You fitness level WILL fluctuate through the year, that’s a fact! The question is; how do we make sure we are at out best shape for race day of for a certain period of time? The answer is periodization. This means to create a systematic approach through understanding your strengths & weaknesses, in such way that allows you to create a progressive training program that will put you at the highest peak of performance possible on the most important race of the season or for a prolonged period of time.
It’s no easy task, injuries, race schedule changes, sickness, setbacks will most likely happen and affect your smooth way to a perfect peak. Periodization is a very complex process, it can take years for a coach to master the “art” while others will spend their whole lives going from race to race, following the same lines, doing the same workouts falling to the same mistakes. However I believe there are a couple of simple key elements that need to be present in almost all periodization scenarios to be successfully prepared and at your best come race day.
There is a huge misconception with training periodization. Most people think they’re training correctly because they go hard everyday, they go long or follow whatever their friend or group of buddies are doing. I happen to have seen some of those cases over the last 10 years and trust me, usually, they are recipe for disaster. I’ve come to identified some fundamental guidelines I believe can help anyone structure his/her training better.
1*Balance of days ( Hard/easy)
-Let’s get this straight, no one can train “hard” every day, but maybe we need to define “hard” first. Hard is a perception of effort and it will be different for everyone; it will be based on your training intensity zones and current fitness level. It represents a percentage of either your maximum or threshold outputs. Usually it would be from 6 out of 10 on the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion), but someone could say 3/10 is hard depending on his ability, fitness level or experience. Anyways hard could be an effort that is exponentially faster than your comfortable pace or maintaining certain intensity for a challenging duration of time. The problem is most athlete want to do both too often thus not allowing enough recovery.
Include easy days on your schedule, it can be a shorter day (duration), an easier week (volume) or a social/conversational workout (intensity). Don’t be afraid to sprinkle some of those in there! In spanish (No pasa nada!)
*Try to stay away from consecutive hard days on the same discipline.
*Reconsider doing more than 2 quality days in the same week if training for a single sport and/or 4 if doing multi-sport training. (I’m always on the conservative side, better safe than sorry)
2*Prioritize races/ Choose wisely
-Trying to race everything is a bad idea, especially if you are trying to go for your best effort each time. I’m a fan of lesser races schedules if you’re a performance oriented athlete.On the other side, if your motivation is to be social and recreation then go race everything but notice you will most likely injure yourself or simply burn out. When you have fewer races you have the luxury of outlining every race and its purpose preparing specifically for its characteristics. Your periodization will be better planned because you know exactly what you are preparing for, what your needs are, and have a time-table laid out with all possible outcomes.
-There should always be a most important race of the season or “A” race to focus most on the year on. Everything else is just a supplement to ensure you’ll be at your best on race A, or in other words PEAK! Having many races just makes this impossible mainly because physiologically your body can’t be at this high level for a whole year or long periods of time. So, chose wisely, carefully & build around that 1 or 2 races during a season.
3*Purpose of Workouts/Variety/Specificity
-Every workout needs to have a purpose; maintenance, recovery or a stimulus (speed, strength, endurance) etc. Have this vision clear before and during your workouts. For example if you’re on a recovery session, why follow other faster athletes? Why go to a tough course for an easy run? Stay focus, execute the session with the least amount of effort necessary and move on! Equally when the session calls for quality, GO HARD! Establish difference between efforts, I see so many people posting workouts on Facebook and it’s the same pace day in and day out. Long runs, tempos and recoveries all at the same pace, they’re destined to stagnation. Establishing a difference ensures you’re targeting the right system each day.
-Your program needs to have variety. It’s necessary to create a hard enough stimulus for your body to react to (super-compensate) and varying your workouts is an option. Balancing your program, making sure everything all basics are covered but still focusing on that weakness of yours a little bit more is desireable. Don’t take me wrong, repetition is good, and I like to repeat workouts from week to week quite frequently because they create benchmarks to gauge fitness and also provide confidence when used correctly. The key here is to place them strategically during your periodization and not make a race out of them.
4*Gradual volume/intensity dosage
The biggest most common cause for injury and plain struggle is TOO MUCH, TOO SON. There are guidelines out there as to how to increase volume. Most suggest a 10% volume increasement from one week to another. Take this with a grain of salt; you should only increase your volumes if your body is feeling up to it, it needs time to absorb the load, be patient. If this is not the case you have other options to keep moving in your training, like playing with frequency and/or intensity or reconsidering your training paces and workouts prescriptions, but I’ll leave that to the coaches out there. Another thing to remember is that (volume/intensity) makes for an explosive combination, they are interrelated, and they’re chemically reactive when not in balance. You can manage both but usually not at the same time, handle with care. My advice would be just to deal with one at a time, maybe add a little bit of volume, train, train, adapt, then maybe add some intensity and go from there. Remember, no shortcuts.
5*Take breaks/Refresh/Create a cycle
I log in to Strava daily and notice how all my contacts (amateur) have straight linear charts describing their training. That means, very little training load variation, doing the same amount of training for weeks and for months, afterwards I check on their results and performance and, yeah, no improvements. I then double-check with pro athletes; Boom! A beautiful saw-like graph with multiple peaks and valleys reminiscing the beautiful Alpe d’huez mountains.
So how do you create peaks and valleys in your training? By working through cycles.
At the end of the season allow yourself a little bit of detraining, that means training less volume and less intense and maybe not even training at all and just rest. This will make sure you lose some “marginal” fitness & gain a little bit of weight, thus giving you the motivational gas to work hard for the next season and virtually guaranteeing you will have room for improvement to look forward to. Even though Many of us will never reach the level of training load necessary to even be thinking about breaks or overtraining, a little mental break never hurt anyone. Recovery from what? A coach friend of mine would’ve said! Then start training with gradual progressions as stated above, including some transitional periods, builds and tapers.
Hopefully by now you have a more clear picture on how periodization can aid your training. These guideline are just general cues I’ve found to work the best within my experiences. Now you can go out there and outsmart your competition.Enjoy!