Periodized Training

The concept of periodization in training has many applications. Dividing training into definitive periods allows for concentration of effort and potentially greater adaptations. This type of purpose-driven training is usually influenced by the sport seasons and athletic goals of the participants.

Like I always say, movement is an umbrella under which activity and exercise training reside. General daily activity is important for health and it includes all of our activities except specific, directed training (the stuff we “dress out” for). With training, you could just do random, non-specific exercise on occasion, or even the same damn thing all the time with no change. Either of those approaches will get you somewhere, but they won’t get you all the way to peak performance where you max out your potential and really kick ASS. That requires periodized training.

Training with respect to sports seasons is fairly straightforward and it uses traditional periodization models. These are commonly termed off-pre-peak-post seasons and can be described as follows:

  • Off-season: This period is far removed from the competitive season and generally devotes the highest amount of training volume toward developing the specific capacities required in a given sport. Athletes also use this time to shore up weaknesses and address any deficiencies they have identified.
  • Pre-season: In this phase the athlete tends to do more sport-specific training which is usually higher in intensity, often at a slightly reduced volume as compared to the off-season (but not always).
  • Peak-season: Also known as “in-season,” this period typically includes aspects of sharpening, tapering, and maintenance as the athlete focuses on competition or high levels of participation in his/her chosen sport or recreational pursuit.
  • Post-season: This is the downtime, where training is light, minimal, and geared toward full recovery within the organism. This may only require a few weeks but can take up to several months.

You can view the aforementioned seasonal approach to periodization not only as being sport-driven, but representing a ramp up (during off and pre) to a high plateau (peak) followed by a fairly precipitous drop in training workload (post). This is a classic model — also often called linear periodization — which has been used successfully throughout the history of modern sport.

Another sport-driven model that is popular is the cycle method. In this approach, a given time period (often a year but not limited to this timeline) is organized into a macrocycle, some mesocycles, and multiple microcycles. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Macrocycle: A large time period with a performance-oriented target. This could be a year in which a team is targeting a conference win or an individual athlete is aiming to beat a personal best mark.
  • Mesocycle: These are specific blocks, such as periods of one to several months, when training emphasizes a specific adaptation such as endurance or power.
  • Microcycle: Brief segments of training with very specific goals. This is often a week, and many times the objective is hitting certain key performance indicators (KPI’s) in one or several workouts.

The cycles described above often fall into the bucket of undulating periodization, in which different elements of training may go up and down in emphasis. Cycles can also be organized in linear fashion. I use the cycle method quite a lot with my 1-on-1 coaching clients.

Block periodization is the final model of training that I’d like to mention briefly. This is a system in which the year (or other time period) is broken down into blocks of several weeks to as much as several months. Blocks allow the training to be dynamic and, while still adhering to a general plan, give the athlete and coach the opportunity to chunk training in a way that may enhance readiness and longer term peak performance capacity. Block training is not necessarily random in nature…it is comprehensive in design. I use the block periodization model personally, and it is the cornerstone of the programming we utilize in the Training Tribe, our online group training community. Here is a brief overview:

  • Annual Training Plan (ATP): The ATP is an overview of the major objectives of the year and the methods which will be used to achieve them. Our T2 program is centered around being Hard to Kill (HTK) and that means developing more athletic athletes who are strong, fast, agile, and durable. 
  • Capacity-Focused Blocks: We achieve athletic fitness by balancing a mixology of the 5 capacities of human performance: strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance. The year is divided into 5 blocks of 2-3 months each. Within every block, all 5 of the capacities are addressed, but only one is given major emphasis. In this manner we can maximally develop and refine a capacity without allowing the others to deteriorate significantly.
  • Progressive Months: Each month steers training on a weekly basis:
    • Introduction: Create familiarity with movements and methods.
    • Accumulation: Build volume.
    • Intensification: Increase effort and assess competency.
    • Consolidation: Deload and supercompensate.
  • KPI Assessments: We test abilities in the key performance indicators that we are addressing each month. This allows each athlete and team member to see how the program is working and to make any necessary adjustments.

The beauty of the block periodization model, based on our T2 ATP, lies in the way it addresses the health and performance needs of the majority of recreational athletes and fitness enthusiasts. A lot of folks, like me, will use this system as a year-round training platform, and then downregulate it slightly when they want to hammer the bike in summer, ski in winter, etc. Others, who perhaps play golf or tennis year-round, will use this program as their baseline conditioning plan. It’s actually only the most focused specialists who don’t benefit from T2 block periodization, and these are the year-round, full-time single sport specialists. Most of these athletes use very detailed programming and these are the people that either I coach 1-on-1, or they are part of a scholastic, collegiate, club, or professional organization. 

Hopefully this brief description of periodization can help you to get more out of your training. More fun, more results, more satisfaction. There are many flavors of periodization. The main key is to avoid boring monotony or random chaos. Thanks for reading and good luck with your training.

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