Periodization - by Aishea Maas, Phase IV Dir. of Exercise Sciences

Recovery should be so well understood and actively enhanced that it becomes a significant component in training” - Tudor Bompa, Father of modern periodization theories.

Have you ever thought about why for over three decades the Russians were dominating almost every sport? The answer is something called ‘Periodization’. In the early 1960’s, Tudor Bompa, who is considered the ‘Father of Modern Periodization’, influenced the way Russian sports scientists approached training. Although Russian sports scientists had tried dividing the training year into different periods in the 1940’s, it wasn’t until Tudor Bompa’s revisions in the 1960’s that people really started seeing results. Perodization was a method that included phases of training that promoted rest.

This way the athletes were not training at the same intensity year round. The important differentiation is that these transitions in intensity and the new allotted rest promotes recovery and stimulates the body to grow stronger by enhancing the adaptive process via the natural hormone reactions to exercise. Growth Hormone, Testosterone and Insulin all increase when the body is stressed with a change in the nature of the exercise stimulus. However, the hormones will fade after about 8 weeks of the same stimulus as the body adapts to that stress and therefore necessitating another distinct change in the workouts. It is important to understand that all work is futile if time for recovery is not provided and the exercise stimulus is not altered after physical adaptation is achieved approximately every eight weeks . It is only after rest and recovery that adaptation can occur.

Building a Periodized Plan

Training (including weight training) should be organized and planned in advance of a competition. It has to be goal specific, simple and most importantly flexible as its content can be modified to meet the athletes' rate of progress.

Step 1: Break up year training plan into cycles.

- Macro cycle = Year-long plan
- Meso cycle = Period of Months
- Micro cycle = Weekly training plan

* Rest must be built into each week (Micro cycle), each month (Meso cycle), and in yearly plan (Macro cycle). For example in the Meso there are 3 hard weeks followed by an easier week. During the Micro cycle, each week there are no more than 3 hard workouts and 2 easy recovery workouts. The 3 hard workouts should be separated by the easy recovery workouts. This is referred to as the Hard Easy Principle. Easy workouts promote recovery better than rest alone. These easy workouts increase blood flow, tissue temperature, cellular metabolism and accelerate regeneration (self cleaning oven) without imposing a training load.

Step 2: Training phases must be accomplished in a sequential manner.

Periodization involves variables, which include the following: Frequency (how ‘often’ you train), Duration (how ‘long’ you train for one session), Intensity (how ‘hard’ you train at any given time) and Volume (how ‘much’ you train in a given week or cycle). By manipulating these variables a plan is created that will aid in peaking for key events. There are three phases in a given yearly training plan, with the variables changing within each phase. Please see the following chart:

Phase / How long? / Frequency / Duration / Intensity / Volume
Base / 6-8 weeks / High / Short-Medium / Low / Low-Moderate
Build / 6-12 weeks / High / Medium-High / Moderate / Moderate-High
Peak-Race / 6-8 weeks / Moderate / Short / Heavy / Low

Step 3: Understanding what to do in each phase.

Base Phase:
> Low intensity exercise of increasing volume to build endurance.
> Aerobic work: long sustained effort with heart rate below 150 B.P.M. No speed work, no intervals, no hills climbing.
> Base training builds infrastructure. This includes developing a stronger network of blood vessels called capillaries, which carry waste products from the working muscles and deliver nutrients and oxygen to promote recovery.
> Base training teaches the muscles to burn fat as a primary fuel, which produces less lactic acid and waste products than carbohydrates (↑ mitochondria density).
> Base training builds musculoskeletal resiliency to allow for greater tolerance of hard work.
> Weight training: Light weights (less than 60% of 1 repetition maximum) for 3 – 4 sets of 20 repetitions. Strengthen many muscle groups, not just prime movers for your sport, but also stabilizing muscles and antagonists.
> Indications/consequences of inadequate base training:
- Poor recovery from hard workouts
- Inconsistent performance in workouts and competition
- Inability to achieve target body weight despite hard workouts
- Chronic or frequent injury and illness

Building Phase:
> Builds strength by increasing intensity of exercise, as infrastructure is now developed.
> Intensity of workouts can now increase slightly with addition of hill climbing at low intensity. Low heart rate.
> The first Build Phase after Base Phase is low intensity climbing, use slow sustained climbing making sure you feel it in your legs not your lungs.
> Weight training--weight increases as sets and repetitions decrease. Perform 2 – 3 sets of 6 –10 repetitions. Number of exercises decrease to concentrate on prime movers.

Peak Phase:
> Peak fitness with anaerobic intervals with full recovery.
>Add power weight training workouts: plyometrics, ballistic exercise.
> Volume decreases to absolute low with intense workouts or competitions once per week and recovery workouts 1 – 2 times per week.
> Be fresh for each workout.
> Cannot be maintained for more than 8 weeks before rebuilding.

Periodization was designed to achieve gains in fitness throughout the training cycle, while avoiding plateaus in performance and mental burnout. Most training programs today are based off of Bompa’s theory. It is how the most successful athletes train today.

For more information about periodization training, as well as how to create a sustainable training program, call (310)582-8212 or e-mail us today at to set up your complementary Health and Performance