Periodization, or the scientific paradigm associated with improving athletic performance through volume, intensity, and density modulation, is based on the theories of stress adaption crafted by Hans Selye in the 1930s.

However, our definitions and understanding of stress have evolved to include emotional and psychological factors with  mechanical and biological forces.

Successful athletic outcomes result not just from handling training stress, but a host of other equally important factors.

A fantastic piece of scholarship written by Irish sports scientist, John Kiely, confronts the holes found in classic periodization theory and offers an updated proposition on progressing athletes through a training program.

Today’s post synthesizes Kiely’s findings and offers suggestions on how not only athletes, but regular everyday people can structure their workouts to see more long terms results.

According to this proposed periodization update training needs to take into account:

  • Mechanical stress.
    1. How heavy you lift, the volume with which you train, and how often you train a specific exercise/movement pattern.
  • Biological stress.
    1. Family traits.
      1. Are you genetically predisposed to be affected by stress more so than others?
    2. Anatomy
      1. Do you possess a body type that is advantageous to your activity of choice?
        1. Long levers (arms legs) better for swimming compared to weightlifting?
        2. Thin tall body type v. short stocky body type responds differently to temperature/environment?
          1. Do you play a cold or hot weather activity?
Body type has a tremendous impact on training outcomes.
  • Historical stress.
    1. Do you have a history of being injured?
  • Environmental stress
    1. Do you live and/or train in an atmosphere that is calm or chaotic?
    2. Are you sitting or standing throughout the day?
    3. What kinds of shoes do you live/work/train in?
    4. How well do you sleep?
  • Psychological Stress
    1. How do you perceive certain training tasks?
      1. How is the training task viewed along the spectrum of “impossible-certain”?
    2. How do you respond to setbacks?
How you bounce back from bad training sessions/blocks affects your outcomes.
  • Nutritional Stress
    1. Do you eat highly processed foods that trigger inflammatory responses?
    2. Do you eat a well balanced diet that complements your training and supports healthy living?

Doing Periodization Better
Clearly, periodization is a highly complex process involving the intricate balancing act of a number of factors, each unique to the individual who is going through the training plan.

We suggest the following approach when creating a long term training program

  •  Careful Balance of Training Intensity, Volume, and Density.
    1. While obvious that the stress of mechanical work no longer is the sole driver of adaption, having a well laid out “skeleton” for your program still matters.  Great care must be taken when implementing workouts across the entire training program.
Example of a long term periodization model from Russian sports scientist, Anatoly Bondarchuk.
  • Communication, Communication, Communication!
    1. You and your coach must have a relationship that involves incredibly clear and honest channels of communication.  Your coach needs to provide clarity of purpose in the program and you must provide continuously honest feedback on how you feel.
      1. No understanding of the direction/meaning of the program creates uncertainty and a layer of unneeded stress for the athlete.
      2. No communication from the athlete to the coach regarding daily energy levels and the subjective feeling around the day’s training creates uncertainty and stress for the coach.
University of Colorado Director of Cross Country, Mark Wetmore, has developed a national class champion program in part by his ability to communicate the essentials to his athletes in a simple yet elegant manner.
  • Developing Self Awareness in the Athlete
    1. A skill that is in short supply.
    2. Daily meditation and scanning of the stream of conscious thought is incredibly important for the athlete.
      1. Periods of silence and no distraction from social media/technology each day are important for the athlete to develop the ability to listen to the thoughts that influence his or her state of mind.
        1. What is the day’s story the athlete is telling herself?  Is catastrophic thinking present?  Does the athlete have techniques in place to shift negative thinking into constructive thoughts?
    3. Understanding how you relate to other people.
      1. Introverts need more space and alone time to recharge, while extroverts need higher levels of social interaction and engagement to manage stress.
        1. Never feel pressured to act outside the realms of this basic emotional setting
  • Quality Nutrition
    1. A diet that is balanced in good sources of protein, carbohydrate, and fats help the body recovery and rebuild stronger for the next session.
    2. You can’t outtrain a bad diet.  In fact, you will detrain as a result of a bad diet.
      1. Stay away from loads of processed foods and sugar.
Good nutrition involves whole foods with quality sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Planning for a successful athletic outcome or ensuring your training program delivers long term results is possible through a reimagining of what stress is and how it affects the adaption process.  The principles of periodization that have been developed over the last several decades still matter, but better training outcomes can be had when coaches and athletes take into account many other factors and implement them into the traditional models of athlete development.

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