It's September... a time when all H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks breaks loose in my world. September is when my students at Mount Royal University get back in session (teaching 4 2-hour labs this semester), my UofC Dinos Women's Hockey team is back from their off-season and are hurled straight into exhibition games and testing, and my clients at Peak Power Sport Development have their own schedule modifications with new jobs, kids to chauffeur, and their own sport seasons closing or opening. Along with all of that, I'll have the privilege of teaching some high school teams at the Edge Sports School in Calgary this Fall, with the goal of delivering high quality strength and conditioning lessons, but almost more importantly - mentorship and role-modelling to the females I will be coaching.
All this to say that the build up to September requires a lot of planning. I'm a big believer that planning ahead for what I'm going to teach my students in the lab, and my athlete's in the gym, not only makes my job easier when I'm driving to 4 locations in a given weekday, but also allows for the proper progression of learning in the classroom, and physical adaptations in the weight room.
Periodization is essentially the planned manipulation in intensity and volume throughout the year within the training plan, to maximize physical improvements in strength or conditioning, but to minimize the chance of overtraining resulting in a decrease in performance or plateau (Baechle & Earle, 2008). In the Long-Term Athlete Development Resource Paper (Balyi & Higgs, 2014), children in the FUNdamentals stage (age 6 to 8 or 9 chronological age), should avoid periodization and focus on overall movement skills and development. In the older age groups divided into sections of "Learn to Train", "Train to Train", "Train to Compete", and "Train to Win", the types of periodization suggested increase from none, to single, double, triple, or multiple periodization for the last group, typically in males over the age of 19 and females over the age of 18. This progression is likely due to the different demands of sports programs as athletes progress towards more specialization in their sport, from one peak competition per year, to some sports needing to stay peaked throughout the year due to the lack of "off-season".
"One of the typical characteristics of contemporary high-performance sport is multi-peak preparation for attaining excellent results throughout a season, and not two to three times as in traditional periodization. The examples of world-leading athletes from individual sports demonstrate incredible stability in peak performances at relatively short intervals (14–43 days) between peaks." (Issurin, 2010).
Volleyball and climbing are two examples of sports that fit this description, even in the "Train to Train" and "Train to Compete" stages of the Long Term Athletic Development model. For volleyball players, the indoor season begins in September with high school teams (often with tryouts starting before classes are officially "back in"), which transitions over the months of November and December to club season, where athletes play for local zones within their city. Club season tryouts often follow the school season closely, and athletes begin training in preparation for Provincials, and Nationals, usually occurring around the month of May, making for a long "in season". After National competitions, many players are now exposed to the world of Beach Volleyball, which especially in warmer provinces in Canada, begins as early as April, and finishes in August, with recreational games sometimes continuing into the Fall. These athletes are lucky if they get 1 week off of their sport at Christmas time. Climbing, similarly, and by contrast, often involves athletes that compete in multiple disciplines within climbing: Bouldering, Sport Climbing, Ice Climbing, Free solo-ing, and Speed Climbing. Although all disciples are quite different, the stresses placed on the athletes bodies involve training all year round, with various periods of focus on one or two specific disciplines. It is not uncommon for a climber to train all year round, with minimal structured rest periods, and a series of competitions sprinkled throughout the different disciplines, throughout the year.
So, without arguing whether these new all-year-round sports are healthy for a developing teenager, or how to combat potential overtraining, let's focus in on how to optimize a periodized yearly training plan (YTP) for athletes that need to in essence "stay peaked", or prepare for all year round competition
The training load for a given day, week (microcycle), mesocycle, macrocycle or training year is composed of variations in intensity, volume, and frequency of training (Bompa, 2009). To determine the training load, one must evaluate the athlete and their previous training, interpret the testing results, and then develop a training model to be implemented, tested, monitored, and modified if needed. When a training load is applied to the athlete, a complex cascade of physiological processes occur, which allows the athlete to adapt to the said load and increase their performance. As the adaptations occur, the load and stimulus needs to be adjusted, to allow for continual improvements. Monitoring techniques can allow for the coach to better adjust the training loads so that their athlete continues improvements (Bompa, 2009).
Bompa (2009) states that training loads can be classified as:
Stimulation: a load that is heavier than the athlete's typical training load
Retaining: the athlete's typical load
or Detraining: a load that is lighter than the athlete's typical training load.
Through training, the athlete will adapt to the Stimulation load, which will eventually become the Retaining load, while the previous Retaining load will become a Detraining load for the athlete. If training is planned properly, these increases will come gradually, with a point of trying to avoid overreaching or overtraining from occurring.
Types of Loading Schemes (Bompa, 2009)
For simplicity, the intensities and volumes have been kept equal in the example below. Typically, the volume and intensity would not stay equal throughout a microcycle or mesocycle, however, to demonstrate that load is a product of volume and intensity, they will increase and decrease similarly in these examples. STANDARD LOADING: this loading involves similar training loads throughout the preparatory period, and it is typical to only see improvements in the early phases of the training phase. When the athlete shifts into a competition phase, the training stimulus remains the same but there is a reduction in training volume.
LINEAR LOADING: this training concept violates many of the tenets of periodization but appears to still be quite popular. Linear loading assumes the athletes will train at max capacity against workloads that are gradually increased and are progressively higher than normal. If linear loading is implemented for a long period of time, overtraining will likely occur and the athlete will experience a decrease in performance.
STEP LOADING: this model allows for a progressive overload with periods of unloading and rest. The undulation of loading and unloading schemes allows for periods of overload to the physiological system with interspersed periods of restoration, using retaining loads. In this model, the same sessions are often used in the microcycle and then the load is increased in subsequent microcycles. This loading scheme classically uses a 3:1 or 4:2 loading scheme and lasts between 2 and 6 weeks.
CONCENTRATED LOADING: This time of loading is sometimes referred to as a short-term overloading scheme, or an overreaching scheme. Depending on the magnitude and duration of this type of loading phase, the athlete might need more time to recover and dissipate the fatigue. Siff and Verkhoshansky suggest that performance may even improve 4 to 12 weeks after the cessation of a concentrated loading block. The testosterone to cortisol ratio (T:C ratio), which is a measure of performance or preparedness, can be depressed during a concentrated loading block, but has been shown to recover if the duration of the loading block corresponds to the duration of the restitution before the supercompensation occurs.
CONJUGATED LOADING: this type of systems attempts to due periods of concentrated loading or periods of overreaching followed by periods of restitution. A common way to periodize this way is to use blocks of four microcycles where the primary emphasis for the program is highlighted, and the other training loads enter a maintenance phase. For example, the athlete may enter a concentrated loading block where strength is the major emphasis, while speed, power, and suppleness are maintained. Then, in the restitution block, strength qualities are maintained while speed work is emphasized. This type of loading may eliminate the potential for too much accumulated fatigue, causing the athlete to overreach.
FLAT LOADING: this periodization scheme is typically only used for highly trained athletes. In this type of loading scheme, the first three weeks (or microcycles of different length) are designed to be high in volume and intensity, followed by a week of unloading/restitution. The length of the unloading period will typically depend on the intensity and load of the previous cycle of loading.
All of this to say... what is the appropriate periodization for athletes that don't require peaking for one event in a given year?
My answer is... it depends. Depending on the age, and training experience of the athlete, the athlete might not require ANY complex periodization to make performance improvements in their training. If they have a low training age (# of years experience in structured training), they may not require any type of structured periodization. As athletes develop, and their level of experience and training age increases, more complex training variation might be required, as in the examples above. Don't forget that us trainers and physiologists tend to combine different methods listed above to work around the competitions and different types of sport competitions structured throughout the year.
For example, in speed climbing, the prior training blocks may focus on peaking speed and power traits, attempting to build the athlete's pertinent physiological traits to the imminent competition. Once the athlete enters outdoor climbing season in the summer, and more endurance is required for long lead climbing routes, the training block prior to the start of the season might focus on a concentrated block of endurance.
In summary, periodized training for elite athletes can be complex, interesting, and can require some help! If you need some help with the periodization of your sport or your child or athlete's sport, please reach out on the "about me" page of my website, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Baechle, T., Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Edition). Human Kinetics. Windsor, Ontario.
Balyi, I., Way, R., Higgs, C., Norris, S., and Cardinal, C. (2014). Canadian Sport for Life – Long-Term Athlete Development Resource Paper 2.0. Canadian Sport Institute – Pacific (Victoria, Canada).
Bompa, T., Haff, G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (5th Edition). Human Kinetics. Windsor, Ontario.
Issurin, V. B. (2010). New horizons for the methodology and physiology of training periodization. Sports Medicine. Auckland, N.Z.