Periodization – The Basics
No matter what sport you are training for, in order to do well, you must have a plan. Elite level athletes never train at the same intensity all year long. If they did, they would not achieve anywhere near what they are capable of. More than likely, they would burn out or sustain various injuries. If you want to perform at your best when it counts, and continually build on your fitness level year after year, you need to plan your training using a methodology called “periodization.” In this article, I will define the term periodization as it relates to training, and break it down into its component parts. Hopefully, after reading this, you will have a better understanding of the method behind your coach’s madness.
Periodization is a systematic approach to training whereby the year is divided into “periods” with each having a specific purpose or aspect of fitness to improve while maintaining the gains made in previous periods.These periods are most commonly referred to as the macrocycle, the mesocycle, and the microcycle. The basic premise of periodization is that training should progress from general to specific, and emphasize the individual needs of the athlete.
A macrocycle is a large segment of time that culminates in a specific race or series of races. It can be just a racing season, one full year, or several years, as in the case of most Olympic athletes, where it usually lasts four years.
A mesocycle is smaller set of time which can be anywhere from one to several weeks. Each mesocycle is usually separated into five periods; general preparation, specific preparation, pre-competition, competition, and transition.
The general preparation period is also called the “base” period. This is where the most basic elements of fitness are developed. Muscular strength, aerobic endurance, and sport specific skills are usually addressed in this period.
In the specific preparation period, the athlete is further refining the fitness gained earlier and starting to identify and enhance the systems that are needed for targeted races. This may include muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, or power training. Low priority races may also be scheduled at this time, but the emphasis is on training to race.
The pre-competition period is when the athlete is brought to a performance peak for a race, or series of races. Peaking involves the varying of training frequency, intensity and duration, and is usually resulting in a decrease of frequency and duration while maintaining intensity. The rest allows for the physiological systems to recover from the stresses of training and reach greater levels of adaptation.
The competition period is a time of physiological rest and maintenance of systems in preparation for competition. It is usually a one week period, but can extend further for back-to-back races.
The transition period is the time for the athlete to refresh and rejuvenate physically and mentally. During this time the athlete remains active, but at a greatly reduced workload, with little or no training regimentation. This is a good time to participate in other activities rather than the big three. After a short transition, the athlete may return to the specific prep period, but after an extended transition, it may be necessary to return to the general prep period to rebuild the base fitness.
A microcycle is usually a period of only a few days, and is generally broken down to individual weeks (7 days). It is made up of a series of training sessions, and has a specific purpose based on the mesocycle. Typically microcycles follow a pattern of increasing stress before culminating with a rest and recovery microcycle. It usually involves 2-3 weeks of building followed by 1 week of recovery.
Whenever I talk or hear others talk about periodization, one statement is always at the forefront of the conversation; “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” Although it may take a certain amount of time to come up with and continually tweak a training plan to fit your specific needs, it is always better, and most always results in better performances, to be following some semblance of a systematic plan, than to just be training haphazardly along. So, whether you are planning only one race, or 40, get that training log out, or find a coach to assist you, and map out a plan to help you do your best on each and every race day!