As implied by the ideas discussed up to this point, improving fitness requires a balancing act between sufficient overload and adequate recovery along with training strategies that target sport specific activities as well as the various energy systems and muscle fiber types involved in those activities. So how does one put this all together?
One answer has been around since the middle of the twentieth century in an approach to training known as periodization. First used by the Soviets and soon refined by Romanian sport scientist Tudor Bompa, periodization involves breaking the year up into distinct training phases that build upon one another to peak an athlete for the most important competitions at the end of the season. Periodization is therefore different from doing the same type of training week-in and week-out. It is also different than randomly switching routines every month or so just for the sake of variation. What periodization contributes to training is a systematic approach to progress the athlete through successive stages over the course of the training year. Long-term progression is the goal so that the athlete arrives at the major competitions of the year in peak form.
Following the principle of specificity, periodized programs progress from general to specific, starting with general preparation and base training phases, moving through build phases, and culminating with peak training and race phases. The closer to the key race, the more specific the training becomes to target the demands of the race. After the season ends, the athlete shifts gears back to a general active recovery or transition phase before starting again with base training for the next year.
The training year as a whole is referred to as a macrocycle. It usually involves one or a few target races or events, either stacked together at the end of the year or spread apart by at least two months. The macrocycle is then divided into smaller phases of about two to six weeks in length called mesocycles. Each mesocycle has a particular training focus. The mesocycles in turn consist of smaller blocks of training that typically align with weeks. These are referred to as microcycles. It is quite possible to use microcycles of, say, 10 days instead of the seven-day week. Such an approach could have advantages for some athletes, but for many it is easier to schedule a microcycle around the typical calendar week.
In general, training programs can vary in how they put together the pieces to create a periodization schedule. In addition, any periodization schedule is highly individual in that it needs to take into account the athlete’s goals, background, and current fitness level. Yet it is widely accepted among endurance coaches that the fundamental place to begin is by establishing a strong aerobic base. Like the construction of any building, the stronger the foundation the better it can withstand loads placed on top of it. Even for endurance athletes involved in shorter events (e.g. sprint triathlons, track events down to the mile, etc.) where higher end speed is crucial, it is important to keep in mind that anaerobic endurance is superimposed upon the aerobic base. You need both for peak performance. If you are interested in long-term progression, there really are no shortcuts to developing as an endurance athlete. A strong aerobic foundation is a necessity.
TRAINING GUIDE CONTENTS
– Train with a Purpose
– The ABCs of Systematic Training
– The R&R of Training
– Begin with the End in Mind
2. Exercise Science Concepts
– Overreaching and Overtraining
– Energy Systems
– Aerobic Capacity
– Lactate Threshold
– Aerobic Threshold
– Muscle Fiber Types
3. Monitor Your Training Intensity
– What is Training Intensity?
– Key Indicators of Intensity
– Using Training Zones
– Training by Feel, or Perceived Exertion
– Training with Pace
– Training with Heart Rate
– Running with Power
4. Create Your Training Plan
– Prioritizing Your Events
– Overview of the Training Phases
– Choosing Your Periodization Schedule
– Filling in the Details of the Overall Plan
5. Create Your Weekly Workouts
– Creating Weekly Schedules
– Establishing and Developing Your Base
– Building Upon Your Base
– Peaking for Your Target Event
– Race Week and Race Day Warmup
6. Functional Strength
7. Recovery and Nutrition
About the Author