Periodisation: organise your training to ensure you achieve success all year round

Training periodisation - why it could pay to use your block

trackTraditional periodisation is a widely accepted method of structuring training programmes to produce maximum performance at the right time. However, there are significant gaps in the research that lies behind this method, particularly when it comes to applying the theory to real athletes doing real training. But as Shaun Galloway explains, a lesser-known alternative known as block periodisation may offer significant advantages

Brief historical outline

Traditional periodisation can be traced back to Eastern Europe during the mid- to late 60s and research carried out by Professor Leonid Matveyev (1,2). He carried out a lot of work on training plans using empirical observation and pedagogical (science of teaching) literature. During the late 70s early 80s, Matveyev’s (mainly observational) work was supported by some research, which is best represented by the work of Tudor Bompa (3).

However, Yuri Verkhoshansky, who was critical of Matveyev’s empirical methods, developed an alternative method of periodisation called ‘block periodisation’. You may not have heard of block periodisation because, while Verkhoshansky’s theories are grounded in research and scientific principles, the programme as a whole has not been exposed to applied scientific scrutiny (at least in an English language scientific publication).

What is traditional periodisation?

Traditional periodisation can be defined as the method of organising the training year into phases, where each phase has its specific aims for the development of the athlete. These phases include:

  • General preparation period – a period characterised by the volume of training, which develops working capacity, general physical preparation and improves technical aspects and basic tactical skills. The main focus is to develop a high level of physical conditioning to facilitate future training and to protect an athlete’s central nervous system (CNS) from being bombarded from high-intensity training later in the training programme;
  • Special preparation period – a transition phase from gross movements to discrete sport movements. This phase still uses a high level of aerobic movement (70-80%) but the movements are specific exercises related to the skills or technical patterns of the sport. Improving and perfecting technique and tactics with the use of various aids are the main goals of this sub-phase;
  • Competitive period – the main task should be the consolidation of all training factors, which allow the athlete to compete successfully in the main competition. During this phase 90% of the movement is direct action (related to sport-specific movements), while the other 10% is indirect action (gross motor work/general conditioning);
  • Transition period – a phase characterised by non-competitive activities. This phase is important because while muscular fatigue will disappear in a week or so for most highly trained athletes, CNS fatigue can remain for a much longer period of time. The transition phase incorporates rehabilitation (to allow recovery from any injuries), regeneration (including massage, health spas etc) and psychological relaxation.

The changes in intensity and volume are wave-like, and the workloads increase throughout each phase. When volume is high, intensity will be low (the exception being a brief time during the specific period when there are relatively high levels of both intensity and volume). The competitive season is characterised primarily by high intensity and low volume, and peaking is always represented by a reduction in volume combined with an increase in intensity.

Traditional periodisation divides the training plan into large phases lasting approximately two months for each of the preparation phases, six to eight months for the competitive season and two to four weeks for the regeneration phases. The training plan is then broken down further into macro-cycles, which are logical groupings lasting four to six weeks, and then a further breakdown results in a micro-cycles, which last five to nine days.

Block periodisation

The term ‘block periodisation’ most likely comes from Verkhoshansky’s article ‘Organisation of the training process’, where he mentions that training should be organised as a ‘monolithic unit’ (4). In this system, workloads are concentrated with one main focus, and are connected in a series of blocks. The block method can be characterised by the following terms:

- main adaptation cycle (MAC);
- specific training means;
- successive-contiguous method;
- long-term delay effect (LTDE).

The main adaptation cycle (MAC) is aimed at increasing the athlete’s skill by exploiting the athlete’s adaptation potential. The goal of the MAC is to organise the training process, focusing on the interdependence between competition activity and the continuous development of the athlete’s adaptation. Each MAC consists of three connected blocks:

Accumulation block (block A):

  • During the accumulation block, athletes must be able to tolerate high volume loads for several consecutive weeks. This phase usually lasts from
    four to 12 weeks and is slightly longer than block B (below);
  • This basic phase is dedicated to the activation of the adaptive process, which is oriented towards the functional specialised changes required for the specific work regimen;
  • The main objective of this block is to improve the athlete’s motor potential, taking into account the particularities of the competition-specific exercises.

Restitution block (block B):

  • The duration of the restitution block is approximately equal to that of the concentrated strength block and is usually four to 12 weeks, depending on volume, load and the individual’s capacity to recover;
  • This special phase is dedicated to the development of the athlete’s work power in a specific work regimen and in conditions consistent with those found in competition;
  • The main objective is to accustom the athlete to make full use of his or her increasing motor potential, and execute competition exercises with progressively greater intensity;
  • Some competition can be scheduled during this phase.

Competition block (block C)

  • This is the phase that covers the more important competitions and is the conclusion of the adaptation cycle; during this phase the athlete will be able to utilise all the power he or she has already developed, in a competition-specific environment;
  • The objective of this phase is to obtain maximum efficiency by exploiting in full the motor potential during competition;
  • This phase should not last longer than three months.

Specific training means should be determined by an expert coach, exercise physiologist and, if possible, an applied biomechanist. Each sport has exact training means, which will allow an athlete to get the best results for the effort put in. For example, a long jumper would best benefit from exercises that focus on jumps and bounds, barbell exercises, weighted jumps and plyometrics (4).

Successive-contiguous method is based on the well-established practice of gradually increasing the intensity of training stimuli, which means that it is not advisable to apply high-intensity training means at the beginning of the training process (4).

Long-term delay effect (LTDE) – an example of this occurs when the 10-12% decrease in performance seen at the conclusion of block A is then followed by a super compensation phase that raises performance by 25-30% more than their initial values (seen in block B)(4).

It is important to realise that in block periodisation, once you have reached a training goal, for instance a base level of endurance, you don’t then exclude this training from your training plan (as tends to happen in traditional periodisation). After all, if it was important enough to develop in the first place, then why would you want to lose it by stopping endurance training? Instead, maintenance training should be used. By contrast, traditional periodised training programmes ask you to first become an endurance athlete, then a weightlifter and finally a technical sport athlete.

Developing periodisation methods in individual sports

Using traditional periodisation:

1. First define the competitive season as well as the number of peaks desired. Label it ‘competitive phase’;
2. After this, attach a week to 10 days to the end of the competitive season. Label it ‘transition/ regeneration phase’;
3. The end of the transition/regeneration phase to the beginning of the competitive phase is the ‘general preparation phase’ followed by the ‘specialised phase’;
4. Divide the time between the general preparation phase and the special preparation phase into two equal halves. Another method is to divide the time 60/40 (general/special) for athletes with less than three years of consistent training and 40/60 for athletes with more than three years of consistent training;
5. Make general categories, such as strength, endurance, speed and flexibility, technique, tactics etc. If your knowledge is extensive enough, you can create more categories, such as general strength, strength endurance, maximum strength, endurance, speed endurance, speed, absolute speed, general flexibility, ballistic flexibility etc;
6. Assemble the drills that can develop the above categories;
7. Put these categories into a logical order based on training cycles of four to six weeks (called macro-cycles).
8. Group your training sessions into training segments of five to 10 days (called micro-cycles). Pay attention to the main focus of the macro-cycle. For example, if you are trying to develop overall body conditioning, then sprinting at max speed and lifting maximum weights should not be performed in the micro-cycle.
9. Finally, a wave-like line would be drawn up for intensity and volume on your year-long programme. Use the intensity and volume line to dictate your micro-plan intensities and volumes.

Using these principles above, a traditional periodised training programme for a 100m sprinter might look something like this:

General preparation period: The focus would be on developing the overall body conditioning.

This could be translated into the following exercises:

- 10-15 mins of running at 60-65%;
- Basic level circuit training: 6-8 exercises at 65-70% x 3;
- 200m at 65-70% x 8 reps – 3 sets, with 30 secs rest between reps and 3 mins between sets.

This could then progress to:

- 20 mins of Fartlek (varying tempo of speed) running;
- 6 x 40m hills at 60-70%;
- Sets of 500/300/100m x 3 at 80/48/14 secs, rest is 2 mins between reps and 5 mins between sets.

Specific preparation period
The focus would be to develop sport-specific physical abilities and skills.

This could be translated into the following exercises:

- A, B, C coordination drills, 20m, 60-70% x 3 reps;
- Basic level Olympic/power lifts: power cleans, dead lifts, squat jumps, 60-70%, 6-8 reps, 3 sets;
- 80m at 75-80% x 3 reps – 3 sets, with 45 secs rest between reps and 5 mins between sets.

This could then progress to:

- A, B, C coordination drills, 20m then into 10-20m run-out, 70-80% x 3 reps;
- 6 x 40m downhills at 60-70%;
- Sets of 100m x 3 at 80, 85, 90% of max, rest is 5 mins between reps and 5-10 mins between sets;
- Plyometrics: depth jumps at a height which equals that athlete’s vertical jump, 4-6 reps, 3 sets, 30-45 secs rest between reps and 3-5 mins between sets;
- Starts over 30m, 3-6 reps at 75-80%, 2 min between reps and 5 mins between sets.

Using block periodisation

  1. First consult an advanced coach as well as an applied physiologist or a number of researched papers on which physical elements are most important for your sport. In the published literature to date, four elements appear to be the maximum used in one block. Remember that these training elements may not be stopped at the conclusion of a specific block and that blocks of training can merge into each other.
  2. Learn the hierarchy of training means to perfect the physical skills for your sport. For example, balance requires the skills of strength, flexibility and coordination.
  3. Find out how long it generally takes to both develop and lose these physical skills. This knowledge will help you to determine the length of each block as well as to what level you need to maintain those skills so as not to lose their effect(s) at the end of a block.
  4. Develop blocks using accumulation (A) and restitution (B) blocks. The B blocks should have competition involved in them, with the major competitions coming at the end of the block.
  5. Typically, A/B blocks will not be repeated more than three times in a year. Occasionally, a third C block will be used, which continues the work completed in B block but with more focus on peaking.

Using the principles above, a block periodised training programme for a sprinter might look something like this:

Block A

The specific training means and the order of importance would be:
- maximum strength;
- explosive strength;
- starting strength;
- bounds.

This could translate into the following training:

- 6-16 repetitions spread over 2-4 sets of 3-4 x 150m, 3-4 x 100m, 3-4 x 50m at 80-90% effort with 1-2 mins between reps and 2-4 mins between sets;
- 8 x 200m with 100m walk or 100m jog as rest (1-2 mins) at about 28-30 secs each;
- 10 x 150m accelerations to 90%, 1-2 mins rest;
- 5-6 x 300m with 1-2 mins rest then slow (48-54 secs) 5 x 200m with 3 mins rest, moderate (27-28 secs);
- 6-12 x 400m Fartlek (each 400m consisting of 100m walk, 100m jog, 100m stride at 65-70-sec pace, 100m sprint at 90%);
- 3-4 x 500m (200m (27-29 secs) 1 min rest then 300 (48-50 secs) with 3-5 mins between sets.

Block B

For block B, the order of importance would change slightly (but all elements would remain):
- starting strength;
- bounds;
- explosive strength;
- maximum strength.

This could translate into the following training:

- Emphasise ‘complete’ recoveries between repetitions and sets. Such recoveries are usually 3-4 mins between reps, and 5-8 mins between sets;
- 3 x 100m at 90-95% effort, 3 x 60m at 99%, 3 x 30m crouch start (CS) at 99-100%, 3 x 30m CS at 95%;
- 3 x 150m, then alternate 30m at 95% with 30m at 75%, 3 x 100m in-outs, 3 x 50m (medium build-up with last 25m at 99-100%);
- 4 x 100m at 90% (accelerate to 90%), 4 x 100m in-outs, 6-8 starts alternating 100% for 15m with 100% for 30m starts.

 

Dr Shaun Galloway is the head coach for the University of Wolverhampton track and field team and has researched and used periodisation for the past 18 years

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