Periodization or Training Programming for Sports

>> September 06, 2011

There is only one training periodization, that is periodization. Periodization can provide a framework in which the division of periods are well organized, and carried out in a systematic way. It should contain the variables which are ideally blended and sequenced. Periodization can either be the energy system specific, resistance training specific, or both altogether.

In order to achieve a desired goal of training, a well-plan training structure and programme is vital. This should first be looked from the perspective of objective or aim of training itself. You need to set goals and define your period or phases in which you use as the vehicle to accomplish the goals. You can then realize it with a good periodization, or more accurately training programming.

You can argue there is a multitude type of periodization. The hard fact is that there is only one periodization, as already stated. What makes the organization of training successful lies on how a good manipulation of the essential training variables, such as volume, load, density, set, rep, and so on, and this is specifically called as training programming. The term has been comprehensively discussed by top strength/power scientists such as Michael H. Stone in his famous textbook.

The training programming can be manipulated in order to achieve certain fitness goals. It means you can play around with training variables to see what is best for your athlete(s) and this is done from time to time.

In research, various strategies in programming have been debated and discussed. For some reasons, some authors claimed one strategy is superior to others. In my opinion, they might be right, however, it is also the nature of programming, in which you need to develop one or try another one to get better over time. Just like the principle of progression, you can't stick to the same stimulus over time, if you want to progress. If you do want to progress, appropriate manipulation of the variables should be necessary.

There are, however, a few things that I think one should apprehend relating to training programming. So if you want to develop a training programme, understanding about stimulus and response is crucial. This is a prerequisite as only an appropriate balance of training that can lead to a better management of fatigue (reduction) and potentiation (increment), even to the extent of understanding the potential of overreaching and to be able to use it in order to get better, as well as the understanding of overtraining. This will help you to make a good progress. Here, appropriate adjustment to the training variables is sought, and this will bring you back to the concept of training variation such as loading manipulation.

Training variation is the tenet of all training programming relating to manipulating and sequencing the variables. It is also the fundamental of training stimulus that is required to attain higher training goals.

Therefore, several models of periodization (training programming) are utilized, researched, and discussed. It's called "method" because it depicts the structure or how an aspect of design (using training variables) is presented. They are a. sequential, b. concurrent, and will be discussed further.

What makes one different from another?
For the third time now, there is only one periodization and its really called periodization. However, if you want to look it from "training focus" point of view, such as the training variation, and primarily the loading concentration and sequence, you will find that some methods are "sequential" or "linear" and some are "concurrent", but these are usually in cyclic fashion, therefore also regarded "non linear". Thus, it's difficult to segregate this but the application of one method or model will also depend on athlete's needs and competition demands. Someone who is new to a planned training may utilize the sequential method or even the concurrent one, and both require an appropriate adjustment of training variables. An athlete who is several years into performance training may utilize any one of the methods. The more advanced the training the higher the volume or difficulty of training. Examples of training are as described:

1. Sequential (traditional or/and linear).
This method can be divided into two, based on athlete's training experience and level, as discussed.

Beginner and intermediate
This method comprises several training periods or blocks that follow one another. For example, phase 1 (general preparation - hypertrophy), phase 2 (specific preparation - max strength), and phase 3 (competition - power), and apply this concept: decreasing in volume, increasing in the intensity. This is a typical for a new or young athlete. The earlier practice of this method (called Classical Periodization Theory (CPT)) required a development of motor abilities and skills simultaneously, done in a prolonged duration to only target one single competition (although it was expanded then, i.e. 2-3 major competitions). It utilized a moderate-low concentration of training load throughout the available time as it was difficult to further increase the loads when multiple qualities being the focus at a time. Therefore, CPT, in essence, is non-linear.

Intermediate or advanced
The sequential method can also be manipulated to suit with advanced athletes needs by linking a sequence of concentrated load periods. Block system of training follows this organization. This can be easily understood with the following example: a. accumulation (preparation), b. transmutation (max strength), c. realization (speed strength). Block periodization considers a unidirectional approach, in which only one quality is being emphasized (primarily) at a time (per period) while maintaining the others. For example, power development:
  • Period 1: strength (emphasis), strength-speed, speed-strength; 
  • Period 2: strength-speed (emphasis), strength, speed-strength; 
  • Period 3: speed-strength (emphasis), strength, strength-speed. 
  • Accumulation (4 weeks): high volume and low-moderate intensity: strength endurance, 4 sets x 12-15 reps x 55-65% => 2-3 sessions a week (+ max-strength + speed-strength => 1 session / "easy").
  • Transmutation (4 weeks): lower volume and high intensity: maximal strength, 4 sets x 3-6 reps x 85-92% => 2-3 sessions a week (+ speed-strength + strength-endurance => 1 session / "easy").
  • Realization (3 weeks): low volume and lower-moderate intensity: speed-strength, 4 sets x 3-6 reps x 30-50% => 2-3 sessions a week (+ strength-speed => 1 session / "easy" or incorporated in one of the speed-strength session).
This sequence will be repeated (again, the whole process is non-linear). The method is popularized by Vladimir Issurin from early 1980's, influenced by the idea of the earlier method of programming (will be discussed).

The most important in block periodization is how one can benefit from the residual training effect, which means the effect of training that you have done in the previous month (accumulation) that required implementation of a very concentrated load (in other words, hard training in July-cumulative that benefit you in September-residual effect). The premise of block periodization is the same as the Conjugate Sequence System (CSS) or coupled successive system (CSS) that was established by Yuri Verkhoshansky in early 1970's as well as the Phase Potentiation Periodization (PPP) that was introduced by Michael Stone in late 1970's.

Block periodization, CSS, and PPP provide advantages over other methods. They can be confused with concurrent training because they do not totally neglect other qualities when emphasizing one quality (main focus, as in discussed above) during a certain training block. In addition, the name is "conjugate" (CSS) means "with others" (two or more other things together). But because the training emphasis is programmed in a sequential manner in a particular block, and not concurrent manner, it is, therefore, a "linear" type of method, from this point of view.

2. Concurrent (undulating or non-linear)
In this method, two or more training qualities are trained on the daily or weekly basis. The weekly concurrent or undulating training can be depicted as follow (considered one training period or block):
  • Week 1: training for hypertrophy, 4 sets x 8-10 reps x 70-80%
  • Week 2: strength, 4 sets x 4-6 reps x 85-90%
  • Week 3: power, 4 sets x 3-6 reps x 40-60%
The daily undulating method is as follows (repeated for several weeks to form a training period or block):
  • Monday = hypertrophy
  • Wednesday = strength
  • Friday = power. 
Another form of the concurrent method is the model of programming the training called concurrent emphasis (ES). The ES is an example of CPT and is deemed concurrent method because it is originally done by developing all qualities simultaneously.  For example, strength endurance, strength-speed, and speed-strength training are all emphasized and developed simultaneously in the certain training period, and this has been discussed earlier. 

Which one is most effective?
This is probably a question when one wishes to develop a training programme. All the models that have been discussed are important and effective. It is how you use and incorporate them into your programme. It is not surprising if you see one coach incorporates two or more methods in his/her training during a season. 

However, there is always a principle of anything. If you are new, say 3 gym sessions in a week, you can do whatever you want in all the training days in fact during the whole first month, means your emphasis should be on lifting skills or technique while you also develop general strength. Later you can try to programme your workout using the non-linear, or the undulating method, just to get you motivated by the variation of training. 

For team sports, a mix of linear (early season, no competition) then the non-linear subsequently might be more ideal. The same for most of individual events/sports.

In elite athletes, there is always the need to apply the more advanced method in order to get better stimulus and adaptation. 

The difference between the "less-advanced" and advanced methods is concerned primarily with loading scheme and distribution.

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