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Cycling Your Periodization Plan

By: Michael H. Stone and Meg Stone (East Tennessee State) and William A. Sands.
From:  Olympic Coach Winter 2008.

Updated: Aug 27th 2009 2:20 PM UTC by Matt Fitzgerald

The “principle of the cyclic arrangement of load demands” consists of two concepts working simultaneously: 1) cycling and 2) stages (Harre 1982, p. 78). Cycles of training are organized so that work is punctuated with rest and so that athletes progress through a program that systematically varies the training tasks and load.
The overall cycle that each athlete goes through consists of repeating three stages: a) acquisition of athletic form b) stabilization of athletic form c) temporary loss of athletic form (Harre 1982). Practical experience has shown that athletes do not continue to improve in a progressive linear manner. Athletes require work periods that cause fatigue, and then these work periods are followed by rest and adaptation.
Training load is cycled by increasing load demands followed by decreasing demands. The second concept, stages, is again based on practical experience. Athletes simply cannot work on all of the demands of training and competition at the same time. The demands are too numerous, and available time is too limited. Taken together, these two concepts are united under the modern training approach called periodization.
The concept of periodization has been around at least since the 1920s (Nilsson 1987), and there are at least a dozen models of periodization. Caution should be exercised in their use due to the tendency to infer too much from individual models (Francis and Patterson 1992; Siff 1996a, 1996b; Siff and Verkhoshansky 1993; Verkhoshansky, U. 1981; Verkhoshansky 1977, 1985; Viru 1988, 1990, 1995). Further, most of the models have been tested only cursorily, if at all. Table 1.1 presents a list of several models.



Planning with Periodization

The most common method of developing a periodization plan is to divide a competitive season into three levels of cycles: a) macrocycles - several months in duration up to a year or slightly more: b) mesocycles - from approximately two to approximately eight weeks in duration; and c) microcycles - usually seven to fourteen days in duration.
The three levels of training organization permit a “divide and conquer” approach to the assignment of training tasks in a definite pattern for a definite period. Unfortunately, various authors have taken considerable liberty in using terms to describe varying durations, contents, and objectives of training within this context.
The three levels of training duration are placed within an overall structure of the training year that consists of a preparatory period, a competitive period, and a transition or rest period.
An athlete requires approximately 22 to 25 weeks to reach peak performance (Verkhoshansky 1985) before a type of fatigue or exhaustion occurs that is poorly understood (Poliquin 1991). Experience has shown that performance generally declines within these times constraints, but the mechanisms of the decline are unknown.
This idea of a limited time for adaptation leads to the concept of multiple periodization, which simply means that the training year is usually divided into two, rarely more, phases consisting of preparatory, competitive and transition periods (Bompa 1990a, 1990b, 1993; Siff and Verkhoshansky 1993; Verkhoshansky 1985). Perhaps unfortunately, many modern training programs force athletes to attempt to peak too often.


Description of the Periods

The preparatory period is usually divided into general and specific phases. The general preparatory phase is used for broad or multilateral training (Bompa, 1990b). The training tasks are aimed at improving the athlete’s overall strength, flexibility, stamina, coordination, and so forth.
The specific preparatory phase more closely resembles the sport and sport-specific tasks. Training during the specific preparatory phase are aimed at improving sport-specific tasks and fitness such as jumping, flexibility and strength in extreme ranges of motion and applying any newly acquired fitness to solving specific sport tasks.The preparatory period should be relatively longer for inexperienced athletes in order to allow for sufficient development of basic fitness.
However, in elite athletes the preparatory period may be relatively short due to frequent competitions and the necessity of elite athletes to remain close to top condition throughout the training year (Francis and Patterson 1992; Siff 1996b; Siff and Verkhoshansky 1993; Zatsiorsky 1995).
The competitive period involves the majority of competitions during the particular season or macrocycle. The fitness of the athlete should be relatively stable during this period, and training focuses on maximizing and stabilizing performance. The preparatory period is linked to the competitive period in that a well-executed preparatory period, with sufficient duration to achieve a high level of fitness at a reasonable pace, allows the athlete to demonstrate more stable performances during the competitive period ( Harre 1982; Siff and Verkhoshansky 1993;Verkhoshansky 1985).
The idea of performance stability is particularly important for athletes in resistance training, and may differ somewhat from sport to sport. For example, the tactical approach of a pole vaulter is quite different from that of a diver. The pole vaulter may often face performances that he or she has never equaled. This is seen in personal-best records. The pole vaulter may try previously unachieved heights in many competitions throughout a season. The diver should face this type of scenario only in the protected environment of training. The diver must perform what he or she has performed (i.e. dives) hundreds or thousands of times before, but must perform dives precisely in the decisive moment of competition. No byes or failed attempts are allowed in diving. Therefore, the diver seeks to stabilize performance at a level that is consistent with his or her skills, while the pole vaulter must assault and achieve new levels of performance during a competition and can use more than one attempt.
The transition or rest period involves one to four, rarely more, weeks of reduced training load to facilitate recovery from the rigors of previous training both physically and mentally (Bompa 1990a, 1990b; Harre 1982, 1986; Siff and Verkhoshansky 1993). During the transition period the athlete should attempt to maintain fitness while allowing injuries to heal, develop new goals for the next competitive season, evaluate the previous competitive season and basically ensure that the next competitive season begins with a renewed vigor and commitment.


Types of Periods

There are a number of different types of periods of training depending on training goals, time of the season and capabilities of the athlete. Macrocycles are usually described based on common sense understanding of the nature of the competitions within the macrocycle. For example, there may be an Olympic preparation type of macrocycle due to the modification of competition schedules to fit properly with the Olympic Games. There may also be a Pan American, national championship, or other type of macrocycles depending on the most important goal of the macrocycle. The second level, mesocycles can be categorized by the objectives of the mesocycle. Mesocycle-level objectives are relatively similar across macrocycles, which aids in the consistency of their defining characteristics. Mesocycles thus become similar to inter-changeable planning “parts” that can be used and reused in different macrocycles. Table 1.2 shows a list of mesocycle types and corresponding tasks (Harre 1982).
The mesocycles can be linked to form an annual plan (Bompa 1990b), or a specific macrocycle (Harre 1982, 1990; Matveyev 1977). Microcycles are periods of training lasting from seven to fourteen days. Microcycles are the smallest basic unit of training planning that has strictly applied objectives. The training lesson is a smaller training unit, but the goals of any particular training lesson can be modified based on current circumstances. However, the objectives of the microcycle remain intact so that the subsequent training lessons are adapted to reach the objectives set for the microcycle (Verkhoshansky 1985). Various types of microcycles are shown in Table 1.3 below.


As described earlier, the cyclic arrangement of load demands refers to periodization, which is composed of two concepts used simultaneously. The first concept is that of cycling the training load by alternating between work and rest. The second concept is that of periods of training with specific, distinct and linked goals. The importance of these periodization concepts lies in the organized and systematic fashion in which training loads can be applied for the improvement of sport performance.
Excerpted from Principles and Practice of Resistance Training by Michael H. Stone, Meg Stone and William A. Sands; Human Kinetics Champaign, IL. 2007. Reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.

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