To culminate the Getting Started Series, we will address the principles behind periodization. Periodization is the pre-planned systematic variation of training variables such as intensity and volume to promote long-term performance improvements. Without the proper understanding and utilization of periodization strategies, long-term performance improvement becomes merely a guessing game. Consistent hard-work for extended periods of time may not be enough for continual fitness improvement beyond an initial 8-12 week training period. A long-term periodized plan that properly manages both stress and rest is critical for sustained performance improvement.
The general adaptation syndrome (G.A.S.) underpins all periodization strategies, and involves a three-stage reaction to training stress. Stage-one is the alarm phase, where a training stress is imposed. A training stress is any form of physical activity such as performing 3 sets of 10 reps on the back squat, or running a mile. During the alarm phase, as a result of the physical stress, performance is actually compromised. Our body has undergone metabolic stress and breakdown that necessitates a recovery period to properly adapt. Stage-two of G.A.S. is the resistance phase. During the resistance phase, our body battles back from the imposed training stress to make the appropriate adaptations that will allow for improved performance and resilience from the previously imposed training stressor. The major take home point here is that the resistance phase does not occur if adequate rest is not given. Stress breaks us down, rest allows for the rebuilding process. We have to train smart and build-in adequate rest into our training plans. Ideally we never encounter stage-three, which is the exhaustion phase. Exhaustion is marked by decrements in training performance and possible injury. Exhaustion occurs when the training stress we impose upon our body exceeds our recuperative ability. This is generally preventable with adequate rest planned into the training plan. The key to proper periodization is to continuously cycle through stage-one and stage-two of G.A.S. which provides an adequate overload stress, and then allows for adequate recovery.
There are generally four distinct periods within a periodized training plan. The preparatory period is often the longest period within a training year that is characterized by a higher volume of training with a low training intensity. Here an athlete builds a base of fitness that prepares the body for greater training intensity later in the training year. Following the preparatory period, a short transition period (first-transition) occurs to bridge the gap between the higher volume/lower intensity training and the higher intensity/lower volume training that characterizes the upcoming competition period. The competition period involves either very high training intensity and very low training volume for a peaking athlete, or a moderate training intensity and volume for an athlete seeking to maintain fitness. These four periods mirror and correspond with the sport seasons that include the off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season.
Periodization is a complex subject that necessitates further discussion in future posts. This article has intended to briefly help to develop your understanding of why certain types of training characterizes certain sport seasons and times of the year, illustrate how the body adapts to training through the G.A.S., and develop an appreciation of long-term planning for continual fitness improvements.
Next up, A Recap of the 10 part Getting Started Series