Posts Tagged ‘periodization’

By James Hoffman (source)

The term periodization gets thrown around pretty fast and loose these days. There seem to be a lot of different definitions and types of periodization concepts. The problem is that virtually all of these arguments are largely semantical and usually refer to much the same thing. What I so eloquently tell my students is that you can call it a terd poo, but it’s still shit. What I’m getting at is that the concept of periodization is largely similar across the board and the particular approaches to enhancing performance are what tend to differ. Let’s break down periodization for sport training into a simple and applicable concept.

For the purposes of this article, we will define periodization as “the logical and systematic sequencing of training factors in an integrative fashion in order to optimize specific training outcomes at pre-determined time points.” Key phrases for future consideration: systematic sequencing, specific training outcomes, pre-determined time points. The goals of periodization are generally to:

  • OPTIMIZE AN ATHLETE’S PERFORMANCE AT A PRE-DETERMINED TIME POINT OR THE MAINTENANCE OF PERFORMANCE CAPACITY FOR SPORTS WITH A SPECIFIC SEASON. We want our athlete to be at the very best when it counts. We don’t want our athletes peaked when they’re off the field, nor fatigued when they’re on the field.
  • MANAGE THE TRAINING STRESSORS TO REDUCE OVER-TRAINING POTENTIAL. Fatigue can come from a number of stressors, some unrelated to training. These stressors can accumulate and wreak havoc on athletic performance. Stress and fatigue must be periodically alleviated.  (Check out Dr. Israetel’s article Fatigue Explained.)
  • PROMOTE LONG-TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT. It’s easy to get caught up in the short term, but we want to make sure the athlete is improving throughout their career.
  • STRUCTURE PRECISE TRAINING INTERVENTIONS TO TARGET SPECIFIC PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PERFORMANCE OUTCOMES. We want to train the fitness characteristics critical for success in the sport. Although many sports overlap quite a bit, training to be a good marathon runner probably isn’t going to help you break any snatch records.

Periodization is composed of a number of additional training principles beyond that which  will be addressed here, but for now, let’s take a look at a few basic concepts:

  1. SPECIFICITY: the degree of association between the training and performance variables.
  2. VARIATION: the periodic alteration of training variables (i.e., a removal of linearity) in order to stimulate specific adaptations and reduce over-training potential.
  3. DIRECTED ADAPTATION: the process by which your body makes adaptations specific to the training stimuli over time. Although variation is good, too much variation can be detrimental, thus minimal time thresholds are necessary to drive adaptation.
  4. PHASE POTENTIATION: the process of structuring the training plan into smaller phases that target specific fitness characteristics which build upon each other over time.

Although this might seem like technical jargon, these principles are not overly complicated and provide the infrastructure to our training plan. From these principles, we know that in order to optimize sport performance, the training stimuli must target specific fitness characteristics, performance outcomes, and physiological variables at a specified time. Over time, we can vary things like sets, reps, volume, intensity, and exercise selection to increase the transfer of training effects and compound previously obtained training adaptations to higher levels of performance.

One of the most common manifestations of periodization is the training plan. We might not necessarily think of it that way, but having a training plan for a season, the entire year, or even spanning multiple years is the physical manifestation of our periodization concept. The training plan allows us to adopt a timeline encompassing all training, practice, recovery, mandatory down-time, and competition sessions. This timeline then allows us to sequence our training into smaller phases – or blocks – accumulating and peaking our performance variables at the pre-determined competition time.

So how do we sequence our training phases together in a logical and systematic approach? For anyone who has worked in sports like MMA, rugby, hockey, and any other multifaceted sport, you know this can be quite an undertaking due to the enormous number of factors involved. The good news is we can effectively break down the sporting season, or macrocycle, into three main training phases:


The preparatory phase is arguably the most important phase throughout the cycle, serving as the foundation of physical, technical, and psychological preparedness. This phase generally lasts anywhere from 3-6 months and is well away from any meaningful competitions. For single event sports, these competitions could include races, lifting meets, or fights. For multi-event or seasonal sports, these competitions could include league games, play-offs, or regional championships. The goals of the preparatory phase as a whole are to:

  • Acquire and improve general physical training capacity.
  • Improve fitness characteristics required by the sport.
  • Improve psychological drive (e.g., determination, willpower, and perseverance).
  • To develop, improve, or perfect technique.
  • To familiarize athletes with the basic strategic maneuvers and tactics mastered later in subsequent phases.
  • To educate the athlete on the theory and methodology of training for their sport.

The preparatory phase can be further broken down into two distinct subphases:

The general preparatory phase, or general prep, is the furthest from competition and is used to elevate work capacity, general physical preparation, technical abilities, basic tactics, and optimize body composition (e.g., lose fat, gain muscle, and significantly alter bodyweight). This phase will consist of the highest training volumes of the plan and moderate intensities. The general prep will include phases of strength endurance, hypertrophy, or general strength phases.

In the general prep phase, athletes will be developing basic sport skills like passing, catching, throwing, kicking, sprinting, tackling, shooting, etc., and some elementary tactics like basic offensive and defensive formations. Additionally, they will be learning basic lifting techniques like trunk bracing, keeping an upright posture against resistance, squatting, pulling, pressing, etc. For more mastered athletes, this phase can serve as a time to revisit skills and techniques that may have been overlooked in the previous preparation, attaining mastery of foundational skills, or adopting new skills and advanced techniques.

The specific preparatory phase, or specific prep, serves as the pre-season for many sports, drawing nearer to competition. The specific prep represents a transition from physical development to competition. This phase is used to develop technical mastery of sport and training skills, team tactics, maximal strength, speed and explosiveness, and sport specific endurance. During this phase, total volume, sport and training, is reduced upward of 40% from the general prep, while intensity factors such as load, speed, and power continue to increase. The specific prep will include phases of specific strength, maximal strength, power, and speed.

In the specific prep, athletes are focusing on mastering sport techniques and integrating them into tactical development. This includes scrimmaging, small-sided games, and live simulation. Maximal strength, power, and explosiveness become primary goals for training, using movements that emphasize not only heavy loads but power and rate of force development – such as weightlifting movements.

The competition phase is the perfection of training factors culminating in competition. The competition phase can include any pre-season exhibition or friendly competitions, tapering periods for single events, or post-season events like playoffs. The goals of the competition phase as a whole are:

  • Continued improvement or maintenance of sport specific fitness characteristics.
  • Enhancing psychological traits.
  • Perfecting and consolidating technique.
  • Elevating performance and preparedness.
  • Dissipating fatigue.
  • Perfecting technique and tactics.
  • Gain competition experience.
  • Maintain sport specific fitness.
  • Winning – duh!

For many team sports, this might include an entire season. For individual sports, it might be a single event such as a marathon or powerlifting meet. In this phase, the total training volume is reduced again, while intensity is maintained or increased, and previously dormant fitness is finally expressed as fatigue becomes alleviated.

Competition phases for single-event sports tend to be a little more straightforward: Volume is reduced leading up to the event while intensity is mostly maintained up until the last 1-2 sessions prior to competing. For multi-event and seasonal sports, the duration of the competition phase can lead to some interesting challenges. Although most team sports do not reach a true peak during the competition phase, peaking them out too early may lead to burnout or detraining in post-season games, whereas peaking them too late may result in too few wins during the main season, losing a chance at post-season play. For longer competition phases, such as those seen in sports like hockey and basketball, there is a delicate balance of maintaining overload and reducing net volume, while simultaneously not reducing volume and intensity factors so much that the athlete is subject to de-conditioning or reversibility.

Because this can be difficult to predict and time appropriately, many coaches have adopted “training-through” strategies, in which elements of the preparatory phase continue into competition periods. Although a high risk/reward situation, training-through strategies seek to continue hard training sessions at the expense of potentially losing competitions that do not affect long-term success.  These might include exhibition matches, early season competitions, friendly competitions, and competitions that would not affect qualification status for regional or championship competitions down the road.

Active recovery is the last phase of our training plan and is an integral step in not only alleviating physical and psychological fatigue of competitions, but also linking together multiple plans. The active recovery phase begins at the cessation of all major competitions for the cycle. The goal of the active recovery phase is to alleviate fatigue while maintaining an acceptable level of general fitness. This phase generally lasts 2-4 weeks and consists of rest, unstructured physical activity, or structured physical activity without an emphasis on skills or abilities for the sport in question. Athletes and coaches should be wary of the effects of reversibility as taking too much time off can lead to de-training effects. Although this can be modified based on the length of the competition phase and level of the athlete, active recovery phases of about 2-3 weeks are appropriate for most sports before starting a new preparatory phase.

Once you have mapped out the three main phases of training, working outward from competitions, filling in the sub-phases becomes more simplified. From here, we can begin sequencing our physical preparation and sport preparation, increasing in specificity as we draw closer to competition. Just like one must learn to pass, catch, sprint, and tackle before they can play rugby, physical preparation follows a similar pattern of development in which athletes must develop work capacity, strength, power, and speed to achieve peak performance.

Although periodization is inherently complex, we can simplify our approach to sport training by emphasizing sport skills and physical abilities in a structured manner. By breaking down each phase with these specific goals in mind, the process becomes more organized and effective. Perhaps the greatest and most rewarding challenge I have experienced as a coach and strength coach is integrating both physical preparation and sport preparation into one coherent plan. Remember that you can’t effectively train everything at once by blending it all together into a massive training smoothie; however, by emphasizing different components of sport training and building upon them over time, you are not only minimizing their overtraining potential, but maximizing their performance potential as well.

by Mladen Jovanovic (web)

I have recently been reading Transfer of Training  (Volume 2)  by Dr Anatoly Bondarchuk and watching  video(s) by  Derek Evely . To understand their classification of training systems it is necessary to understand the classification of the exercises based on the specificity criteria. Thus, Bondarchuk identified four groups of exercises/methods:

Name of exercise/method
Competitive (CE)
Exercises that are identical or almost identical to competition event
developmental (SDE)
Exercise that repeat the competitive event in training but in its separate parts
preparatory (SPE)
Exercises that do not imitate the competitive event, but train the major muscle groups and physiological systems
preparatory (GPE)
Exercises that do not imitate the competitive event and do not train the specific systems.
Exercise classification based on work of Dr Anatoly Bondarchuk and UKA Exercise Classification Hierarchy
Based on the work of Christian Thibaudeau  and Joe Kenn  I have presented similar classification of the exercises in Concurrent strategies in Strength training  article. The logic is similar, yet Bondarchuk classified based on exercise specificity, and Thibaudeau and Kenn classified based on importance of the exercises and this can be compatible in most cases. The logic behind it what it is important. Now let’s get back to training systems.
Based on the usage organization of the mentioned types of exercises/methods during the training process, Bondarchuk identified three basic training systems:  (1)stage system, (2) block system and (3) complex system.
On the following picture stage training system is depicted.
Some of the variations of this system include changing the complex of exercises for each group every 2-4 weeks. For example, exercises uses in SPE group might rotate every 2-4 weeks.
Based on the work by Anatoly Bondarchuk and Derek Evely block training system can be depicted by following two pictures:
Same as with stage system, different variations could be applied by rotating complex of exercises for each group.  For example, in Bondarchuk version on block training, exercise complex for GPE and SPE groups might rotate every 2-4 weeks, while for SDE and CE same complex of exercises is used thorough preparatory period. Variations in complex of exercises influence the phases of sport form development and sport form maintenance, by prolonging or speeding up each.
Based on some theoretical info, the achievement of sport form is manipulated by the ratio between different groups of exercises, most notably with relative volume of CE group. During the sport form maintenance the performance results are ‘kinda’ stable and to further improve the performance one need to ‘break’ or ruin the state of sport form and to rebuild it again into the higher level of sport performance. More on the theory of sport form could be found here .  Thus during the phase of sport form development athlete’s performance might be variable (and progressive) while he increases the underlying factors and while ‘tuning’ all the sub-systems, but once he achieves the state of sport form his performance will be more stable at the certain (higher) level of performance.  I am not expert on this subject and I guess we need more info regarding this ‘phenomena’.
On the following picture the complex system is depicted:
In complex training system all groups of exercises/methods are presented from the day one. As with other two training systems, variations of complex training might be induced by changing complex of exercises for each group every 2-4 weeks.
Each of the mentioned training system has pro’s and con’s based on the overall stress levels, injuries potential and sport form manipulations (based on competition schedule).  These training systems developed over the years as the both coaches and scientists identified their weak points.
Based on the video  by Derek Evely, “traditional periodization” could be considered stage training system. Soon, certain problems with it were identified and new models were seeking, along with changes in competitions calendar and thus preparation needs. More interested readers could get a thorough analysis in late Charlie Francis’ Key Concepts  e-book.
Block training tried to utilize concentrated loading in each block so does residual training effects stays elevated during the next blocks. Again, certain problems were identified like great injury possibility by sudden switch in training emphasis. Carl Valle explained the concept of ‘adaptive stiffness’ (originally coined by late Charlie Francis) in his blog . Because of this we can identify smooth and sharp variations of block transitions.
Complex system is now the most utilized training system in track and field at the moment. One of the biggest shortcomings is the constant need for restorative means due high volume of training. Because of that during certain phases there is a different emphasis on certain groups of exercises/methods.
The point being taken here is that this classification system is based on the organization of the mentioned four groups of exercises/methods. As I always say in my articles training stimulus is compromised of (1) exercises (or means), (2) methods and (3) loads (or stress). Because of this, in my opinion grouping training systems based on the organization of exercises/methods based on the specificity criteria is too simplistic, due the fact that we don’t know the performance goals of each period and loads used.  There might be different emphasis on each group of exercise over the training period and that might be more important than simple presence of the exercises in the training program.
Overall preparation process could be split into the following components:
  1. Technical preparation
  2. Tactical preparation  and decision making
  3. Physical preparation
  4. Psychological preparation and mental toughness
  5. Athlete character, communicational skills and team building
  6. Strategy and game plan

Each sport demand different ratios between the mentioned components and the ratios between subcomponents. For example in physical preparation certain sport might demand more speed or strength, while other might demand more aerobic endurance. The goal setting is based on sport demands and weak and strong characteristic of the athlete.

But for each component of preparation process,  different methods, exercises and loads could be used during certain parts of the training stage. For example, to develop aerobic power in soccer, one can use intervals on bike, 4x4mins at 90-95% HRmax intervals with 3mins recovery or 15/15 intervals at vVO2max (Billat method), running, 4vs4 on 40X40m small sided games, etc. Thus to achieve a certain goal for certain training component all mentioned groups by Bondarchuk could be used (CE, SDE, SPE, GPE). Now the question is how to organize this.
As I mentioned in Planning the Strength Training  , What the heck is periodization  articles and what Carlo Buzzichelli outlined in Fix Your Periodization Knowledge   (which is maybe the best short article on periodization ever written) certain structure in planning and organizing training could be identified.
First level is periodization of the annual plan into smaller periods for easier management based on competition calendar, sport form concepts (peaking), weather and climatic, facilities available, opponents, training camps, etc. Another task could be said to be  defining/listing training goals based on the sport analysis and athletes evaluation and thus creating a strengths~weaknesses  analysis  .
Second level compromises of organization of  development/reaching of the defined goals by the first level.  Carlo Buzzichelli calls this Motor Capacities Integration, but I just call it Second Level or Planning level since goals might be more than bio-motor abilities (see mentioned six training components). There is continuum of solutions how to approach organization of the goals development and  two extremes are parallel and serial. I expanded more on this in mentioned articles. For the sake of giving examples I have created the following graphs of some common solutions.
Traditional approach is to utilize complex-parallel approach to goal development.
The problem with this approach is great volume of training and non-compatible mixing of certain goals which can decrease the training effects especially with advanced athletes.
The next option is sequential system, where goals are achieved in sequence.
Certain problems can be identified with this sequential approach, like loosing of the achieved training effects (since there is no maintenance loads for goals that are not developed in certain blocks), ‘adaptational stiffness’, monotony, etc.
Recently it is very popular block training concept by Vladimir Issurin where small amount of compatible training goals ( 1-3 goals) are being developed in small number of training blocks (accumulation, transmutation and realization).
Certainly there are some pro’s and con’s of this system too, based on the sport and the context. Between these three examples there is a whole continuum of the solution which might include gradation of how much certain training goal is emphasized rather than yes-or-no logic (developed or not), which includes maintenance loads but this goes into the third level to a certain degree.
Third level describes how each goal is being developed (along with its sub-goals, for example in strength training how much do we do concentrics, eccentrics, isometrics) , specificity of the means (exercises) and methods used and load progression.  Like I have already mentioned, to develop aerobic power one may use different exercises and methods along with different loads and load progressions (increasing duration of the intervals or number of sets over time, increasing the intensity, frequency, decreasing rest periods, auto-regulating. Etc)
In the following table I provided a short summary of three levels of planning and programming.
First Level
Periodizing annual training plan based on context,  competition schedule and laws of sport form development
Defining/listing training goals based on the sport analysis and athletes evaluation and thus creating a strengths~weaknesses  analysis
Second Level
Organization of  development/reaching of the defined goals
Third Level
Development of sub-goals
Specificity of exercises/methods used
Load progressions and planning (concentrated~distributed)
Microcycle planning (fatigue management)
Tool of Three Levels ™ developed by yours truly, as a analyzing and planning/programming tool
On the following picture I tried to edit Carlo Buzzichelli’s classification chart from mentioned excellent article:
Based on the solutions in each mentioned level, different ‘periodization’ systems can be identified and analyzed. I have purposely bolded the “Specificity of exercises/methods used” in Third level since this is where Bondarchuk classification fits in.
How can we connect these “two worlds” of classifications? Bondarchuk’s classification based on the organization of four groups of exercises and classification based on the organization of goals development? Exercises/method vs. goals. What is first? Chicken or the egg?
In some weird situation, Bondarchuk classification might include training goals too (since certain goals are developed by certain set of exercises and methods), and thus provides a full classification system, but without that feature, it is only the way of classifying training systems based on exercises used and sport form development.
Take a look at ‘traditional system’: based on Bondarchuk it is a stage system, but based on organization of goals development it is complex-parallel. Is this compatible? IMHO, yes it is.
I may be wrong, but with my current knowledge both classifications are important and basically they should be used together. Classification based on the exercises used can tell us how the sport form is planned in the training stage and when  the athlete is peaking in Competition Exercises. Classification based on organization of goals development can tell us how we approached the development of the goals based on the level of the athlete and context.
I would need to agree with Derek Evely that periodization is a BAD word and I think we need to ditch it.Planning strategies is much better explanation of the overall process.

Anyway, the problem is that people are using names along with being dogmatic. Recently, we have been overloaded with words such as: linear periodization, non-linear periodization, daily undulating periodization, undulating periodization, block training, traditional, sequential, pendular, concurrent, conjugate, complex-parallel, Bompa, Matveyev, Verkhoshansky, Westside, Sheiko. What the hell do they all mean? Then we dig even bigger hole by trying to analyze them  without seeing the big picture, without using the Tool of Three Levels ™, without understanding the planning strategies. Most of the mentioned ‘periodizations’ are different types of organizing one or two level of planning.

The problem is that we cannot utilize them as a given pattern/template. We need to understand the problem we have, what we are trying to develop, with who we are working, what context at hand we have.  This is why planning and programming of training is a specific coaching skill, not just a copy-paste action. “Yes, we are using block system”, “and “No, I don’t believe in Westside, I use Sheiko”. Each system is built with specific problem at hand, and that doesn’t necessary need to be the same problem we have at hand.
I consider my approach, along with the approach of Carlo Buzzichelli to be “organic” approach to planning, rather than “mechanistic”.
What we need to do is to understand the concepts and principles of training planning and programming (and training theory in general) and find the pragmatic solution for our own problems and analysis of that problem. What is the competition demanding? What is the level of the athlete, his strong and weak points? How much time do we have? When is the competition? Are the goals of training compatible? What does it take to reach/develop certain goals? How can we maximize the training transfer? Etc, etc.

My training system that works for me the best

 Let me start in the beginning. When I started crossfit couple of months ago I was training almost everyday. I was (I am) more like a cardio guy than a powerlifter. These days I am still a cardio guy and doing crossfit girls, heroes and other metabolic conditioning stuff like hell but I am much stronger. Basically my training looked like this. A month (1 cycle) contained 4 weeks – light, medium, heavy, deload and trained like this:


Weeks are different by sets, reps for example on week first 5×5, medium week 5×3, heavy week is up to me. Normally I check my 1RM but until I reach it I do several sets and reps based on autoregulation. Easier….how I feel it.

 I had been doing this method for two months but it did not show results that I wanted to reach.

 Here comes the 5-3-1 method.

It was pain in the ass. Really, especially week one and week two with their 3×5 and 3×3 on a certain percentage of 1RM.

Good thing is my strength increased a lot. My deadlift went up from 102,5 kg to 132, kg.


I realized I was soooo tired during every heavy week because my CNS (central nervous system) was burned out on the first day. This inspired me to read more about CNS fatigue.  More about this.

The conclusion is the following: If you burn out your CNS on day one on your heavy week you will not be able to do another REAL 1RM on next training day. CNS gives information to your body, to your muscles such as “Stop, no more real maximum load this time”. It “blocks” your performance to protect the body from injuries.


Intensity and load rotation within a week through a 4-week cycle (click on the pic to see more) mixed with the 5-3-1 method assistance exercises (not in the list below).

As you can see you do only one 1RM every week. I experienced that I was able to continue my training with acceptable performance on the other days (L,M,D). It was said the CNS “blocks” your body for another real 1 maximum repetition that is why I can do my best the rest of the week on the appropriate level. So, I burn out CNS once a week, not twice or more. It needs less regeneration period.

You should listen to your body because a huge mistake was made. What? I did not listen to the signs. In general I take a week off after every 3rd cycle but once I felt I can do another a 4th cycle but I burned out during the second week and on 3rd and last week I suffered from several injuries, mainly shoulder. So do not train continously all year without proper resting or regeneration periods.