A framework for Program Design Part 3: The Review Process

Lorna Barry

[6-min read]

This blog is the third installment of a three-part series with fellow Swim Ireland S&C coaches, Ryan Keating and Paul Talty. The aim of the series is to provide a framework to assist with program design regardless of your working environment. Whether you specialize in strength and conditioning with teams and/or individuals, personal training, or rehabilitation, you should have a procedure for first identifying the needs of the team or individual, selecting the relevant program content, and deciding how it will be monitored.

The first part of this series by, Ryan Keating, focused on the why, what, and how of carrying out a needs analysis, while the second part, by Paul Talty, addressed the process one could follow to establish the requirements of the training program content itself. This blog aims to outline the important steps in the review process and how to ensure key information is reviewed, allowing accurate decision-making to occur.

The review process

The life of an athlete is often over-simplified through the slogan “eat, sleep, train, repeat”. If the life of a coach were to be drilled down to a similar catchphrase, “assess, plan, do, review” would probably be the most appropriate. Largely, professional coaches and the wider multi-disciplinary team (MDT) are competent and well organised through the assessment, planning, and implementation stages of training load prescription.

As outlined in parts one and two of this blog series, a clear understanding of the sporting demands and KPIs, as well as season structure and developmental framework will feed into a strong process-driven training environment. However, the review process, while vital, is often overlooked as the rush to restart the planning process for the next training cycle begins.

It is important to measure and acknowledge your training prescription’s impact and effectiveness. The review process can occur on a daily basis, should occur at the end of a training block, and must occur at the end of a training cycle.

"It is only by reviewing the actual training stimulus that you can accurately assess the training or performance outcome. This is a simple concept, but one that is often neglected in an applied setting." @LornaBarry86 Click To Tweet

There are many ways to conduct an effective review but it is most important to review what actually occurred as opposed to what was planned to occur. It is only by reviewing the actual training stimulus that you can accurately assess the training or performance outcome. This is a simple concept, but one that is often neglected in an applied setting. This blog will briefly present key areas for consideration that often are disregarded when conducting an effective review. 

The review process should only start once the key data under consideration is accurate and complete. Reviewing inaccurate or incomplete data can be a fatal mistake in an elite performance setting. Data accuracy is the most important characteristic that sets the foundation of the review process. Once data accuracy is ensured the review process can begin.

Primarily, the best place to start is with a planned versus actual review by asking yourself three key questions:

  1. Did the athlete train as planned?
  2. Did the athlete experience the planned training intensity?
  3. Did the athlete experience the planned training volume?

Did the athlete train as planned?

Training density is a key metric that we as coaches use to manipulate the fitness/fatigue balance. Athletes’ training as per the planned schedule has a direct link to training density. However, athletes, in consultation with coaches, regularly alter the planned training schedule to fit external demands (college, work, etc.).

Tables one and two below show an example of how an athlete altered a Tuesday morning swim session to fit academic demands. The planned and actual training schedules both maintain the same training load and volume but the density of work is shifted to the latter half of the week.

In a singular instance, this will have little effect on the training outcome but if repeated can have a greater impact. Importantly, if these alterations in the training schedule and thus the density of the applied training stress are not taken into account during the review process, training outcomes are not being considered within the correct context.

MonSwimSwim101,110Weekly Frequency
WedSwim5420Weekly Volume
FriSwimSwim10820Weekly sRPE-TL

Table 1: Planned Weekly Schedule.
MonSwimSwim101,110Weekly Frequency
WedSwim5420Weekly Volume
FriSwimSwim10820Weekly sRPE-TL

Table 2: Actual Weekly Schedule where Tuesday morning has been altered to Thursday morning.

Did the athletes experience the planned training intensity?

The planned intensity of the session is equally as important for precise training load control and manipulation to occur. Some studies have shown a disagreement between the athletes’ and coaches’ perceived loads for a given training session. In swimming, a lack of correspondence between athlete and coach was found when using the sRPE method. Findings showed that athletes found sessions planned to be easy (RPE 3) were harder than planned and found hard (RPE 5) sessions easier than expected (Wallace et al. 2009).

Figure 1: Training Load Monitoring with RYPT

This is a key element to the review process to seek agreement upon as it has important implications and may demonstrate poor training load control and place athletes at increased risk of maladaptation. Coaches should have an idea of their planned training session intensity and review how the athlete actually rated the session in comparison.

Did the athlete experience the planned training volume?

The third aspect to review is the planned volume, where frequent and minor alterations in the planned training schedule may cause the athletes’ training volume to be impacted over larger periods. This often has a greater knock-on effect where coaches often pre-plan training volume in blocks of 4-6 weeks and potentially forget to adjust for missed sessions on a week-by-week basis.

As seen in table 3, minor week-on-week adjustments to the volume lead to an overall deficit of 25.692km, essentially losing a large training stimulus. Coaches, during the review process, need to ensure the actual volume of training is being considered in relation to the performance outcome achieved.


Table 3: 10-week plan, Planned vs Actual.

Reviewing the training outcomes

Once all aspects of the review process have been completed, the MDT can dig further into the training outcomes. This often takes the form of reviewing training loads against resulting performance changes or alterations to an athlete’s health (well-being/injury/illness surveillance). These reviews should take a place on a case-by-case basis, particularly outside of the team sport environment where individual-sport athletes tend to follow specialized training plans and race calendars.


This three-part series has outlined the process from understanding and conducting a needs analysis of the sport, to planning relevant program content, and finally monitoring and reviewing the program execution and effectiveness. Each element is equally important and should be a live and dynamic process. Repeating these steps in a cyclical fashion not only ensures that program design is being rigorously planned and implemented but also that there is inbuilt accountability into the systematic approach.


  • Wallace LK, Slattery KM, Coutts AJ. The ecological validity and application of the session-RPE method for quantifying training loads in swimming. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan; 23(1):33-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181874512. PMID: 19002069.

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About the author

Lorna Barry

Lorna Barry is a UKSCA accredited strength and conditioning coach (S&C) working with Swim Ireland while managing her role as a Ph.D. researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Lorna is also an S&C in the Limerick region for the IRFU high-performance referees and Women’s 15’s national squad. Previously, Lorna has worked as an S&C for several years, spending two seasons working with Rugby Canadas Men’s 15’s and 7’s programmes where she was S&C on their Sevens World Cup campaign in 2013 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014. More recently Lorna held a rehabilitation role with the Sports Surgery Clinic musculoskeletal team and was lead S&C with Munster Rugby’s Senior squad. Lorna has a Master of Science (MSc.) in Sports Performance (University of Limerick, 2012) and a BSc. in Sport and Exercise Sciences (University of Limerick, 2005-2009).

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