Periodization is the systematic planning of long-term training, which is broken down further into planned training cycles. These cycles move through phases, which work towards various goals, structures and content of a planned training programme. These cycles are sequenced in such a way that training replicates and produces the optimal time for an athlete to achieve maximal results.
In this blog I will look closer at the different cycles of periodization and help you to understand them in greater detail.
We have already understood that periodization is the planned process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks (phases), where each phase has a particular goal. Moving through these phases, this will allow you to programme varying amounts of stress that is exerted on an athlete or team to bring about maximal strength goals but also to facilitate recovery (regeneration).
These planned phases will also allow you to develop different physiological abilities during various phases of training. For example, during pre season for rugby, you would plan to incorporate a short amount of time (no more than 2-4day periods) focusing on functional-overload. Whereby in the early season, you would focus on speed-strength.
To develop an effective training programme, it is important to understand the cycles of periodization. There are three cycles: Macrocycles, Mesocycles and Microcycles.
A microcycle is the shortest training cycle, typically lasting a week with the goal of facilitating a focused block of training. Each microcycle is planned based on where it is in the overall macrocycle.
Microcycles are to vary the levels of stress an athlete is subjected to throughout the week’s training sessions. This would see a coach implementing sessions that focus on; progressions, high volume or load as well as planned regeneration days.
An example of this is an endurance block where a cyclist strings three or four long rides together within one week to progressively overload their training volume. Another example would be where a sports team has a fixture every Saturday.
The coaching staff will need to work together to best produce a plan with a healthy mix of S&C and Technical/Tactical work, remembering that time spent in S&C sessions will lead to increases in total work for the week. Therefore the following should be applied, as a guide, for S&C sessions:
Generally speaking, three to four microcycles form a mesocycle.
The mesocycle represents a specific block of training that is typically made up of 3-4 microcycles (3-4weeks) that is designed to accomplish a particular goal. A mesocycle form a number of continuous weeks (microcycles) where the training programme focuses towards improving the same physical adaptations, for example maximal strength, static strength, maximal speed or functional threshold power (FTP).
To plan towards developing your FTP (the highest average power, measured in watts, that you can sustain for one hour), you might include three weeks of threshold intervals followed by a week of recovery (regeneration) in your mesocycle.
As you have already learnt, mesocycles are typically formed from 3-4 microcycles, totalling 21-28 days. For an experienced athlete, you would focus on utilizing the full 28days. For an inexperienced athlete, you would alternatively plan a 21-day mesocycle.
Both mesocycles would include 5 days of rest however the 28-day mesocycle would consists of 23 days of relatively hard work followed by 5 days of recovery (23/5) whereby the 21-day mesocycle would consist of 16 days of hard training followed by 5 days of recovery (16/5).
If you are unsure about which option to choose, I suggest you begin with the 21-day mesocycle and shift to the longer option when you feel your athlete(s) are ready for a harder challenge. However, if you are already programming using the 28-day mesocycle, change to the shorter cycle, this will allow more time for recovery.
The macrocycle is the longest of the three cycles and typically includes four stages of a periodized training programme, for example this maybe;
Or alternatively, these stages could be displayed as 4 periods;
A macrocycle is an annual plan that works towards peaking for the goal competition of the year. There are three phases in the macrocycle: preparation, competitive and transition, with pre-competition being optional.
The preparation phase is further broken up into general and specific preparation. An example of general preparation would be building an aerobic base for an endurance athlete such as running on a treadmill or by working through multiple microcycles on the track.
An example of specific preparation would be to work on the proper form to be more efficient and to work more on the final format of the sport. This could be focusing on transition techniques with a triathlete.
The competitive phase can be several competitions, which lead to the main competition. The competitive phase ends with tapering for the competition.
The transition phase is important for psychological reasons, a year dedicating time towards training means some time off is just as important. An amateur athlete may take a couple of months off (a few months during the off-season) while a professional athlete might take as little as two weeks off.
Macrocycles incorporate all 52 weeks of your annual plan. They provide you with a bird’s-eye view of your athlete(s) training programme and competition dates, therefore allowing you to facilitate long term planning in preparation.
It is not uncommon for on-going changes to be made to your macrocycle throughout the year, so don’t worry if you have to alter anything. After all, athlete(s) are human and they are unfortunately susceptible to injury. This shows the importance of having and following a well understood plan for the year ahead. If an injury strikes, you and your athlete(s) will be able to work on a Plan B, focus on a recovery phase and plan to bring them back in line for their competition phase.
In conclusion, by following each of the three cycles of periodization in turn working back from the macrocycle down to the microcycles, you shall develop a well thought out plan which will take your athlete(s) from phase to phase sequentially and allow optimal time for adaptation, physiological and neuro muscular improvements. This will best prepare them to peak in their important events throughout the year.
You're probably already going through some ideas in your head, right? Tell me how you plan on developing your periodization cycles for either you or your athlete(s). I'd love to help out!.