I was reading an article the other day called The Science of Periodization (link at the bottom) and was thoroughly impressed with it’s breakdown.Being a strength and conditioning coach, periodization is one of the most important parts of developing effective programs for anyone, especially elite athletes. Depending on the demand of the sport, different phases or cycles will need to be implemented in order to attain peak performance at the correct times. Whether the focus be strength, endurance, stamina, power or flexibility, timing is essential so the athlete can effectively compete.
This being said, the process of periodizing a program is extremely difficult and delicate. The line is extremely fine between the point of optimal performance and burnout. Furthermore, you must also ensure the athlete can perform during practice times and at certain games or tournaments. So how does one balance everything to create the perfect program?
Quite simply, it really hasn’t been done yet. There are always things being changed every year to better tweak and refine an individual’s program. The process is essentially trial and error. Of course effective programs have been created, as any championship won had a plan to get there. But like any good program, changes are always looking to be made to better one’s training. Periodization is no different. So what goes into an effective training plan?
The article posted below goes into great detail and I highly recommend giving it a read. But to breakdown periodization, one must first analyze what they are programming for. Is it a client trying to lose weight for a wedding in 6 months? Or maybe a championship soccer team looking to defend their title come November. Whatever it is, analyze it. What are the demands of the sport or process? Bio mechanics of effective movements related to the sport or physiological time frames to build muscle. Once you have all your necessary data, you can get started.
I recommend to breakdown the schedule from the top down. Start with the entire timeframe plan (be it a year, 6 months or season) and then schedule what phases you want to focus on during said time. This requires some research as certain phases should be focused on at certain times to better performance and results. Once you have your entire plan essentially mapped out (called a macrocycle), you can then further break it down into smaller more detailed chunks.
A mesocycle typically looks at 4 week or monthly periods. You can then elaborate the intensities prescribed and determine appropriate rest or unloading phases. To breakdown even more, you then must select appropriate exercises and drills for the individual to perform. These will be scheduled by the day or session and typically are built into a week. These microcycles are the smallest unit in periodization and are the most detailed.
What about the different types of periodization? This depends on the ability or skill level of the person. Basic periodization gives the athlete the ability to develop skills in training while still progressing in strength and conditioning. Simple blocks or phases can progress in 4 week cycles and range from hypertrophy, endurance, strength and power. Being simple, this type of periodization can lead to flat line progression and little variety in training. As an athlete’s skills progress, periodization becomes more elaborate. Different combinations of progression and maintenance are used to optimally develop all aspects of strength, power and speed. Combining overreaching and shock principles with deloading/maintenance cycles can better prepare an athlete who has a higher training load. This requires more scientific research to ensure program is effective for sport and that the athlete is peaking in time for prime performances.
Tapering is essential regardless of athlete skill level. Appropriate rest and recovery is key for adaptations to training. During an effective taper, volume of activity is decreased while intensity is maintained or increased. This is to ensure the athlete’s skills are sharp yet not overloading them to fatigue. An effective taper ideally aims to not cross the line previously mentioned separating performance from burnout but instead just fall in front of it. The timing of a taper is key as enough rest must be given as competition becomes closer, yet training must still challenge the athlete. A taper can range from a few days, to a couple weeks depending on the importance of a game or tournament.
So you may ask why periodize training? Why bother scheduling training or drills? Why are some workouts easy and some too hard? Why not just go hard all the time? Well, there is always a method to the madness. Look at the best programs across the world. They have specialists monitoring nutrition, planning practices, scheduling strength or conditioning and applying physiotherapy. They all work together to create the best performance from the athlete. The reason? To increase stimulation for adaptation while ensuring the athlete has appropriate recovery. That is the basic principle of program design. Increase stimulation to create adaptation while ensuring sufficient recovery.
Going all out all the time leads to burnout and in some cases a feeling of stagnancy in training. An athlete may feel progression cease or diminish simply because training has fallen into a pattern without variety. I urge any strength coach or athlete to read the article below and get better informed about the process of proper training plans. Learn about why it is effective and try to implement the tried and proven methods to further develop yourself or your athletes.
It’s called science for a reason.
PS: Click below to dive into the article that inspired, well, this article.
Matrixx specializes in adolescent athletic development. He coaches some of the top athlete prospects coming out of high school in the Niagara region. He also works with dedicated members of the community who are passionate about improving personal fitness. Matrixx is also the author of The Iron Guide to Building Muscle.