Creating your own training plan

A training plan

How to start making your own training plan.

When faced with the daunting task of sitting down at your desk and studying for eight hours solid, no wonder you've been frantically re-arranging your CDs in alphabetical order and ironing your socks!

Sadly, there's no escaping having to write exams or go for interviews, but there is a way to make preparing for them a little less painful. By analysing how your sporting heroes and heroines go about getting to the top, you too can be sure of success...

1) Come up with a game plan
2) Stay SMART
3) Create your own coach
4) Be inspired
5) Get into a sticker situation
6) Vary your training
7) Fib to yourself!
8) Pat yourself on the back

1) Come up with a game plan

When they're training for the Olympics, athletes know they have exactly four years to get in the best shape of their lives.

Ask Kelly Holmes, Colin Jackson or any top sportsperson and they're unlikely to tell you that they left all their preparation till the night before and then got up at 2am to go for a quick jog! No, they divide those four years into 48 months, 208 weeks and 1,460 days, and then work out what they want to achieve at the end of each of these time periods. Then they write a training plan for themselves - and stick to it!

When preparing for an interview, test or exam, you also need your own training schedule, so work out how long you've got to prepare and then draw up a timetable on a big sheet of cardboard, dividing each day into 20-minute slots, leaving 10-minute breaks between slots and allowing yourself an hour for lunch.

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2) Stay SMART

Before you start filling in your timetable, it's important to be sure of what your goals are.

When they're training, top athletes know there's no point in setting unrealistic goals as they risk becoming demotivated if they fail to reach them. They remember that the best types of goals are SMART, so make sure your goals are SMART, too.

The acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific Being very precise about what you want to achieve will give you something tangible to aim for - an example of a non-specific goal is 'I want to have studied some English today', whereas a specific goal would be 'I want to have finished studying a quarter of the modern poetry syllabus by 5pm.'
  • Measurable This will enable you to know when you've succeeded - which means it's time to reward yourself (see below). Asking someone to test you (or testing yourself) on the work you've just studied is a way of measuring this.
  • Achievable Be honest with yourself about what you can achieve - for example, when you're revising for your driving test, don't aim to learn every road sign ever erected in Britain in 20 minutes flat!
  • Reward-orientated Athletes are often rewarded with medals and multi-million-pound contracts - make sure you also build in rewards for all your hard work (see step 8 for more on this).
  • Time-framed Giving yourself a deadline will provide a sense of urgency - and make you all the more likely to succeed because you're less likely to get bored. That's why your timetable is split into manageable 20-minute chunks.

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3) Create your own coach

The best athletes have a coach to guide and encourage them - and help them focus on their goals. You may not have the cash to hire a coach of your own - but you've already created one for yourself in step 1 - your timetable!

Bear in mind that your 'coach' will have to be flexible - no one wants a coach who's bossy and demanding and never takes your feelings and preferences into account. If you only feel half awake after seven cups of coffee, early mornings are not the best time to schedule in sessions of wrestling with complex scientific equations, so opt for something easier instead.

Allow yourself to swap sessions if you need to - if you really can't face 20 minutes of ancient history right now, by all means swap that with the 20 minutes of English literature you planned to get through before lunch - but make sure you've finished both by lunchtime or you'll never get around to studying those Roman battles!

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4) Be inspired

Another quality athletes look for in a coach is the ability to be inspiring - yes, they need someone who won't let them get out of doing punishing speed-training, but they also need someone who'll say, 'Well done! You're brilliant!' at the end of that session.

Make sure your timetable inspires and motivates you, too. One way to do this is to paste pictures of your favourite athletes and celebrities around the borders of your chart - they'll serve to remind you that just as they didn't become famous overnight, and spent years working at becoming superstars, so you too will need to persevere with your studies to succeed.

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5) Get into a sticker situation

Another motivational trick is to leave a space in each 20-minute time slot so you can paste a sticker there when you've completed it. This may sound like something you last did in kindergarten but don't underestimate how motivating it can be to have a visual overview of what you've achieved.

Just imagine how proud you'll feel as you slowly see the chart fill up with stickers, knowing that each one represents a small step to sailing through that exam or interview.

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6) Vary your training

When training, many athletes do something called fartlek (yes, really!) - and this is a technique you can employ as well. Basically, this rather rude-sounding term (which means 'speed play' in Swedish) involves alternating sprinting with periods of jogging. The principle is that by running at various different speeds like this you can practise running fast - but can go on for longer as you won't get too shattered.

Do the same when you're scheduling the slots on your timetable - by alternating between things you find difficult (preparing the answers to 20 tricky interview questions you're likely to be asked) with things you find easy (like thinking of what you'll say if the interviewers ask about your passion for football), you'll find you can study for a longer time in total. And having an easy slot to look forward to can give you the stamina to get through a harder one.

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7) Fib to yourself!

Not all athletes leap out of bed each day and head off for a training session full of breathless anticipation. Most of them will admit to having days when all they want to do is curl up under the duvet and hibernate. But it's guaranteed that none of them will say they give in to this impulse.

Instead, many of them will tell you that they fib to themselves and say that they'll change into their kit, head for the gym or track and that, once there, they won't have to train if they don't want to. And what do you know? By the time they get to the track they usually find that they're raring to go (and besides, they don't want to have wasted all that effort lacing up their trainers!).

Take inspiration from this and, if your timetable says you're scheduled to do 20 minutes of German and you just don't feel like it, tell yourself you'll just sit at your desk doing nothing for the full 20-minute slot. Chances are that after five minutes of staring into space, you'll be so bored, those German verbs will start looking a lot more interesting and you'll end up studying them after all.

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8) Pat yourself on the back

Everyone thrives on praise, and athletes are no exception - when the crowd rises to its feet and cheers them home, it's a reward for all the hard work they've put in to get across that finish line.

You may not have thousands of people chanting your name when you're studying or preparing for that interview, but you can build rewards into your programme nonetheless. Planning the party-to-end-all-parties when your exams are over is a great way to celebrate your achievement, but it's just as important to plan small 'Well done me!' treats along the way.

Each time you schedule in a 20-minute study slot on your timetable, don't forget to also include a reward, whether that's a cup of tea or a romp with your dog. That way you'll always have something to look forward to. At the end of each day, schedule in a bigger reward, such as a long chat with your best friend or a movie, to keep you motivated throughout the day.


It's taught me discipline, helped me to become focused, given me goals in life, and taken me all over the world.

Ade Adepitan MBE

Paralympic bronze medallist

Training ground

Colin Jackson

Work hard

Colin Jackson reveals more top tips on making exercise part of your lifestyle.

Media zone

Pierre Dulaine

Video clips

Check out the video with the famous dance instructor Pierre Dulaine.

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