Periodization as a philosophy of training program design

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1 Periodization as a philosophy of training program design Introduction The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) helps us understand how a training stress improves an athlete s physiological capacity and why recovery time is essential to the body's adaptation process. Now we will examine how to apply this understanding to developing a logical training program for athletes that will bring about optimal gains in their physical performance over a period of weeks, months and years. The most significant application of GAS to training program design is known as periodization of training. The term 'periodization' refers to the way in which the training season is subdivided into smaller and more manageable intervals where high and low training loads, in conjunction with recovery, are cycled into a training routine. This sounds easy enough to do, and from an academic perspective the concept is very simple. You stress the body then allow it to recover during which time it will strengthen itself by adapting to the stress. However, implementing this very simple notion has proved to be the most complex aspects of training program design. It's best to think of periodization as a philosophy of training rather than factually based training procedure. There remains considerable debate and turmoil with respect to cycling stress and recovery in the context of sport training. What you will learn In this module we will overview the general concept of periodization as a training philosophy. You will also be exposed to some strategies for applying the periodization philosophy to training program design for your own athletes. The problem with literal application of GAS Individual training sessions include the training stimulus, recovery and adaptation or supercompensation. It takes 4 6 weeks to complete adaptation to a specific training stress. Literal application of GAS theory to sport training suggests you increase the stress a little bit and put the athlete through another 4-6 week adaptation cycle. You keep adding to the stress at the end of each adaptation cycle until the athlete reaches their genetic ceiling. Sounds simple, right? Well, it s not quite that easy. This linear approach of continual loading every 4-6 weeks generates at least four problems. 1. The higher the training stress the longer the recovery needed for adaptation (supercompensation) to occur. 2. An athlete cannot handle the psychological stress encountered with constant linear increases in training loads. Boredom becomes an issue due to lack of variety 3. When training loads become high, and training stress is high, recovery must be lengthened. Consequently, there will be fewer training sessions within the week. Performance will plateau and may even deteriorate if the athlete succumbs to illness and injury due to the high training loads and reduced recovery in your effort to keep the number of training sessions consistent. 4. The linear loading approach does not address sport-specific training where training is very intense. You cannot have both high volume and high intensity when intensity is high, training volume must be low. On this chart you see the interaction between training volume versus intensity. Periodization as a philosophy of training program design addresses these four issues. 1

2 Periodization background Over the years there have been many Ah-Ha! I've got it! where the some coach or scientist claims to have found the correct application of the GAS to training athletes. However, the periodization models proposed as the 'correct one' is merely an application to a particular training situation. There is no absolutely correct way of applying the periodization philosophy. There are, however, some basic concepts you can apply to all training program design. Here are these basic concepts You must vary the stimulus strength, frequency and duration to prevent the body's adaptive mechanism from stabilizing. A central concern is to use the right training stimulus for the desired structural adaptation. The end goal is to develop the correct proportion of strength, speed, endurance, coordination and flexibility for the specific motor performance ability relevant to the athlete's performance. Use stimulus unpredictability to prevent the adaptive mechanism from becoming accustomed the training stimulus. This causes adaptation to stabilize and not respond to that particular training stimulus. Include sufficient recovery so the adaptive mechanism can complete the structural building processes in a reasonable amount of time. The most difficult coaching task is to assess the time for the next stimulus, its strength and type (i.e. the stimulus mode). Step loading replacement of linear loading One of the early alterations of GAS theory in applying it to sport training was to abandon the use of linear loading and replace it with a step-loading methodology. The step method cycles a phase of loading with a phase of unloading, during which the athlete adapts and regenerates. The generic step-loading method occurs over a 4-week timeframe referred to as the mesocycle. In this example here, during week 1 the total volume (load) for week 1 is low, followed by a medium volume in week 2, then a high volume in week 3, and then a medium volume week in week 4. The steps are not high. Recommended levels are 3 to 6% increases over the previous week. However, this will vary quite a bit depending on the adaptations you are trying to accomplish. During each of the 7 day or weekly training sessions (known as the microcycles) the same loading/ unloading cycle is applied. For example, day 1 may begin with a low load, the next two days slightly higher, then day 4 is a reduced load day, followed by a high loading day on day 5, a slightly reduced load on day 6 and then a very light load on day 7. For very young training aged athletes day 7 is usually a complete rest with no training at all. You can perhaps see why you must have a method of measuring total volume for each training session. You need some way of tracking total volume for each microcycle and for each mesocyles. It gets even more complicated when you include intensity of the training session into the equation. Now we will use this basic loading/ unloading concept to design of a training plan without worrying about the intensity issue for now. Designing a training plan In this section you will learn how to divide your training plan into small subsections. I will use classic periodization terminology. Keep in mind that there are many variations of this terminology, but the general idea is consistent that is, to divide the training plan into subparts each with specific training objectives. 2

3 A training plan has three segments or phases that we refer to as the preparatory, competitive and transition phases. The three phases are collectively called a macrocycle and by definition includes one peaking period usually occurring at the most important competition at the end of the competitive season. The preparatory phase has two components or sub-phases to it: a general preparation and specific preparation phase. You will also see these sub-phases called 'periods'. The competitive phase also has two sub-phases: a pre-competitive and main competition component. The active rest phase is a recovery transition between the high intensity of competition and the general preparation phase. A general picture or the volume versus intensity of these three phases would look like this. Macrocycle phase focus The general preparation period focuses on overall body fitness, positive body composition changes, and improved total work capacity by using high-volume, low intensity work. The purpose is to prepare the athlete for the more intense specific training. Recall that volume is the amount of training performed,and intensity is the difficulty level of the training. Over the course of the preparation phase training progresses toward higher specificity and eventually becomes the specific preparation period. Training during this period will resemble the demands of the competition and has a high level of intensity. Training also progresses from simple to complex. The pre-competition period is a transition into the competitive season. Training becomes more specific, volume drops further and intensity increases. During the main competition period you focus on stabilizing or improving technique while still working on relevant performance variables such as endurance, speed, power etc. A maintenance program can also be associated with this sub-phase when the competitive season is very long. Maintenance of reasonable levels of physiological conditioning requires sufficient volume, intensity and frequency. Focus on carefully balancing total work, in combination with sport skill practice, so that you avoid overtraining the athlete. The transition phase is sometimes referred to as active rest phase and is an essential aspect of the training plan. If hard training is attempted immediately after a prolonged season, the athlete will be unable to sustain long-term progress. The active rest phase is characterized by low workloads and low intensities, and may simply involve recreational activity that has complementary movement patterns and motor skills to the athlete's competitive sport skills. The macrocycle design guidelines: As a general rule the preparation phase is usually as long as the competition phase and is divided equally between the general and specific prep sub-phases or 'periods' as they are sometimes called. A transition phase of 4 6 weeks usually provides adequate recovery before undertaking the next training macrocycle. Over the course of designing the macrocycle follow these guidelines: Move training from general to specific activities. Progress from simple activities to complex activities. 3

4 Develop the athlete s ability to perform large amounts of work before developing the ability to perform high power. Keep track of the load distributions by charting the load for the entire macrocycle such as the example shown here. A load combines both volume and intensity and provides you with a global picture of what you are trying to accomplish. In the case of a sprinter the athlete s aerobic load might look something like the brown line; their alactic load look something like the red line; their glycolytic load like the green line and their focus on strength development like the blue line. You can also separate the plots. This is a useful approach if you are trying to track many training stimuli that are designed to produce different training effects over time. The microcycle Patterns The microcycle is usually 1 week in length and refers to a small grouping of 5 18 separate training sessions depending on whether the athlete does 1 or 2 training session per day. Beginning athletes will only do one training session per day. A typical microcycle includes 6 training days and one rest day. There are two components of the microcycle you will have to consider one is the stimulating component where you apply the training load, and the other is the recovery component where you minimize training load to allow for adaptation. Typical microcycles accomplish this by using one of four patterns of load/recovery in a 1:1; 2:1; 3:1 or 4:1 combination. In the 1:1 combination you alternate high stimulus load on one day with a reduced recovery load on the next. In the 1:1a cycle you use the same high and low loading alternated for 6 days with one day of complete recovery. The next microcycle is an identical loading pattern and you continue this for four microcycle before increasing the load. This is a typical approach for a beginner. The 1:1b combination is also a common pattern. The difference is that the high loads are gradually increased over six days with one day of complete rest. You would repeat this same loading pattern for 4-week mesocycle and then slightly increase the high loads during the next 4-week mesocycle. The other microcyle combinations are used with intermediate and advanced athletes. The 2:1 combination uses one unloading day with 2 high loads days. The 3:1 uses 1 unloading day for every 3 higher loading days. Be careful if you use the 4:1 combination. It is often too strenuous for all except the most highly advanced athletes and can lead to overtraining very quickly. Four days of loading without a recovery day appears to be more than more physiological systems can handle. Recovery and adaptation periods. When designing your microcycles and here are some recovery and adaptation periods to keep in mind Beginners need 48 hours of recovery between hard days and this is why the 1:1 combination microcycle is best for this group. 4

5 When you are working on strength allow 36 to 96 hours before the next strength workout depending on the volume and intensity. Eccentric strength workouts are very tough on body tendons, ligaments and microstructures. Allow 7 to 14 days between eccentric workouts. Anaerobic training requires 48 to 96 hours of recovery time Aerobic Threshold training will require 12 to 24 hours recovery depending on the training age of the athlete and the volume. Younger training aged athletes require 24 hours but your more elite athletes can cycle aerobic training every 12 hours. Cycle recovery in at every level Notice how the recovery periods are cycled in at every level. At the microcycle level you include 1 reduced training load every other day when you use a 1:1 combination, or every 2, or 3 rd day when you use the 2:1 or 3:1 combination. The mesocycle always includes one microcycle of reduced training. Each macrocycle includes 2-4 weeks of recovery time before the next general preparation period of the next macrocycle. Summary Here is a summary of the periodization terminology we discussed in this section. Training unit. The smallest division of the training program usually representing similar training activities warmup, technical drills, speed and power, strength and endurance, cool-down. The session. A single training session of a similar theme. Microcycle typically consists of 7-days of cycled training sessions of rest, high loading and reduced loading. Mesocycle is a 4 week segment of training, although it may be extended to 6 weeks depending upon the athlete's training age. Macrocycle is a block of training divided into three phases preparatory, competitive and transition phase. The phase is a segment of a macrocycle with a gross theme. There are typically 3 phases a preparatory phase, a competitive phase and a transition phase. The period is sometimes used in preference to 'sub-phase'. In most macrocycles the preparation phase has two periods (sub-phases) a general preparation period and a specific preparation period. The competition phase has two periods or sub-phases pre-competition and main competition. The pre-competition period consists of the those competitions that are not very important while the main competition period consists of the most important competitions. The Annual Plan. A yearly training plan that includes all the training content 5

6 including the location, sequencing and duration of all phases of training, as well as the themes associated with each. It also includes the competition schedule and peaking periods. You start with the competition schedule and work backwards to build out the macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles. References Haff, Gregory. Roundtable Discussion: Periodization of Training Part 1. Strength and Conditioning Journal, Volume 26 (1): Smith, David. A Framework for Understanding the Training Process Leading to Elite Performance. Sports Med 2003; 33 (15): Bompa, Tudor O. Periodization - Theory and Methodology of Training. Human Kinetics 6

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