Fall is in the air…at least to some degree…at least in some parts of the country. And as the season shifts and the weather begins to change, we humans tend to change some of our behavioral patterns to mirror these conditions. Some of us do it inadvertently and seamlessly, and others make change with purposeful intention. A change of season is indeed a chance to celebrate.
It’s also an opportunity to mix it up with our sports, hobbies, training, eating, and sleeping patterns. Making seasonal adjustments to these and other habits can do many things for us. We can keep our bodies adapting and our health optimized. We can enjoy different pursuits that refresh and invigorate our minds. And we can extract the most potential from our training.
And that’s what I want to touch on in today’s post: periodized training. By using specific periods in our training, in this case emphasizing a seasonal model, we can reach higher peaks and greater outcomes than are possible if we just do the same thing all the time. In this week’s video, I offer an example of the seasonal model of training, and in the podcast, PK and I take a dive into seasonal approaches with eating and sleeping as well as with training.
Before going further, I’d like to point something out if you’ll allow me to do so. If you eat well and sleep well and move enough, and are enjoying robust health doing either regular or random activity, that might just be good enough for wellness and longevity and you probably don’t need to make change or add spice to your routine. But, if you are a bit frustrated with progress in fitness, body composition, or performance that doesn’t quite seem to be as much as you expect; periodized, seasonal training can be just the key to your future success. A healthy, active lifestyle does most of what we need for wellness and gets us most of the way there, but if you are looking for that extra 10% (it could certainly be more or less for each of us) in performance capacity, you have to get that through focused training and you will probably benefit from a seasonal approach.
There are many ways (as many as you can dream up…and you should feel free to harness your inspirations) to set up a seasonal model of training. I’ll briefly explain what the model looks like, and, since a lot of my clients are runners, I’ll offer a quick example that relates to each season.
There are 4 seasons in a typical training model, but they don’t have to match the seasons of the year (although in many cases this can occur). We can divide the training cycle into the Off-Season, Pre-Season, In-Season, and Post-Season. For most folks, we typically see these seasons having a descending order in terms of length. More on that later.
The Off-Season is that time of the year when we are away from competition and in buildup mode. It’s not “taking off” from training, but instead it represents the highest volume of training in the year. We build conditioning, shore up weaknesses, and get our bodies into a more durable state that creates a foundation for the year’s efforts. For our runner example, this period is all about gradually building mileage (or time –– you can measure volume any way you like), developing the aerobic base, doing some strength training, and enhancing mobility. Depending on the individual, this period can last 3-6 months.
The Pre-Season generally sees a slight drop in overall training volume that is offset by an increase in intensity, and this should be sport-specific. In other words, we start to insert workouts that effectively prepare us for our upcoming goals. Our runner will be doing more pace-oriented workouts, such as tempo runs or intervals, interspersed with recovery exercise that includes easy runs, cross-training, and supplemental work like strength and mobility (which will become more explosive and stride-related in most cases). This phase usually lasts 1-3 months.
The In-Season, or competitive season for those in sports pursuits, is the period that we get to use and test the fitness we have built, and to challenge ourselves toward the attainment of goals. This is usually viewed in a sporting realm, but in reality, any activity-related goal such as a backpacking trip or a gardening project, fits this model. The key with the In-Season is keep everything but the hard efforts really easy. This seems like a no-brainer but many folks are tempted to shoot for high volume, high intensity, and peak performance all at the same time. This usually risks breakdown and poor performance. The secret is to just soft-pedal along and maintain conditioning between races or tests, and allow the body to recover and rebound. Our runner would probably race 1-3 times per month (5k to half-marathon) unless his/her goal was a marathon or ultra-marathon (only one max effort is recommended). This season, if truly oriented toward peak performance, can only last 1-2 months.
The Post-Season is all about “R” words: rest, recover, rejuvenate, reinvigorate, recap, and reason. Keeping activity light, and not even doing any structured training, is the best way to let the body restore from the previous seasons while the mind gets new ideas and energy as it reflects upon what worked and what didn’t in the training year. Our runner might do a few easy jogs and spend time doing other restorative activities. Depending on how challenging the other seasons were, this period is typically 1-2 months.
Hopefully you can see how flexible this model can be. It can be adjusted in terms of time to fit each person’s goals and conditioning levels. The possibilities are infinite. This is the model that has been used in professional, collegiate, and Olympic sports for eons, and it works for every one of us. If you want a little more peak performance, consider using a seasonal model in own training. Simply establish a reasonable but challenging goal, and work backward on a calendar designing your own seasons. Or hire me for a consult or coaching package to 10x your results.
Thanks as always for reading and catch ya next time!