This phase represents a progression to more specialized training. It is the first part of the specific training emphasis of the training plan. At least half the training that is done should be directly related to competitive events. The remainder still involves volume-oriented, basic work. Since technique was principally basic or general in nature in the basic preparatory phase, fitness training now has to become more specific so that finer points of technique, which probably rely on the existence of particular fitness levels, can be trained. Auxiliary training also becomes more specialized.
The theme of this specific training phase should be one of improving technical and fitness competencies according to some defined plan. Established objectives should be met but not exceeded.
The precompetition phase of training is the second stage of specialized training and marks where specialized training dominates the content. Competition-specific fitness should achieve its maximum level. In terms of training load, this phase is the most demanding of all. Work quality is increased and displaces volume as the primary emphasis. The heaviest loading should occur in the next-to-last microcycle, should be followed by an unloading microcycle which concludes the phase.
The precompetition phase is the most critical part of an training plan. It is likely that most problems associated with fitness training could occur in this phase. Coaches will have to be very cautious and objective in their assessments of the training responses of paddlers. Since this discussion concentrates on fitness development, it downplays the attention that should be given to technique. Coaches have to determine whether the training fatigue that is developed during this stage hinders more important technique development. If it does, then opportunities for recovery should be increased so that harmful fatigue can be avoided. The severity of training stimuli will be governed by the coaching decision of how much fatigue can be tolerated with each training stimulus and the effect of that fatigue on skills.
From the completion of the previous specific phase to the onset of the next phase should be a period of about 6-8 weeks — two relatively stressful macrocycles. Specific fitness capacities should be fully developed by the end of this training period. This will allow athletes to move into specific maintenance-training programs in the subsequent competition phase. The intensity of the overall training load will be governed by when competitions will occur. The activities of this training phase should approximate and model the intensities, durations, and race specific activities of that will occur in competitions.
Thus, the precompetition phase emphasizes, from a fitness viewpoint, the final development to maximum levels of those specific fitness combinations that govern the performance of intended races. Remotely related activities are almost non-existent in the latter microcycles. The only purposes for their inclusion would be to assist in recovery and regeneration and, for psychological reasons, training program variety. Auxiliary training activities should cease by the end of this phase.
Coaches should constantly weigh the value of the volume of poor-quality technique work with that of good-quality work. The quality of training efforts should be monitored very closely. With regard to any training stimulus experience at any time, a coach’s decision-making should follow these steps:
- take note of the performance standard that is initially displayed in the training segment;
- when an athlete’s technique begins to deteriorate note its effect on performance; and
- when performance deteriorates, despite increased effort on behalf of the athlete, terminate the athlete’s involvement in that segment.
The volume of poor work should never approach that of good work. The techniques to be used in competitions should achieve their highest levels of precision and volume by the end of this phase.
The success of the precompetition phase is dependent upon the volume of training achieved in the previous two phases, the introduction of judicious amounts of competition-quality stimulation, the achievement of performance-specific peak fitness levels in all critical capacities, the performance of skills under competition-like circumstances, and the final refinement of skills.