Training programmes should be designed to meet the needs of the individual athlete”.


This is one of the golden rules you learn when you study for a coaching qualification.

If you think about it this makes absolute sense, however most elite and high performance squads tend to follow a single “one fits all programme”.

How the top guys train is thought to be the gold standard and many coaches adapt national programmes to fit their training regime. This usually takes the form of reducing the volume of training to fit the reduced time available for club and college athletes. What rarely happens is it is modified to meet the needs of the individual.

So why does this golden rule appear not to apply to elite groups?

Before you get into an elite group you would likely have spent many years of training plus gone through several selection procedures. This has the effect of removing candidates outside of a narrow band and reducing physical differences eliminating the need for individual programmes.

The less time available to train the more important training to meet individual needs becomes. In a club or college, for want of a better word, you are relying on “passing trade” and within the population at large the difference in physical characteristics is huge and therefore a single programme cannot possibly provide the optimal improvement across the squad.

No training is 100% efficient so for example strength training will bring about some improvement in endurance while conversely endurance training will result in some strength gains, therefore, a single programme is better than nothing.

Identifying physiological differences within a group will require testing and a lot of coaches see testing as time that would be better spent training. However, this should be weighed against the fact that for some of the group a significant amount of the training is ineffective. The testing can be carried out as part of the training regime or training can follow the test so no time is lost while gathering what could be very useful information.



Terry O'Neill coaching winners of the Queen Mother Cup at Henley in 1985


Four Simple Tests


The following four simple tests can be carried out over two evenings, you will need a Concept 2 rowing machine:


Evening 1

Seven stroke standing start. Record highest power reading in watts, (peak Power test).

This is followed by a 1 minute flat out row and record the metres covered. (anaerobic capacity test)

The third test on evening one is a 4 minutes test to identify aerobic capacity by recording metres covered.


Evening 2

Endurance test involving 10 minutes rowing and recording the distance covered.

One way to use the information is to find the average for the group of each test. The training programme should now be adjusted for anyone outside of 5% of the average.


If you have any queries or thoughts then don't hesitate to contact us!