Periodization is a "time management" technique of training, where the training year is divided into specific periods related to the athlete's racing plans. Each period has a distinct area of fitness to improve, while maintaining the fitness levels achieved in previous periods. The basic principles of periodization are:
- The athlete peaks for a limited number of key competitions. These we call the A races - the most important races of the year.
- Long-range planning is essential. In order to peak for the important race(s), you must plan for them and the steps that are necessary to get to the best fitness for those races. Generally we have an annual plan, which is further broken down into multi-week periods and then weekly training schedules.
- Training progresses from the general to the specific as the year progresses.
- Training periods include "rest" weeks, generally every 4th week of the period. This allows for the unloading of fatigue from the previous three works. These are active rest weeks however; training doesn't stop, but rather the total weekly training hours are lowered.
- Workouts aren't just randomly done, but rather are tailored with specific physiological systems and skills in mind. These include economy and aerobic capacity. Sports specific skills in swimming, biking, and running are specified.
- Periodization is individual; there is no one-size fits all. Athletes have variations that must be taken into account when planning the training periods. For example, beginners may need more rest days during the week. Masters athletes can benefit from strength conditioning year round.
There are several blocks of time, or periods, within a periodization plan. These include:
- Macrocycle - this is a large time period, focused on key races. For most athletes, it will be a racing season. But for Olympic athletes, a macrocycle may be the four year period between Olympics.
- Mesocycle - focused on a specific training purpose, the mesocycle can be one to several weeks long. The Mesocycle periods focus on general and specific preparation, pre-competition, completion, and transition.
- Microcycle - the microcycle is a shorter period of time, usually a week (since that's how our lives are organized) that has specific training sessions based on the purpose of the mesocycle. Stress increases in each microcycle, until a rest/recovery microcycle.
The mesocycle periods are often referred to as:
- General Preparation: Prep, Base 1, Base 2, Base 3. Develop basic aerobic endurance, muscular strength, speed, and sports specific skills. May be four to 16 weeks in duration, and the macrocycle may have more than one general preparation period.
- Specific Preparation: Build 1, Build 2. Enhance the systems needed for key races, which may include the advanced training abilities of muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power. Duration is generally four to twelve weeks.
- Pre-competition: Peak. Peaking for key races, when frequency and duration of workouts lessens but intensity is maintained. May last one to four weeks.
- Competition: Race. The reason for training. This period emphasizes rest, maintenance of systems, and psychological preparation for the race. Usually a one week period before the major race, but may be multi-week if more than one key race occur close together.
- Transition: Transition. Time to rest and rejuvenate from competition, psychologically and physiologically. The athlete remains active, but with reduced workout hours and unstructured training - often with activities other than swimming, biking, and running. Generally lasts one to six weeks.
A typical yearly training plan might look something like this:
Prep: 18 weeks
Base 1: 4 weeks
Base 2: 4 weeks
Base 3: 4 weeks
Build 1: 4 weeks
Build 2: 4 weeks
Peak: 2 weeks
Race: 1 week
Transition: 1 week
Base 3: 4 weeks
Peak: 2 weeks
Race: 1 week
Transition: 3 weeks
In this example, the athlete has two "A" races that are separated by 8 weeks. Each race week includes a transition; after the first A race the Base 3 training is repeated, followed by another peak and race week.