Periodisation. It’s a bit of a scary word. A word that you may not have even heard of. A word that athletes use frequently.
Put simply, periodisation is a training method that, if used correctly, will make you fitter, stronger, faster, all at the right time, and will also prevent you from overdoing it. That last sentence may sound like I’m trying to sell you some magic product or something. I’m not.
Put away your wallets and start reading.
Periodisation literally means that we break our training up into sections (or ‘periods’), shaping our training over time so that we can peak at the correct time. Now, this doesn’t have to be for a competition, it can be as simple as that beach holiday in the summer that’s coming up. Athletes do it all of the time, building on certain parts of their fitness and skills up until that big competition, when they’re at their fittest, fastest, and they have the best chance of performing at their best.
This article aims to provide you a breif, 5 step, overview of how you can periodise your training and describe the basic principles that underlie each section.
- Set your goal, and your date.
Firstly, what is your goal? And how can you measure whether or not you achieve it? This is important as if you can’t measure it, how will you know if you really achieve it?
Secondly, when is D-day? When do you want to achieve said goal? There is a general rule of thumb here, the longer you have to prep, the more likely you are to actually achieve. Studies have shown that it takes about 10 years to create an Olympic winning athlete. 10 years of planning and training. Unless you’re aiming for the Olympic gold, it’s likely that it won’t take that long. However, to really make the most out of this form of training you’re going to need at the very least 3 months, if not 6. So start to get into the mindset of thinking ahead!
- Break the time down into medium chunks
Let’s say you set yourself a goal for 3 months from today. Now break those chunks down into bitesize chunks. For this example, 1-month blocks are perfect. If your goal is further away, you can break it down into 6 or 8-week blocks if you want. The ‘sciency’ word for these blocks are called ‘mesocycles’.
- Break the medium chunks down into weekly chunks
Now, here’s the complicated part. You want to have weekly blocks that gradually build up from the previous week’s work. It could be that you increase the volume of training, or increase the load/intensity, or both.
- In each medium chunk, schedule in a recovery week
If you are increasing intensity/load/volume, then your body is becoming slowly overloaded; nobody can sustain mega intensities for that long. This is why you need to schedule in regular (at least 1 per mesocycle, usually after the most intense bit of the cycle) rest weeks to let the muscles, and more importantly, the central nervous system, recover. (Your central nervous system basically gets a battering when we train at high intensities, which leaves your susceptible to colds and other nasties. Only rest will restore the nervous system back to full health).
- Respect the fundamental principles of strength and cardio training to gain maximum results
There are some basic fundamentals that will allow you maximise your training results.
Real strength and power are built of foundations of high reps and lighter load. First prime the muscles using higher reps, then in the next mesocyle build upon that by lowering the reps and increasing the load, similar to hypertrophy training. Then, in the final phase of training, go heavy, and go for less reps. Your muscles at this point will be stronger, and way less likely to be injured when we go for the bigger stuff. It will also be less of a strain on your central nervous system (but not enough for you to not schedule in rest weeks!).
Similar to the strength section above, it is sensible to build up a strong foundation of aerobic fitness before you choose the high intensity training variations of cardio. This build of aerobic ‘base’ will mean that you burn fat more efficiently, which will save your vital carbohydrate stores for the high energy stuff when it comes meaning that you’ll be able to work significantly harder when that phase comes along (which means more calories burnt, and more power/fitness gained!).
So that’s it! If you follow this kind of training program, you will achieve success. Hey, if it works for Usain Bolt, why not you!
Final note: There are several other things that you can do when effectively periodising your training, such as block periodisation, however, this is beyond the scope of this article. This article aims to give you a basic overview of simple periodisation.